Conscious Theatre with Heart and Purpose: 2015 A Year in Review

What a year it has been for Mixed Company Theatre! In 2015 we worked on several amazing projects including: developing our Inter-Gen Program, creating a new high school tour called Half Full, touring Mixed Messages to high schools and universities across the GTA, building Out of the Illusion – a play with the JustUs Group of seniors from the Six Nations Reserve, delivering workshops to several community organizations including the MicroSkills Youth Centre, and the last show of 2015 – A Day on the Shore – developed in collaboration with Lakeshore residents.

This will be the third year developing our Inter-Gen Program. We have led interactive workshops with participants from our partnering organizations including UrbanArts, Heritage York Members at Historical Lambton House, and Scadding Court Community Centre. These workshops brought together people across generations to create theatrical presentations to bridge the gap between generational and cultural realities, issues, and concerns. In the upcoming year, the project will culminate with the stories of two communities – Weston/Mount Dennis and Alexandra Park/Chinatown – and MCT will build two productions showcased within a Toronto theatre venue. Stay tuned for more details!

In February we workshopped Half Full, our newest high school show to break the stigma on mental health. The process was led by the Mixed Company Theatre playwright Catherine Frid, who developed the script with the input of those who live with anxiety, including students, teachers, and mental health and educational institutions. We also toured our well received production Mixed Messages to High Schools this past May and in Universities in August. We received tremendous positive feedback from the student and teacher audience members in the various schools, and we will continue to reach schools across the GTA this coming year.

With Microskills Youth Centre – the Dixie Road location – we ran workshops with youth to raise awareness of gender and equity issues and the effects of cyber bullying. The workshops were delivered as an after school program to a group of local youth. Other workshops offered this past year were our Summer Professional Development workshop series which included our Introduction to Forum Theatre, Masks of Manipulation, Rainbow of Desire, and Facilitator/Joker Training.

This fall Mixed Company Theatre, in partnership with Scadding Court Community Centre and The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University, worked with the JustUs: an amazingly talented First Nation’s Senior group from the Six Nations Reserve. Through interactive theatre and community arts activities, participants explored intergenerational stories, issues and concerns. This forum theatre presentation, Out of the Illusion, tackled the subject of breaking the cycle of violence through the perspective of the senior participants and the voices of their community. Out of the Illusion was well received by audiences at Ohsweken’s Great Theatre and Toronto’s Ryerson University. All were able to unpack current social issues and engage in essential dialogue using forum theatre techniques with local community participants. We hope to continue to develop and share this important production with a wider audience in 2016.

Our final show this year, A Day on the Shore, was supported by the Toronto Arts Council’s Artists in the Library program, and the Toronto Pearson Airport’s Propeller Program. Mixed Company Theatre was this year’s artist in residence at the Mimico Centennial Library. This show was a beautiful mosaic of community building, art making and designing, music and soundscape development, storytelling and live theatre performances. Many of the performers were local residents of the Lakeshore neighbourhood. The script was developed in consultation with local residents, and showcased their shared stories and lived experiences of the neighbourhood. These community members were also involved in every aspect of development of the production, including puppet making, instrument building, soundscape production, costume and prop making, and performing in the show. We were able to capture their joy, the new participants connections made, as well as be witness to the artistic transformation that occurred by being part of A Day on the Shore. It was truly a lovely way to wrap up the year!

We would like to thank our company funders who helped us to realize all of the great work we accomplished this year. Thank you to: the RBC Children’s Mental Health Project, Scotiabank’s J.P Bickell Foundation, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Pearson Airport’s Propeller Project, the Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, the Ontario Government Seniors Community Grant Program, and the Ontario Arts Endowment Fund.

A big thank you also to our community partners who have been amazing hosts and collaborators. Thank you to: Scadding Court Community Centre, Heritage York (Located in the Historical Lambton House), UrbanArts, the Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, the Toronto Public Library, Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing EducationLakeshore Arts, and the South Etobicoke Youth Assembly.

