growing old with new leaves: Cross-cultural and intergenerational experiences in forum theatre

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A group of older adults have been participating in workshops at Scadding Court Community Centre, near one of Toronto’s Chinatown communities. MCT facilitators, Simon, Kristin, and Amelie are working collaboratively with Stephen and Jenny, from Aiding Dramatic Change in Development (ADCID) using CrossGEN (a method for facilitating cross-cultural understanding) to build on MCT’s interGEN and forum theatre programming for the predominantly Chinese Canadian participants.

Supported by a Mandarin translator, the older adults are guided to pay attention to movement, facial expressions, and creative ways of communicating, across cultures. The facilitators continuously guide the participants to pay attention to the journey, and the process: to enjoy the time that is being spent exploring identity and connecting their experiences.

One older adult, who is new to Toronto, shared that “It’s beautiful because you get to explore what is inside of us. We’re actually using the creativity part of our brain. You really have to think in the moment and we’re not trained actors so we really need to think about what to do.”

In one exercise, all of the older adults danced around the room, making sure that their movements and mood reflected the type of music being played. Their body language and movements illustrated the different ways they interpreted the sounds they heard, yet all seemed to move in sync. The intention of the CrossGen and interGEN programming is to stimulate cross-cultural communication and understanding, across and within difference— a verbal dialogue is not always necessary to stimulate awareness of different perspectives. In another exercise, through the construction of sculptures, both the participants and facilitators realized how differently they would interpret body postures. Simon sculpted two of the participants back to back, as an image of disconnection. Yet, the participants sculpted a similar image, of two people sitting back to back, as one of connection, explaining how couples would take this romantic pose, back in their day, in China.

In another activity, the participants chose a picture from a table covered with a range of images from around the world. In a sharing circle, each participant had the opportunity to share their photo and how they felt connected to it. Some shared in English, but most spoke in Mandarin and through the translator, everyone heard each other’s stories: trees that represented the struggle to survive and the idea of growing old with new leaves, were some of the images that conjured through this dialogue.

The image of the bicycle came up over and over again; everyone appeared to have a bicycle story, and it sparked an emotional reflection on what was then, and what is now. In the 1920s and 30s, bicycles were initially reserved for the upper class or for those who had spent time abroad. By the late 1930s when China began to mass-produce bicycles, many people in China began to utilize this new form of transportation. The bicycle is called zi xing che (自行车) in Chinese, meaning, self-driven transport. Currently, there are approximately 430 million bicycle owners in China.

Clearly, the bicycle represents autonomy in transportation. However, in China, most of these older adults had to experience great challenges to acquire bicycles – they shared their struggles with having to get a code prior to attempting to purchase a bicycle. The structural limitations around acquiring this commodity made for a powerful reflection on what was ‘then’ and what is ‘now.’

Lots of photos and stories emerged around the circle, but all were connected – each one gave someone in the room deep insight and connection to themselves, to each other and to the world. A lot of people connected to earlier time in their life: a memory, a special moment, a feeling or experience. Discovering such connections is part of intergenerational programming does – by providing space to make meaning of such experiences. The workshops are ongoing twice a week, and will culminate in a performance at Ryerson University’s 50+ Festival, where this group of older adults will perform moments from their lives, on Thursday June 4th.

The blog entry was contributed by Christina Parker (MCT’s volunteer researcher) and Amelie Sterchi (MCT’s international intern from Switzerland).

Carnival of Community

Wanted: Volunteer for Carnival of Community Event!

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Wanted: Volunteer for Carnival of Community Event!

Mixed Company Theatre is looking for Volunteers for our annual Gala event!

Event Summary

MCT’s will celebrate its 30+ Anniversary with an interactive fundraising event! This evening will be a combination of carnival-like games and MCT’s performances, around a 50’s version of a fun fair theme. We will present MCT’s up-coming Intergenerational programming with teens and older adults, through multi-media art forms, including dance, music,and song. This will allow the guests to see what their donations are supporting and how our methodologies help give diverse communities a voice. This event will help MCT raise funds in a dynamic and entertaining way. We will provide entertainment, food, and drinks. Get prepared for an awesome celebration of positive change!

Job Description

Mixed Company Theatre is looking for volunteers interested in joining our event. The volunteer committee members will help organize this Event and help out in various capacities. Creative meetings as well as an Orientation Session will be organized to plan the steps needed to execute this project. We are looking for candidates interested in:

  • Creating decor, games and games prizes
  • Front of house: selling raffle tickets + writing down number of children
  • Games facilitation
  • Food: barbecue
  • Drinks
  • Set-up
  • Clean-up
  • Stage management

How to Apply

Mixed Company Theatre invites all interested applicants!

Contact Amelie Sterchi
(416) 515-8080

Volunteers in the Spotlight – Christine Balt

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MCT is happy to present you a new volunteer in our team: Christine Balt! Christine has been volunteering for a month and has already used many of her communication skills to help out with our projects. She has jumped onboard the promoting and booking our show Mixed Messages. She is very eager to make the most of her talent within MCT’s work and it is a pleasure to have her around.

Here is a short interview, for you to get to know her better!

So Christine, I am curious to know about where you are from and what brought you here?

I am from South Africa, I was born in Johannesburg. I originally came here for my husband so I thought I would really like to continue to do what I was passionate about in South Africa: community theatre. I was involved in a lot of that, back in South Africa, especially with rural communities and low income kind of settlements, with people living there. So I did some research and that’s how I discovered Mixed Company Theatre! I am learning a lot through volunteering here, especially how forum theatre is done in Toronto and the different projects they have. So yeah it’s been quite exciting for me!

