Naomi Tessler

Story Magic

Directly before our first show, the actors in our Playing Back Our Neighbourhood Stories youth ensemble were nervously running through our techniques, frantically asking questions about the basics– which they already knew inside and out.

I was growing concerned about how the performance would turn out and as our audience members began taking their seats the ensemble’s jitters doubled.  They were surprised and nervous that people had shown up to watch them perform.

The pressure was on…

As we began our introductions, the audience’s laughter soothed the group and they relaxed into their new roles as performers. They immersed themselves in the dance between actor and spectator and fed off the energy the crowd was offering.

The audience was filled with Barrhaven residents of all ages and backgrounds and there was no need to encourage the stories to come out—this audience was ready to share and excited to see how the actors would translate their stories into theatre.

Our actors, accompanied by our talented Barrhaven youth musician, listened intently to each storyteller and honoured them by playing back their story with full heart and charisma.

Youth who had been previously shy and quiet in rehearsal were comedic and boisterous and the whole ensemble was willing to dive in and express themselves with a full range of emotion and movement.

Each technique was artfully performed and each story was beautifully represented. When there were elements of a story that was missed, the youth were more then happy to take another chance at capturing the story again.

Audience members shared their joy of living in a beautiful, peaceful and quiet place and the frustrations of living so far out.  We heard stories about Barrhaven residents supporting each other in winter storms and a Barrhaven bus driver’s challenges with students forgetting their bus passes.  We heard stories about conflicting friendships, skunks eating garbage, bumpy bike rides and the challenges of new developments. Stories were shared about school experiences and finding community, taking part in the many sports activities Barrhaven has to offer and the kindness and patience of Barrhaven drivers.

The ensemble and I were moved by the everyone’s stories and it was clear that our audience was deeply engaged, entertained and felt a part of a true community experience.

Our first show was a real success and I was amazed at how far our ensemble had come!

After our successful first show on July 7th at Barrhaven Community House, we were all set for our next performance at The Court at Barrhaven Seniors Residence on July 18th.   The audience members for this show were excited to have visiting performers in their atrium and were waiting in their seats well before our performance began. The youth confessed that they didn’t have much experience with performing for or connecting with seniors and the nervousness that had evaporated by the start of our first show had returned.  To challenge things further, our sound equipment wasn’t working which meant the youth had to project their voices extra loudly to make sure anyone with hearing troubles could still enjoy the show.

After some calming warm ups and pizza, the youth seemed ready to shine onstage again, but as I was welcoming the audience and making my introduction, we were all taken by storm when one of the residents who was trying to sit down, missed the chair and fell right over.  Noone moved for a moment and then feeling the need to help, I rushed over and tried to offer support. All the seniors, who’d clearly experienced this many times before, coached me not to do so, and they called for a nurse instead.  The nurse arrived and called in a support team and after a little while, the audience member was seated and ready for the show.

It was tough to dive right in after that fall, but we gradually moved the audience along and the first stories shared brought us all to a new place.

It was a pleasure to hear the seniors’ stories of the community and friendships they’ve found in Barrhaven, their experiences of reconnection with family and their memories of the bread and meat pies at Richmond Bakery.  They shared stories of their initial struggle in moving to Barrhaven (which they referred to as ‘the sticks’ and ‘the boondocks’–and the youth later confessed that they were unfamiliar with those terms) and they shared stories of hope in feeling a sense of belonging and peace.  They shared past times of strawberry picking early in the morning to beat the heat, apple and pumpkin picking and the times when the main street didn’t even have lights.

Their stories were a pleasure to bring to life and the experience of intergenerational community building was amazing to witness.

Our ensemble listened with compassion and performed with courage and creativity, aiming to make sure they reflected the seniors’ stories back with humility.

Their techniques were strong and they tried their best to make their voices fill the room.

I was impressed with their flexibility to let go of one of the techniques we had planned to use. Our technique: rant, requires audience members to share stories about struggle, challenge or frustration and no one had a story to share of that nature.   This technique is the youth’s favourite and I could tell they were waiting for it, but we needed to meet our audience where they were and so we moved on to the next technique and the actors smoothly rolled on with the show.

Our first two Playing Back Our Neighbourhood Stories performances have been a true success!  The stories shared by the audience have offered a mosaic of memories and experiences of Barrhaven and the way our youth ensemble played them back truly brought everyone into the heart of each other’s journey—building connection and community amongst our audiences and our ensemble.

