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


Here’s the outline of the drama workshop we’ve been conducting with children as part of Snippets:
“Drama is pretending, acting things out, using your imagination to show things to
an audience.”

To get our bodies, our voices and our imaginations ready to go. The children repeat this magic poem:
Ish ka bibble bobble boo
Close your eyes I’ll magic you
There is nothing you can’t do!

Now children open their eyes and magic themselves into trees—the tallest trees in Canada, stretching up to the sky, bending a little in the breeze and now shrinking—becoming smaller trees, then seeds, then porcupines, icebergs, etc.

Ish ka bibble bobble bee
I look down and I can see
Now I’m magicked back to me.

Soldier Doll or Rag doll
The whole body is stiff and tall and still like a soldier. Then one part at a time becomes like a rag doll: floppy head, one floppy arm, then the other arm, one floppy leg, then the other leg. Add sound effects—a resonant hum to head rotations, rotations from the waist, rotations from the hips.

Tongue twisters
Red leather, yellow leather.
Toy boat, toy boat.
Rubber baby buggy bumpers, etc.

Now our bodies and our voices are warmed up, let’s try some poems. Say one line at a time, with actions. The children repeat each line and action. Then try saying the poem again, this time like a tiny mouse or a giant ogre.
I made myself a snowball as round as it could be
I thought, I’ll keep this as a pet and let it sleep with me
I sewed it some pyjamas and a pillow for its head
But late last night it ran away
And first it wet the bed.
(Shel Silverstein)

Nursery rhyme mimes
Brainstorm the titles of as many nursery rhymes the children can think of Mime a nursery rhyme and let the children guess which one it was. Now divide them into groups of three or four and let each group go off to plan how they can act out a nursery rhyme with no words but in a way that the rest of the group can guess which one they’re doing.
Each group acts their rhyme silently, and the rest of the group guesses what it was. Then the group repeats their mime, only this time, the rest of the class says the words.

When you make a machine in drama, every person in the group has to have an action and a sound that repeat. The people making the machine have to somehow be connected. We don’t show people using the machine, just the machine going on and on all by itself. No video games, TV’s or computers. It should be a normal machine that we’ve all heard of so that we can guess what it is: something at home, at school, at a construction site, etc.

We demonstrate a machine to the group. Then the groups go off and plan their machines. Popular machines are: a blender, a washing machine, a car wash, a vacuum cleaner, a sprinkler, a front-end loader, or a wrecking ball. The groups presents their actions and. Then the rest guess, and the group repeats their machine now that everyone else knows what they’re doing.

The Little Red Hen
Kathy is the storyteller and John is the little red hen. The kids are the baby chicks, who say, “cheep cheep!” and they also play cats, ducks or pigs. Divide the children into three groups and tell them their lines:

Cats: Not us, we’re cleaning our fur.
Ducks: Not us, we’re splashing in the water.
Pigs: Not us, we’re rolling in the mud.

Narrator: Once upon a time, there was a little red hen who lived with her baby chicks, who said:

Baby Chicks: Cheep cheep

Narrator: One day, she was pecking in the barnyard and she found some grains of wheat. She decided to plant the wheat but she needed some help, so she asked the cats to help her.

Little Red Hen: Will you help me plant my wheat?

Narrator: And the cats said:

Cats: Not us, we’re cleaning our fur.

Narrator: And the ducks said:

Ducks: Not us, we’re splashing in the water

Narrator: And the pigs said:

Pigs: Not us, we’re rolling in the mud.

Little Red Hen: Fine, my baby chicks and I will do it ourselves.

Narrator: And the chicks said:

Baby Chicks: Cheep cheep

Narrator: (Encouraging everyone to do the actions) So the little chicks dug a hole in the ground, put the seeds in and covered them with earth. Then they watered them, and the grains of wheat grew and grew until they were tall and golden and swaying in the breeze.

Little Red Hen: Now it’s time to cut the wheat. Who will help me cut the wheat?

