Watch “Road Hockey Stories: Episode Two – Mitch” First Goal

Here’s Episode 2 in a series of teasers for Lost & Found Theatre’s new play “Pocket Rocket” by Waterloo Region playwrights Lea Daniel and Gary Kirkham.
We will be showing all the stories we’ve collected as a pre-show treat at performances of the play April 20 to 30 at the Registry Theatre in Kitchener.
For more information and a peek behind the scenes visit the Lost & Found Theatre’s blog.

Watch “Road Hockey Stories: Episode One – Paul”

I’m having a great time talking to people in Waterloo Region about their memories of playing road hockey
I volunteered  to start this series of short videos to help Lost and Found Theatre promote the world premiere of Pocket Rocket a new play by Lea Daniel and Gary Kirkham.
Checkout the Lost and Found Theatre blog to get a peek behind the scenes of the video series and the play.
Here’s Episode 1.

Have Stories Will Travel

Neighbourhood Voices Interactive
Currently showing at Forest Heights Community Centre till the end of February 2016. It moves to Doon Pioneer Park in March.

‘Neighbourhood Voices Interactive’ , a traveling digital exhibition is the culmination of may work as the City of Kitchener’s 2014 Artist in Residence. It’s currently showing at Forest Heights Community Centre, 1700 Queen’s Blvd., Kitchener, Ontario, Canada  and is featured on the Armodilo website. Armodilo is the a Waterloo Region company that designs and manufactures the beautiful tablet stand and graphic band display I used for the traveling show pictured about.

The unit consisting of an iPad mounted on a stand, headphones, an informational banner and an iBook installed on the tablet that gives viewers a chance to watch or read the stories gathers during the project.

Throughout my residency, I connected with Kitchener residents through the city’s community centres.  People told me their everyday stories and I turned them into short, touching portraits of neighbours from across the city.

The mobile unit returns the stories to the community centres where they originated.   ‘Neighbourhood Voices Interactive’ will circulate from centre to centre for month-long exhibits.

 Here are some other dates and locations:

  • March – Doon Pioneer Park Community Centre
  • April – Downtown Community Centre
  • May – Centreville Chicopee Community Centre
  • June – Kingsdale Community Centre
  • July – Mill-Courtland Community Centre

View through a cracked lens

Gary Working at dining room table
Gary Kirkham working at my dining room table during one of our writing sessions.

Over the past year, I have been working on a new play with my friend and colleague Gary Kirkham, a well-known and well-respected playwright.

Gary started out as my mentor when he led Writers Bloc, a playwriting collective run by Kitchener’s Theatre and Company in the early 2000s. Our relationship evolved over the years and since 2012 we have collaborated on a number of projects from short films to theatre productions.

Our lastest collaboration is a new work of verbatim theatre. Based on the real words of real people, “Rage Against Violence” was commissioned by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region (WCSWR) for its annual awareness and fundraising event November 30, 2015. It’s based on a series of interviews conducted by Gary and me as well as WCSWR staff. These interviews include:

  • Women who have lived with violent partners;
  • Police officers who respond to domestic violence calls;
  • Shelter support workers who answer crisis lines and guide women through escape and recovery;
  • The nurse who records and treats the physical and emotion damage wrought by abusive partners
  • And the journalist who reports on the trials of people who’ve murdered their intimate partner.

My time as a photojournalist taught me to view the world through a lens – literally and figuratively.

It was a technique I often used to distance myself emotionally from things I would rather not deal with, but had to: the mundane, the bureaucratic, but most importantly the horrific. This is not to say you shut down empathy or concern for others, but you look at things pragmatically to get the job done.

I still use this lens when I’m confronted with the tough things in life. It helped me deal with one of our greatest challenges in writing “Rage Against Violence” – hearing the pain in these women’s voices as they relived the violence.

However, there were moments when I felt the lens crack; I’d draw a ragged breath – stifle a errant sob:

Vivian – “There was a crack under the cell door. I laid down on the floor and tried to breath through the crack”

Kelly – “The girls were hiding behind the toilet. And he was running the water in the bathtub with the plug in.”

Susan – “He went to the basement and came back with a … machete.”

The Nurse – “After an emotional day … you would gather your family together … no matter what your kids did that day you would hug them tighter that night.”

The room would go silent. I would look at Gary; he would be struggling with his emotions too.

Click for a larger view.

Gary and I believe part of our job is to make the lens crack, to draw attention to the things in life we would rather not confront, to have you struggle with the same emotions we faced in our work. And, we do this in the hope you will take the experience back to the community and enrich everyone’s life with your insights and understanding.

While we have poured ourselves into this project, it would not be possible without the funding, trust and artistic freedom granted to us by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region. It’s the progressive thinking of people like Mary Zilney, executive director of WCSWR, that transforms art into community building.

“Rage Against Violence” will run for one night only in Waterloo Region – November 30, 2015 at the Dunfield Theatre 46 Grand Ave., Cambridge. We hope you will come and see this one-of-a-kind production and support Women’s Crisis Services by buying a ticket and making a donation to its work.

On being funded

2014 OAC Logo Colour JPG

I know it’s taboo, but I’m going to talk about money.

In particular I’m going to talk about the money I received last week from the Ontario Art Council through it Exhibition Assistance program.