Half Full: The Glass as Mirror

Half Full is the creation of Mixed Company Theatre and focuses on the experience of students with anxiety – students who may have never told anyone about their anxieties and fears. This presentation will deliver a uniquely engaging form of experiential peer-led public education to reduce the stigma of mental health and find ways to support students and peers.

At a recent stage reading of Half Full, for the Toronto Catholic District School Board and their campaign ‘Stop the Stigma’, students and teachers were given the opportunity to experience Half Full and give their thoughts and feedback on its content, approach, language, and delivery. Throughout the reading there were deep silences and head nods as students and teachers alike connected with the struggles of the lead character Joshua, and laughter as he made those all too familiar fumbles toward finding his confidence, voice, and strength to reach out and ask for help.

At the end of the reading students were tentative to volunteer their thoughts on the show, and our Artistic Director Simon Malbogat expertly facilitated the dialogue on the winning aspects of the play and areas for new perspectives and growth. As more students gained confidence to speak there was a wellspring of positive thoughts about why Half Full is so essential, especially in a high school environment where it can often be difficult to speak up and speak out against the stigma of anxiety and mental health. In this moment teachers were able to really hear their students on an even plane where Simon mediated disagreements in views and approaches for how teachers connect with students needing support, and how students want to be supported.

It takes courage to be kind to ourselves, to voice our concerns and have the strength to ask for what we need. It is important that we push through the discomfort, embarrassment, shame and awkward feelings to address our anxiety. This is the only way we break down the walls of stigma, and help ourselves and others freely talk about and access the resources we need to deal with anxiety and other mental health struggles.

The biggest first step is acknowledging that we are struggling and need help. It takes a lot of bravery and determination to stop the stigma surrounding mental health, but it is possible one conversation at a time. We can end the stigma by: finding the strength to ask for help, being a support to someone struggling, choosing to highlight the good in others instead of having fun at their expense, and by being considerate and patient with one another. As we begin to talk about our struggles and help others through their own we come to see that the glass is never empty, at the very least it’s half full.

Out of the Illusion: Manifesting New Realities

On November 25th, I enter the room to the stage reading of our show ‘Out of the Illusion’. I am late, the room isn’t quite full, and I hurriedly catch up with the scene playing out before me on the stage. It is a scenario of a mother and her children. Her children have come home after school and there is little to no food to feed them, her husband is out looking for work, she is apathetic to the situation. In walks the grandmother who is immediately concerned about the lack of food in the house, and the bruises on the childrens’ arms.

The audience watches silently as the mother begins to deflect questions about the origins of the bruises, finally she answers, “Something must have fallen on them.” This is no longer a safe space for these kids, and the grandmother gently suggests having the children stay at her house while the parents sort themselves out and get their house in order. The mother vehemently tries to preserve her right to keeping her children despite being unable to care for and feed them.

This is one of many scenarios played out over the course of the afternoon. We are shown narratives that play out in the household, stories of abuse, neglect, poverty, drug use, bullying and racism. By the time that the last scenario is acted out the audience engagement is at a fever pitch. We as viewers begin to understand that violence within the home is not a simple problem of a single abuser and the abused. It runs much deeper into the new realities that are created which feed the cycle of violence in the home. These ‘realities’ are actually illusions we create to cope with the people that are supposed to love and protect us, but instead are the very ones we need protecting from.

Audience members begin to understand as the show progresses that cycles of violence in the home are not specific to First Nations communities. What is specific to First Nations communities is the all too real reality of far fewer social supports and resources for survivors and victims of abuse. There is a deep rooted stigma around addressing the taboo topic of violence perpetrated by loved ones and family members in the home. As audience members engage with the scenarios to create solutions some of us become uncomfortably aware of our privilege as non-First Nations citizens. Things such as access to food banks and healthy food, validation of human rights, relatively quick response times in moments of crisis or trauma, and access to helpful neighbours are examples of privilege that non-First Nations citizens, especially those living in urban centres, take for granted.

