Canadian Stage’s ‘We Are Story’ celebrates Toronto’s diverse voices and views

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Shakespeare in High Park Audience; photo by Nathan Kelly

Summer after summer, multi-generations fill the High Park Amphitheatre at dusk to experience lively versions of Shakespeare’s plays that have been streamlined and adapted for social and cultural contemporaneity.  Lingering on the corner of the path to the amphitheatre, overlooking the parking lot and lush trails, gives a snapshot of teeming activity in the rest of the park. Cyclists whiz by. Hikers and joggers make their slower but purposeful ways in multiple directions. Dog owners with their happily barking pets wend their way to or from the park’s nearby off-leash section. And restaurant patrons spill out of The Grenadier Cafe. The audience headed to the sloping outdoor theatre is equally diverse: some on foot, others in wheelchairs, still others on bikes. Couples amble in, arm-in-arm; families and friend groups are filling the path. Little ones are wheeled in strollers; older children are bounding around. And the myriad of picnics they unpack and devour in the hour before a play? That’s another rich tale…

This collective experience is a beautiful, communal thing. A continuous flow of Torontonians share this vast urban green space for numerous purposes. Over the years, Canadian Stage has taken note of the city’s storied diversity in microcosm both at High Park and its other venues. We are a city of people whose roots and perspectives span the globe, who come with stories all their own to tell. Even within distinct communities, diversity is revealed through personal narratives born out of unique histories, experiences and views.

This Sunday at High Park, these stories take centre stage in We Are Story, a free, day-long event to elicit the range of Toronto voices, expressed through words, art and the senses. The event will feature performances and interactive artist stations, and encompass stories, poetry, drumming, dance, art and food. “We Are Story is a sequel to our Global Village event last year,” explains Autumn Smith, Canadian Stage’s Education and Audience Development Manager. “We love the idea of making our stories palpable through hands-on engagement.”

The family-friendly event is a part of the company’s commitment to the “continuation of sharing story through various different artistic disciplines.” According to the press release, We Are Story is rooted in the belief that “as individuals and communities we are made up of a beautiful pastiche of interconnected tales that urge us to celebrate our similarities, while providing the community with ways to explore and celebrate the “many ways we express these narratives and ancestral legacies.” Smith also notes that in practical terms,  aving this outdoor space in the summer allows “more room to play with paint, food, etc…”

We Are Story will begin at 10 am with a performance by Spirit Wind, an Aboriginal women’s hand drum and singing group that will share Native traditional and social songs through stories, drum, voice and shaker. At 10:45David Silverberg, a spoken word poet, theatre artist, journalist and founder/artistic director of Toronto Poetry Slam, will debut his solo show “Jewnique”, which examines his relationship with Judaism. Next, Brendan McLeod, a former Canadian SLAM poetry champion and World SLAM runner-up, will host “All-Star Poets”, a poetic competition between some of Canada’s top spoken-word artists. Drag performance artists Fay Slift + Fluffy Soufflé offer “Fay and Fluffy’s Storytime” at 12:15, with readings from their favourite books, as well as an arts-based activity or two. The event culminates with the “Territorial Tales” youth project, performed on the Main Stage at 1:15. In addition to these performances, interactive artist stations will be hosted by Toronto-based graffiti artist Luvsumone and Jamii Esplanade, a not-for-profit organization that produces arts-based community-engaged projects and events within and beyond the Esplanade community. Families can also sample food at Newcomer Kitchen, and Leezee’s Henna Art will present the ancient, intricate art of painting hands and feet that has extended beyond its original Indian bridal tradition to mainstream fashion. (Incidentally, henna is botanical and vegan.)

Cast of ‘Territorial Tales’ in rehearsal; image courtesy of Canadian Stage

“We were interested in inviting artists that appealed to people of all ages, and that engaged in a community spirit,” Smith avers, adding that “the event is propelled by our ‘Territorial Tales’ youth project, which shares stories from youth ages 14-21 with a focus on the land on which we find ourselves.” “Territorial Tales” gives young writers of diverse ancestries from the GTA the opportunity to turn their personal stories into short theatrical works, guided by mentors from Canadian Stage. Smith serves as Curator and Creative Consultant. The project originated last year, catalyzed by Smith’s belief that everyone has a story, and a desire to “hear tales from those who are not usually awarded the opportunity to write for the theatre, based on their experience or age.” The resulting narratives are revelatory and compelling. Smith deems them “profound in their poeticism and unabashedly raw”. This year’s theme of displacement, migration and settlement stemmed from a “need to give voice to those who feel labelled as ‘other,’ and to empower those who witness the work to find the similarities between us rather than the differences.” The broader intention for We Are Story was to find artists who “shared an empathetic methodology through their work” to complement the project.   

Given the abundance of activities at We Are Story, how to choose? Smith demurs when asked about any activity or performance she considers not-to-be-missed. “Stay for the whole event,” she encourages. “It is 4 hours of incredible work ending with ‘Territorial Tales’ at 1:15.  There are great things to do throughout our space in High Park.” Those who wish to spend the entire day at High Park can (and should) also take in the evening performance of Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in High Park production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 8 pm. 

Image courtesy of Canadian Stage

As our conversation closes, Smith extends a warm invitation to We Are Story at High Park: “We would love you to join us – talk to us – share your story.” She also notes that discussion of inclusion and belonging is not localised to the event or venue, and advises educators and parents alike that “acknowledging imperfection is the only way forward. Stay curious – ask questions, and trust yourself.” Moreover, any teachers in attendance who wish to integrate the themes of We Are Story or the “Tales” into their programming should not “hesitate to call or email”, in order to receive in-class support. “This event is an open conversation that transcends the timing of the day.” 

News You Can Use

WhatWe Are Story Family Day, curated and presented by Canadian Stage
Who: All Ages
WhenSunday, August 19, 2018, 10 am – 2 pm
* “Territorial Tales” will also be performed on Monday, August 20 & Monday, August 27, 10 – 11 am
Where: High Park Amphitheatre, High Park, 1873 Bloor St West, Toronto ON

©️ 2018 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya


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