Did you notice many differences between what you have seen in South Africa and here?

Oh yeah, wow it is crazy but it’s still interesting because some of the underline issues have a lot in common. In rural schools in South Africa it was mainly dealing with teenagers and AIDS awareness. That’s a big issue, especially in the area I lived in. So a lot of the work that we did was about Aids but it was also about issues very much connected with Mixed Messages and sexual consent and offering a platform to be able to make the right choices. So, there is a lot of overlap. In South Africa it’s more about rural communities and countryside and over here it is very much like an urban environment but that also generates problems and issues, especially within the city communities and I find that quite interesting to see the contrasts between the two.

And in terms of settling in, since you have been to different places, is anything special about Toronto?

Ah, yeah, and I think that’s with every city. Oh man, in the past, living in Asia it was a totally different kind of set up because you were part of that “Expats” group and you got your like mini-community within the broader community that you are living in. Here it’s different because I came by myself; I wasn’t part of like a job that attracted expats exclusively so I did feel like a little bit of a lone wolf floating about, trying to find where I need to be. And also with Toronto, they are so many different little communities within communities that it is a bit overwhelming because you are presented with all these opportunities, which is exciting, but at the same time, you start to thinking, so, ok, how do I go about fitting in, blending in, living like a local and these are challenges that you have to learn on your own.

And if you could have your own project, what would it be?

That’s a good question…Based on what I have experienced in South Africa and what I’d like to try there because it is something that I grabbed from you guys, is something similar to the InterGEN project. Because I think that’s a big issue in South African communities as well. The reason for the gaps that exist between younger people and older adults is not only because of a completely different lifestyle, it is because there are generations of South African who have passed away due to AIDS or due to violence so you have a lot of communities where you have adolescents and young adults, early twenties, living alongside older adults and there is an entire generation that is missing, that has either been taken away because of poverty or a lot of serious issues that face rural communities. So I would love to see how that kind of project would work in this setting in South Africa.

Anything else you’d like to tell MCT and the people reading us?

I really feel like I have joined a great community of people, who are community minded and have the same values as I do. I kind of feel that I found my tribe, which is an important thing to do when you move to a new city, especially because I had kind of built up my tribe and then I had to remove myself out of it and set roots down, from scratch, and that’s hard and challenging. But it feels good to be here and I am learning a lot and hopefully want to stick around for a while!

Thank you Christine!

How Disconnected are Older Adults and Youth in Toronto?

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I want to be respected,” said the older adults. “I want to be respected,” said the youth. “We’re not invisible!” said both.

At the root of intergenerational conflict is the need for respect; both groups, young and old, want to be heard, recognized and understood. On March 20th, the interGEN project brought youth (between ages 9 to 18) and older adults (between their 50s and 80s) together to share their stories through theatre. The older adults performed C’mon Granny (written by Luciano Iogna) and the youth performed, Dis-connected (written by Alicia Payne).

The March Break youth participants worked with facilitators Kristin Bartlett and Alicia Payne to create scenes that illustrated what it felt like to be a teen in Toronto: Dis-connected is a collection of scenes that illustrate the tension that exists between youth and older adults—particularly in diverse and urban contexts.

Both groups identified public transportation as a place fraught with intergenerational conflict. A 14-year old youth, who played the role of an older man who couldn’t find a seat on a bus because two young girls took up an entire row of seats and refused to let him sit down, reflected on his experience: “I now know what it feels like to be old. Those girls were so mean to me. They had no respect.” The 14-year old went on to explain how it felt to “get a glimpse of life in the future.” Clearly, the experience of taking on the identities and perspectives of older adults had an impact on these youth. Through the weeklong workshop the youth explored issues such as, the impact of technology on their lives, the need for freedom, and sharing experiences of what it is like to be a new resident in the city. All of these themes culminated in the multiple scenes that led to the creation of Dis-connected.

In the final scene, the youth indulged in alcohol at a house party and ostracized an “uncool” kid, forcing her to leave the party. One young girl chose to accept a “special” drink offered to her by a young man. The youth all started to dance, and engaged in a lively, choreographed performance—and then that young girl with the “special” drink fell to the floor. Everyone ran away, leaving her collapsed on the floor—and the scene ended.

At the end of each performance, Simon Malbogat and Alicia Payne each opened up the stage to the audience: Is there anything you would change? What could we do differently? The youth, older adults, and audience members actively participated in the discussion and interventions—each taking on different roles, and exploring alternative outcomes to manage and challenge the injustice and disrespect they witnessed. One audience member attempted to humanize the thief in C’mon Granny—attempting to show how an “oppressor” experiences oppression, such as poverty and lack of social networks. Many audience members attempted to take on the role of the young girl who accepted the “special drink.” This resulted in a theatre-wide discussion with both the youth and older adults sharing moments where they found themselves in uncomfortable and dangerous situations. As they shared different and similar perspectives they appeared to find a place with common ground, and while no consensus was reached on the final “right” answer, the conversation definitely sparked a healthy debate—one that allowed and encouraged participants to openly and safely express their fears and experiences with alcohol.

MCT intends to continue to encourage youth and older adults to come together to explore intergenerational issues through theatre. If you’re a youth or older adult in Toronto, reach out to MCT to find out how to get involved, and join this important dialogue.

The blog entry was contributed by Christina Parker (MCT’s volunteer researcher) and Amelie Sterchi (MCT’s international intern from Switzerland).