Narrator: And the cats said:

Cats: Not us, we’re cleaning our fur.

Narrator: And the ducks said:

Ducks: Not us, we’re splashing in the water

Narrator: And the pigs said:

Pigs: Not us, we’re rolling in the mud

Little Red Hen: Fine, my baby chicks and I will do it ourselves.

Narrator: And the chicks said:

Baby Chicks: Cheep cheep

Narrator: (With actions) So the little red hen and the baby chicks took a scythe, which is like a long sword, and they cut the wheat and bundled it up and took it to the miller and he ground it into flour. And when they had some flour, they could make bread.

Little Red Hen: Now it’s time to cut the wheat. Who will help me bake the bread?

Narrator: And the ducks said:

Ducks: Not us, we’re splashing in the water

Narrator: And the pigs said:

Pigs: Not us, we’re rolling in the mud.

Little Red Hen: Fine, my baby chicks and I will do it ourselves.

Narrator: And the chicks said:

Baby Chicks: Cheep cheep. 

So they put the flour in the mixing bowl with milk and salt and yeast and a bit of sugar and mixed it in the mixing bowl. Then they took the mixture out and kneaded it (etc.) and put it in the oven to cook. And as it cooked it smelled delicious. Then it was done. They put on oven mitts and took it out of the oven and it smelled wonderful.

Little Red Hen: Now, who will help me eat the bread?

Cats: We will!

Ducks: We will!

Pigs: We will!

Little Red Hen: You wouldn’t help me plant the seeds, you wouldn’t help me cut
the wheat, you wouldn’t help me make the bread, so now, my baby chicks and I
are going to eat it all by ourselves.

Narrator: And the chicks said:

Baby Chicks: Cheep cheep.


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

Naomi Tessler

Gathering, Building, Growing

For the past two months, I have been heading out past the fields of cows on Tuesday evenings to play, tell stories, co-create, laugh, improvise, co-learn and teach playback theatre with an intimate group of Barrhaven youth.

At the start, gathering a group of Barrhaven youth was no easy task.  Asking youth ages 12-15 to improvise turns out to be a tough sell! However, with the support of Nepean Housing Corporation, South Nepean Satellite Community Health Centre and the Barrhaven BIA, we have a strong group of youth taking part in the project who are dedicated, funny, talented and overcoming their shyness to get onstage and play back their Barrhaven neighbours’ stories in our four public performances this summer!

Naomi5 In each of our Tuesday night sessions, I have been working with the group on building community, confidence and trust in addition to building their skills in: performance, movement, storytelling, sound-making and improvisation. The ensemble has slowly become more comfortable with using their bodies to express emotions and they are mastering improvising stories—even in French!

Since the beginning of May, we’ve been working each week on a specific playback theatre technique, introducing the group step by step to the rituals and art that is playback theatre.


Playback theatre is made up of many improvisation techniques that are all used to play back the audience members stories in different ways. Playback theatre requires active listening to make sure the actors truly understand the heart of the story the audience member is sharing. It requires a willingness to deeply trust one’s fellow actors and have the courage to create and dive into the action on stage.

This style of theatre is challenging the youth in our group to discover and step into their strengths! For each performance, they will be on stage at all times. Before our first show on July 7th, we are taking the time to keep working on confidence building to support the group in opening up and being prepared to make bold choices individually and collectively on stage.