By the end of the show we are overpouring with new insight, renewed energy and confidence to speak up and speak out about injustices in our own lives and the lives of others who may be struggling to be heard. We learn that a solution that may be right for one person may not be right for another. We learn that there are many definitions of community, and that family isn’t always the community of support we need if our abuser lives under the same roof as we do. The show ends, we say our thank yous, we connect, we show our love and support for those that have shared their stories, and we hope that we can follow through with the promises we have made to one another to not remain silent when it comes to protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and others who need support. We promise to do our part in ending cycles of violence for ourselves and others around us.

 

Photo courtesy of Angela Moritsugu (www.angelamoritsugu.com).

Get to Know Us! – MCT’s New Intern

posted in: Interviews | 0

1. Could you give a brief background of yourself – where you are from, your interests and passions, and your past experience in the performing arts?
Hi! I’m Melissa. I’m originally from New Jersey, but I moved to Canada two years ago to study at University of Toronto. At U of T, I’m in acting training as a specialist in Drama, Theatre, & Performance Studies, and a minor in Literature & Critical Theory. I also act, direct, and work behind the scenes for various extracurricular theatre groups on campus, and serve on the Victoria College Drama Society executive board. Most recently, I co-adapted and performed in a stage version of “The Possessed” by Fyodor Dostoevsky with the St. Michael’s College Troubadours, and am working on a few other classic literature adaptations. I also do a lot of volunteer work and enjoy singing and creative writing.

 

2. What initially attracted you to working with Mixed Company Theatre? Where/how did you hear of it?
A few months ago, I discovered MCT while looking up applied theatre companies in Toronto. I was immediately drawn to MCT’s collaboration with communities for the entire duration of each creative project, from conception to performance. I’ve also attended a few workshops on Forum Theatre performance and facilitation, and am excited to see it in practice and to learn how to engage different audiences. In addition, I really enjoyed volunteering at the Carnival of Community and knew by the end of the event that I wanted to help out more!
 

3. Have you done any other community theatre work in the past in the US? How do these experiences compare with what you have experienced here with MCT?
Last year, I interned for the ArtsPower Collaboration in Madison, NJ. The program is a partnership between Drew University and the Marion E. Bolden Center for Newark Public Schools, and I helped stage four original short plays about challenges the high school students face as lower-income urban youth. I think the biggest difference is time–at AP, we worked 10-4 every day for three weeks, and the majority of it was spent in rehearsal. At MCT, however, projects are more spaced out and are developed with community members from start to finish. In addition, I’ve only ever used Forum Theatre as a tool for discussion, rather than actual audience participant involvement in the action onstage.
 

4. What has been the most memorable experience with MCT so far?
I’ve really enjoyed the two workshops I’ve participated in so far at MCT, for very similar reasons. With Nu Kollektif, we explored the many ways in which a single story can be interpreted or retold, while the InterGen project has unveiled how various accounts exemplify how one’s perspective changes with age. I look forward to hearing more stories and helping to make the personal become universal.
 

5. What do you hope to learn during your time at MCT?
So many things! I’m primarily interested in gaining more facilitation skills–from establishing community partnerships, to running workshops, to creating the final performance product. I also want to learn a bit more about arts administration and how to run a non-profit theatre organization. Finally, I hope to gain a better understanding of Forum Theatre and its practice.
 

6. What do you hope to do with the skills that you pick up at MCT? Is there a personal project/something close to your heart that you would like to explore with the support of MCT?
In the long-term, I hope to someday pursue a master’s degree or other advanced training in applied theatre, and become a facilitator myself. For now, however, I’m interested in exploring mental health issues and stigma through various theatrical forms–so you can imagine how excited I am by MCT’s new anxiety play!

 

Thanks Melissa!

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 19