I’ve tentatively arrived at the “career” of artist as I navigate my middle years – a journey partly of necessity and partly of design. I’m emerging as an artist, so to be validated by the province’s premier arts granting body is cause for celebration. It’s a milestone coupled to my time as Kitchener’s Artist in Residence in 2014.

The grant is based on recommendations by local arts organizations, usually galleries or artist-run centres who assess applicants and suggest funding to the OAC. I applied through the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery and its senior curator Crystal Mowry  for support for the final exhibition of my Kitchener residency project called Neighbourhood Voices in the Rotunda Gallery at City Hall.

interactive video installation

The exhibition of 16 photographic portraits of everyday Kitchener people along with of an interactive “Story Mixing Station” was a gateway into a collection of personal stories gathered over the residency. The work encapsulates the way in which our stories intersect to create a third narrative or meta narrative of community life. You can read more about the Story Mixer in my earlier post, “Mixing Messages in Kitchener.” The stories can be viewed outside the mixer on this YouTube playlist:

Although the application for exhibition assistance is quite simple, the idea of it was daunting.

Here’s the official description of the program: “This program is open to Ontario-based professional visual artists, craft artists, media artists and artist collectives who have a confirmed, upcoming public exhibition. Exhibitions in Ontario, in other Canadian provinces and in international locations are all eligible.”

Writing an application to someone you know, someone you see regularly at openings, someone who has THE creds in a world in which you are a newcomer, someone such as Crystal Mowry, is way harder than writing for a faceless, nameless jury – at least I thought so.

Since entering into the community of art makers in Waterloo Region, I’m surprised regularly by the generosity of my colleagues – a willingness to share ideas, experience and work. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the mentorship so willingly offered by Crystal in the application process.

Preparing the application was less work than other grant applications I’ve been involved with, but Crystal’s attention to detail and insistence on proper form gave me more valuable take-ways than any grant writing workshop I’ve attend.

Average income for Canadian artists from all sources is a little over $31,000 annually; so, funds granted by the Ontario Arts Council are crucial to enabling artists to create and exhibit their work. Equally important though, is the networks and development of art making in individual communities nurtured by these grants.

For me, there is much to be thankful for in the grant:

  • The money, of course
  • Validation as an artist
  • And the mentorship of experienced artists



Mixing Messages in Kitchener

interactive video installation

As part of my residency at the City of Kitchener in 2014 I developed an interactive video installation for two gallery shows that gave visitors the chance to mix together two of the video stories I created as part of the year-long project, Neighbourhood Voice. The mixing of the stories creates both resonance and dissonance with the lives of the people both in the story and the viewer. This deepens the connection between the viewer in the storytelling and creates a unique of the of the stories each time they are played.

I intentionally paired the stories to reveal my reflection of filming and editing each of the story and intersection of the experiences. The storytellers  – a 90-something war veteran and 30-something full-time mom – in the video below are both deeply connected to their community, but in vastly different ways. How they choose to play out their connect offers insight into the passage of time, the importance of symbols and moments in our lives connect us to the place where we live.

The video is an example of the how one person experienced these stories.

For more Neighourhood Voices checkout the series playlist on my Recent Videos page.

It’s time to pay it forward

The Sisters of FateIt is truly wonderful when fortune smiles on you and the goddesses of fate let out a little more thread. Suddenly you can reach a little further, you are reinvigorated, reconnected – your life takes a turn for the better. A bit Pollyanna I suppose, but this seems to have happened to me more than once in my lifetime. Since shifting focus to my digital storytelling practice in 2010, it seems to have happened to me more frequently.

While I am not sure of the reason for the increased frequency, I am acutely aware of what it has meant to the success of my work. Success, as with all work in the arts, is not measured in dollars and cents, but in the sense of accomplishment – the knowledge your work has touched someone deeply or contributed to a betterment of the world.

I don’t go about my life willy-nilly, at the whim of fortune and fate. In fact, I believe we create opportunity by listening to our hearts, doing the work we are most passionate about, making a sincere effort be the best we can at the work we choose and reaching out to connect to the community around us. These are the broad brush strokes that colour my work; the richness of the colours comes from the depth of the relationships I make.

The partnership I have the Latitudes Storytelling Festival through the Latitudes and Longitudes Digital Storytelling Project is one such enriching experience. Through this collaboration I have conducted a series of community-based digital storytelling workshops in 2011 and 2012 and created Made In Kitchener, an interactive walking tour.

Both projects have allowed me to develop the skills and techniques I’ve applied in my work with community agencies such as House of Friendship, Community Justice Initiative and ArtsSmarts Waterloo Region. More importantly though, I’ve connected with amazing people and we’ve created and shared many stories. It’s, in part because of this I’m able to pursue the work I love – exploring the eternal connection between our stories and the place we call home.

Now, it’s time to pay forward this good fortune and help other explore the thread of life.

Fundraising Workshop March 23

On Saturday, March 23, 2013, I will donate my time to facilitate a one-day digital storytelling workshop in support of Latitudes Storytelling Festival. The theme for the fundraiser is taken from World Storytelling Day 2013 – Fortune and Fate.

The workshop fee is only $75, all of which goes the Festival.

I invite you to join me to share your personal stories and to support this important community organization.

For more details and to register for this event visit the workshop registration page on the Latitudes and Longitudes website.