Throughout our time working together there have been a few challenges that I did not anticipate.  I have learned from the group that in the age of Instagram and Snapchat that if two youth who are friends are seen on stage linking arms—it could be possible that all their friends and family in the audience would assume they are dating.   As such, there are a few youth in our group who have requested not to link arms or sit beside each other in our performances.  One of the techniques which is called pairs typically requires linking arms but to acknowledge the social media anxiety it could bring forth, we have collectively decided to do the technique a different way.  Our group specializes in sarcasm and would love to do a whole show in that language!  It has therefore been tough to guide the group away from sarcasm (unless it’s part of a story we’re working on) and into the exploration of their full range of emotions and expressions. When we began talking about the performances, the group went into panic mode when they realized that their friends might see one of our shows!  They had been thoroughly enjoying our Tuesday evening workshops and rehearsals, but hadn’t considered who might be coming out to the community performances we’re working towards.  When discussing show dates and times, they comically suggested and honestly requested a Saturday morning show since their friends sleep in on weekends! They got excited about performing at the seniors’ residence as they felt there would be full support from that audience. Working with this group of youth, I’m realizing that I’ve grown a bit out of touch with teenage worries. It can truly be mortifying to perform in front of youth that one considers to be more popular, or to be doing silly repetitive movements in front of someone that one has a crush on.  As such-I’m consciously aiming to meet the group where they are and have fully supported the 11am Saturday show!

As we grow closer to our summer performances, I have grown extremely proud of the strides the group has taken to learn these new techniques and overcome their performance anxieties to be able to thrive on stage.

I’m thrilled to announce that we now have all our performances lined up:

Show #1: Friday, July 7th ,7:30pm-Barrhaven Community House-16 Kilbarron rd.

Show #2: Tuesday, July 18th, 6:30pm-Court of Barrhaven-1111 Longfields Dr

Show #3: Friday, August 11th, 6:30pm-The Log Farm, 670 Cedarview Rd

Show # 4: Saturday, August 19th, 11am, Community BBQ lunch to follow,

Ken Ross Park: at the hill by the Soccer Field/Play structure

Each show will have free food for the community audience (sponsored by Loblaws and other sponsors TBA) and I am working on gathering some raffle prizes from local businesses.  So far Braces Haven Barrhaven has provided a generous raffle prize of $500 towards orthodontic treatment for each show!

 I am thoroughly enjoying connecting with the Barrhaven businesses and artists to try and bring community together to take part in our events.

As we draw closer to our first performance I am bubbling with curiousity and excitement to hear the stories the community will share with our youth and watch in wonder as the youth play them back!

 Naomi Tessler, June 2017

Théâtre Belvédère

Juste avant la scène

Nous entrons dans la dernière phase de notre projet QUARTIER(S) : morceaux d’avenir : la présentation sur scène!!!

Voici un résumé rapide des belles rencontres et des étapes que nous avons pu vivre depuis le début de cette aventure effrénée!

7 mars 2017

On commence à répandre nos questionnaires aux quatre vents d’Orléans et Cumberland. On veut rejoindre 150 répondants de tous âges et tous horizons pour faire des statistiques non-scientifiques du 150e.

On va aussi rencontrer directement des gens au Centre de ressources communautaires Orléans-Cumberland et au Rendez-vous des aînés francophones d’Ottawa.


23 mars

On prend de magnifiques images de nos quartiers, pour faire partie du visuel du spectacle.


30 mars

On fait une incursion à l’école élémentaire Le Prélude avec notre conceptrice sonore, Venessa Lachance. Les élèves de 3e année nous partagent leur vision et leurs rêves pour leur quartier. Les animaux et les Legos sont à l’honneur!


27 avril

Après avoir compilé toutes les réponses à nos questionnaires et concocté les bases d’un texte de théâtre, nous sommes allées rencontrer nos acteurs : les élèves de théâtre de 9e année de l’École secondaire catholique Garneau. Ils sont talentueux, ils travaillent forts et, surtout, sont très inspirants! Les explorations que nous avons faites avec eux nous ont permis de créer de beaux tableaux à partir de statistiques.



1er mai

On commence les répétitions avec les comédiennes professionnelles. On ne vous en dit pas trop (venez voir le spectacle!) mais voici un aperçu de notre base de costumes…


Le spectacle avance très bien et on a hâte de vous présenter ce portrait un peu fou d’Orléans et Cumberland.

Soyez au rendez-vous le 8 juin à 18 heures au Rendez-vous des aînés francophones d’Ottawa!

Théâtre Belvédère