Two men who help me find the stories at inReach

Oscar
My Grandfather Oscar

Both my grandfathers were sawyers.

Men who operated the main saw in lumber mills in the 1940s and 50s – a job long ago turned over to machines. Aside from this, they were very different men.
My maternal grandfather, Tom built his own sawmill powered by a diesel engine. Quiet, serious and introverted, he built a successful lumber business. However, he was a man I never seemed to able to get close to. He seem most at home in a dimly lit room with a glass of whiskey.
My paternal grandfather, Oscar worked in one of the last water-powered sawmills in Ontario. He was a gregarious, outgoing man who made a modest living working for others. He played the harmonica, read tea leaves and told stories.
I’m two weeks into a digital storytelling project with inREACH, a youth gang prevention program in Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada. As I work with these young men to help them find their voice and tell their personal stories, I feel a deep connection to Tom and Oscar.
I always ached to understand Tom. I was sure he had much to tell me, but his wealth of life experience remained out of reach. Oscar, on the other hand, showed me how to use the tools in his workshop, read my fortune in tea leaves and told me stories – stories of the lost being found and the found being welcomed home.
I bring the spirit of these two men to the storytelling workshop each week – Tom helps me explore the dimly lit rooms and Oscar helps me find the stories.

Digital storytelling taking root in the community

Back in June 2010 I planted some seeds at the Building Community Narratives Through Multimedia Storytelling one-day digital storytelling workshop I facilitated during the Community Arts Ontario Conference in Kitchener, Ontario.

Five first-time digital storytellers joined me that day to do a storywalk from Victoria to Cedar Street in downtown Kitchener. I’ve put together some of these stories in this short video:

These seeds of a community-based digital storytelling initiative have taken root and are beginning to blossom.

I recently completed a digital storytelling project with House of Friendship (@HOFKW) where four women who found help through the agency’s addictions services told their personal stories about recovery.

The agency’s executive director, John Neufeld (@JohnNeufeld98) is meeting with groups around Waterloo Region to show these stories – Voices from House of Friendship – and raise awareness of House of Friendship’s work

House of Friendship, at least for me, has been a benchmark social service organization in the community. It has great strength in recognizing needs and finding innovative ways to address those needs. Highlighting of these women’s personal, digital stories as part of the agency’s story is just one example.

It was truly a transformational experience to work with these women to find their inner storyteller and help them bring their deeply personal experiences to an audience of engaged listeners.

If you are a member of a group interested in finding out more about House of Friendship’s work in addictions services you can contact them to arrange an information session and a screening of the personal stories of four remarkable and courageous women.

How to build community narratives

Community narratives are found in community spaces
Community narratives are found in community spaces.

With the digital era now propelled to warp three by social media, it seems that telling the stories of our communities should be easier than ever, but I’m beginning to wonder if we don’t become more intentional about building community narratives – place-based stories – is there a chance we will lose track of what’s happening on the ground in our communities while we’re on our way to some undetermined digital destination faster than the speed of light. Continue reading “How to build community narratives”

Made in China: new mixed media

Made in China - Mixed Media

The taste of sulphur coated my tongue and the air clung to my skin as I emerged from the Beijing Capital International Airport on an unseasonably hot October night in 2007. I was on a whirlwind tour of the Asia-Pacific region as part of my work on an online network of universities. I was touching down in China’s capital for a 48 hour stay. Continue reading “Made in China: new mixed media”

The Secret World of the Rehearsal Hall

Being invited into the secret world of the rehearsal hall fills me with a sense of great privilege and responsibility. It’s a place where artists are laid bare, exposed and vulnerable. You become part of a living, breathing organism in which your mere presence – each breath, each blink of the eye, even the twitch of a finger – add to the collective performance. Once you have experienced this you realize the important role of audience in theatre.

Last Friday I was invited into the rehearsal of “Seasons of Immigration” at the Multicultural Theatre Space studio in Kitchener. The troupe was rehearsing the 5th anniversary remount of the show in preparation for a three city tour.

Seasons is an original physical theatre piece that weaves dance, movement and text together with a recorded and live music soundtrack. Directed by MT Space Artist Director, Majdi Bou-Matar it is based on the personal stories of immigrants as they carve out a new life in Canada.

Five years ago I made the still photos for the original production and happened to have a copy of the original recorded soundtrack. I’ve combined them in this multimedia story to capture the narrative of Season of Immigration.

The show starts its tour at The Registry Theatre in Kitchener, Ontario with performances April 6 and 7, 8 p.m. It then moves to the St. John’s Imperial Theatre in St. John’s New Brunswick, April 9; The Playhouse in Fredericton New Brunswick, April 10 and wraps up at Galt Collegiate Institute on April 15.

3 Reasons I Love My House

A few years ago my wife and I had what some would call a lapse of judgement. Although we are generally considered by friends and acquaintances to be measured in our decision making, on a warm Sunday in June the measures of our lives turned out to be malleable.

It was on one of those Sundays when we first visited our current home – a realtor’s open house. We took the 20-minute tour. Not so bad you say? Well, by Tuesday morning we owned the place. I will save you the sordid details, but let’s say it was a whirlwind affair and one neither of us regret.Rippled GlassBevelled GlassGlass Door Knob

We were seduced by the light in the house – the way it welcomed you, reflected off the rippled window glass, passed through the bevelled panes in the doors … highlighted the glass doorknobs that have served so many hands. I took these photos on a sunny morning recently and they reminded me that it was not just simple infatuation that brought us to this house, but a heartfelt choice that rewards us every day.

We are now ensconced in this 100-year-old house in the Victoria Park heritage district of Kitchener. We lived in our previous home for 25 years, but the sense of ownership has never been so acute. For example, during a recent civic discussion about the future health of the lake in the park, I started a fan page on Facebook to heighten awareness of the issues – “If You Love Victoria Park”.

We’re now students of the Berlin Vernacular style of architecture. We read the neighbourhood association newsletter. We stroll the neighbourhood like founders – particularly on warm Sundays in June.