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.

Meg Shannon

Volunteers in the Spotlight! – Meg Shannon

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Tell us about your self: Where are you from? What are your interests?

I’m a lifelong student and lover of the arts. I’ve been involved with music and theatre since I was a child, and have since found myself working as an arts administrator and communications professional in the theatre industry. I’m also a writer and love playing around with short stories, social media, and blogging. Next up I plan to learn how to write a great play.

I’m from Kingston, where there is more community theatre than you can shake a stick at. With so many groups creating great theatre it was easy to fall in love with the artform. I’ve also lived in Guelph, both Londons (here in Ontario and the UK), and have made Toronto my home for the last five years.

When I’m not working in, seeing, or writing about theatre you can find me travelling, playing soccer, cooking a new recipe or enjoying a great glass of wine.

What made you want to volunteer for MCT?
I wanted to get more involved in the Toronto theatre community, and to use my communications and social media skills to do it. I heard that Mixed Company Theatre was looking for people to help with exactly that and jumped at the chance. I love that MCT uses theatre to effect social change – theatre can be a transformative experience and MCT is living proof of that!

What kind of change are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about any kind of social change that allows people to live their truest lives. Lately this has taken the form of reproductive and pay equity rights for women and queer and trans rights. I really do believe that the world will be a better place if we all just give each other room to live their lives as they see fit.

Using your skills, how can you make change in the community?
Give me words (any words!) and I’ll craft you a message that will help fulfill your goals. Whether it’s in a press release, a blog post, a Twitter or Facebook message, or newsletter article, if you have something to say, I can help get it out there. The pen is mightier than the sword, right?

Thanks Meg!

Amelie Sterchi

Get to Know Us! – MCT’s International Intern

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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?

I come from Switzerland. (I was born in the Swiss German part but have done most of my education in the Swiss French part). I have a lot of interests and passions and I sometimes find it a bit difficult to match all of them together! I really love outdoor activities, like hiking and climbing. Of course I have always been interested in the Arts too. I started with music: I played the piano and sang in a choir as a kid and a teenager. I started theatre quite late, when I was 20. At the time, I was doing an internship in an institution for people with disabilities and helping out in the creation of a play with the beneficiaries of the centre. At the same time, I was also taking theatre classes in Lausanne. A couple of months later, I decided to join a pre-professional theatre course. Right at the same time I started University in Social Work and chose to specialize in Community Work and Arts.

2. What initially attracted you to working with Mixed Company Theatre? Where/how did you hear of it?

I am in the last year of my University program, which includes a 6 month internship. I had to choose where I was going to realize this second practical period. As I love travelling, I decided I would do it abroad. I did my first practice in Cambodia, in an artistic school, working on “theatre for awareness”. This technique would generate discussions but it was set in a very formal way, with a “questions and answers” at the end of the play. I wasn’t fully convinced by this method of trying to engage the audience and wanted something more active. That is why I decided to look for a Forum Theatre Company for my practice. I read about Mixed Company Theatre online, when I was looking at the International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation website. I wanted to experience what it means to work with Theatre and Communities in a diverse city like Toronto.

3. Have you done any other community theatre work in the past in other countries? How do these experiences compare with what you have experienced here with MCT?

As mentioned in the above, I worked in Battambang, with Phare Ponleu Selpak, which means the Brightness of the Art in Cambodian. It was a very interesting experience, where I was able to explore the reality of trying to implement Theatre for Development in a difficult environment. Before coming to Toronto, I thought that my experience over here would be very different, especially taking obstacles into account. However, I have realized that the constraints, such as limited time and resources, are very common to a lot of companies engaged in social and political theatre throughout the world. Also, another similarity is the experience of working with a translator, which I have had the chance to reiterate again here, working with the Chinese Community at Scadding Court Community Centre.

4. What has been the most memorable experience with MCT so far?

Mmm, that’s a very difficult question! I think that one thing I will keep in memory for sure is the experience I have been able to share with seniors, both with the Intergenerational project and Scadding Court Community Centre. I loved listening to their stories and learning from their knowledge and wisdom.

5. What has been the biggest challenge for you at MCT so far?

Organizing MCT’s fundraiser event! It was my first time having to plan, coordinate and supervise an event from A to Z!
I had worked for bigger events in the past, like music festivals, etc., but I was always assigned to a specific department and never had to oversee every little detail.

6. How has it been for you living in Toronto? What have been the challenges and highlights about living and interning in Toronto? How has Toronto compared to other cities you have lived in?

When I first arrived in Toronto, it really took me a while to be able to settle. I struggled to find proper accommodation and had a hard time feeling “at home”. I have to say that the weather was pretty unfriendly when I arrived (in February) and that it didn’t help me socialize, discover and explore! I also missed being surrounded by nature and realized how lucky I was back in Switzerland, in a country where the public transport is very efficient and the entire country bike friendly. I have to admit I am really not a big fan of the North American Car Passion! One of the highlights of Toronto is definitely its diversity. I have been able to exchange with so many cultures, with MCT, but also at home, since I have been living with roommates from 6 different cultures!

Thank you Amelie!