We look so forward to our next two shows and hope you can Join us for

FREE Entertainment, FREE Food and FREE local raffle prizes on:

Friday, August 11th, 6:30pm Food Served, 7pm Show Time
The Log Farm, 670 Cedarview Road
Saturday, August  19th, 11am Show Time, Community BBQ to Follow,
Ken Ross Park, Near the Play Structure

We thank the Nepean Housing Corporation, Loblaws, Braces Haven, The Court at Barrhaven, AOE Arts Council, Neighbourhood Arts 150, Emily Veryard and all our volunteers for making our first two shows come to fruition, enabling the magic of stories to be shared and performed.


Rag & Bone Puppet Theatre

Snippets of Canada

Here’s the flexible lineup for Snippets of Canada 150. We add and subtract depending on the library, the guest reader, and the audience response.

  • Russell sings a song.

Kathy: Hello everyone and welcome to Snippets of Canada 150, a collection of songs and stories celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday.

APA_2017-07-06_07-26-11_APA_4356We are Rag and Bone Puppet Theatre: Kathy, John, Russell and guests.

We want to thank all the librarians across Ottawa who suggested books and songs for this event. There were lots of ideas for books about animals.

In the end, we decided that we should start off with a book about a moose. A big moose, because Canada is so big. And moose live all across it.

  • Guest: Ernest by Catherine Rayner.
  • Russell sings a song.

Kathy: And now, a book about a bear and other animals.

  • Guest: I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Kathy: The First Nations were the first people in Canada, and one of our favourite Rag & Bone shows is A Promise is A Promise. And this is how that story begins.

  • Guest: A Promise is a Promise by Robert Munsch and Michael Kusugak

Kathy: Some of the first newcomers to Canada came from France, and here’s a song they sang.

  • Song: Ah! Si Mon Moine Voulait Danser

Kathy: And here’s a story about some French-Canadian trappers, from a book called The Talking Cat by Natalie Savage Carlson. It’s one story in a show we do called The Flying Canoe.

  • John, Kathy & Russell: The Bear in the Canoe

Kathy: Jean Marc and René were also loggers.

  • Russell sings a song.

APA_2017-07-06_07-06-48_APA_4268Kathy: Then there were farmers and settlers, and there are always new people coming to Canada, and this next story is from another Rag & Bone show called Felicity Falls. It’s about learning to get along and work together to build a great place to live, like Canada.

  • John & Kathy: Felicity Falls

Kathy: And here’s a song that celebrates farming, and one of our most famous vegetables.

  • Russell sings a song

Kathy: We’ve celebrated Canada’s animals, people and vegetables, but what about our birds? We have lots of birds in Canada. They all have different personalities. The next story is about one that is Grumpy.

  • Guest: Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard
  • Russell sings a song.



Human Recipes

Time is an important ingredient in bread making. You have to wait for the yeast to feast on the sugar and bubble up. You have to wait for the dough to rise, doubling in size and finally wait for it to bake. This spring, THUNK!theatre hosted a series of five bread making workshops at the Parkdale Food Centre. The workshops were run in lead up to performances of our show bread during the Wellington West Happening Festival. Each workshop featured a different baker from the community teaching a different recipe. We knew that each recipe would require either a resting time or a baking time. We knew that this time would be the perfect opportunity for our participants and workshop leaders to share their own stories.

To facilitate this storytelling we adapted a Mad Lib-style exercise so participants could fill in a template provided, based on prompts for words or phrases from their own experience. When combined, the template became a story unique to each participant. In these workshops, the stories were structured as recipes, inspired by each guest baker’s recipe. Each week we also worked from a theme based on the recipe and the baker; for example. Emalia Wani’s Aaysh recipe was used to explore the idea of a “journey”, based on her experience as a refugee from the war in Sudan. Pamela Wildraut’s Sprouted Rye Sourdough recipe and her experience being an apprentice baker at Bread By Us gave us the theme of “growth”.

Vivian writing.JPGThroughout the workshops, we discovered different ways to introduce and run the exercise. We learned that a prompt sheet with suggestions was the best way to begin the conversation. The prompts were designed to have the participants begin to think about the themes. We offered questions like: “What five things would you be sure to take with you if you are leaving your home and don’t know when you will return?” These were printed and handed out at the start of the workshop. After we had completed the first stage of bread making, usually the mix and knead, we would gather round the large table in the Food Centre and invite participants to work in pairs and discuss their answers. Then we would bring the group and their responses together to lead
the collective creation of what came to be known as the Human Recipes.

