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.