IMG_20170406_141254Sitting around the table, enjoying samples of the bread that we had just learned to make, this portion of the workshops became an opportunity for participants to share their experiences and tell stories. Some participants boldly shared their experiences of coming to Canada, witnessing changes in their neighbourhood or discovering a new sense of community. Others were more shy, preferring to share their personal stories of trauma, growth and connection on anonymous pieces of paper.

It was a time to make connections with the other participants in the workshop. Small moments of meeting and warming to new people at the table. Connections from the shared experience of making, baking, waiting and sharing. Connections that will hopefully continue outside the kitchen of the Parkdale Food Centre, throughout the neighbourhood.

THUNK!theatre, July 2017

Margit Hideg

Feeling “Togetherness”

Neighborhood Arts 150 assitant artist Lisa Flick shares her experience with the Wisdom of Trees open workshops in the Beaverbrook Library:

I feel like there is a sound of “visual art”. There is that distinct silence that happens when people are focused on making a colourful design. I love that sound. This said, happy and quiet conversations spring up between the participants during the workshops. Kanata Residents of all ages are drawn into the Wisdom of Trees workshops where they are asked to reflect on the symbolism of trees in forests in comparison to themselves in their communities, then they are asked to draw a tree on a mylar triangle.

A mother and daughter come in together who are relatively new to the area. We begin to chat about what brought the family to the area. Her response comes with an experience-based counsel:

“Lisa, remember this: no matter where you live, the thing that counts is the people. I moved here to Canada and sure – the winters are tough – but you can put a coat on and you are all set. Where I used to live, we had mountains, beaches, great weather but people just felt too competitive, too money driven. Here, the kids don’t have four hours of homework in grade four, it’s more relaxed, more friendly.”

It felt so rewarding to hear the reflections and appreciations for Canada’s culture move around the table. “Welcoming and relaxed neighborhood environments” were elements of our culture that participants cherished as well as multi-lingualism. Several kids at the table chattered about their great visions for their artworks flowing seamlessly between French and English or Mandarin.

In these multi-generational family discussions, many parents would come into the workshop thinking only their kids would do the art. Some parents said: “Oh! I can’t do art” However, with the supplies set out before them and some gentle reassurance, they – perhaps reluctantly, began. That’s my favourite part! I love bringing people to break through their inhibition to drawing or painting and realising that they are indeed able to create something beautiful just by putting colours on a page. That’s the place to start art. By just starting. Creating with little skill and experience is still creating.

Our goals for these projects were beautifully simple, yet things we really believe are important to take the time to consider: our gratefulness for our communities, and to become reaffirmed in our personal identity in regard to others around us. We also want to pause to give some recognition to a beautiful staple in Canadian landscapes: trees! I noticed how much I disregarded Canada’s incredible greenery when I went traveling and it would be a shame if we Canadians came to take the trees in our communities for granted.  We are really enjoying the workshops for how they are so fully reaching these goals. We hope that the gratitude participants connect with during the workshops sticks with them as they go about their daily lives in this refreshed attitude.



Brenda Dunn artinjest

re[place] re[collect] Small Town Big City

It’s a good thing my photographer comes from the Pontiac. His rural street cred is necessary to help ease the tension when we first roll in from the big city. I’ve never thought that I’d live in a rural area, but I recognize the incredible advantage to having that built in recognition and sense of community.

When we meet seniors from these more remote neighborhoods, there is sometimes a hesitation, even suspicion, about what we might be doing, and what intentions we may have brought from downtown Ottawa. The impression, for some, is that the big city is not a particularly caring or friendly place. The idea comes from a sense of anonymity. One of the greatest things about a rural community is that you KNOW everyone. Like them or hate them, they are part of your ecosystem. And that can come hand in hand with an idea that there is no community – no shared responsibility – in a place where you cannot possibly know everyone.

I can see how it can look that way. But I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a really close knit and mutually supportive community in Ottawa, and being part of the Arts scene has played a huge part in that. For a small town, the entire population becomes part of this mutually sustaining ecosystem. Everyone recognizes, and therefore feels accountable to each other. One of the advantages of being so entrenched in the arts is that there is this funny little subset of “big city Ottawa” where the concerns and the mutual support feels in some ways like a small town. Although that can cause artists to struggle with economy of scale, it can also lend well to connecting with and sustaining a very devoted and supportive audience.

This project has reminded me that there are some wonderful things about being part of a community, and I’m reminded to appreciate the niche that the arts has provided in the Big City of Ottawa. So thanks Ottawa Arts. Mighty nice to know you.

Brenda Dunn artinjest