Naomi Tessler

Gathering, Building, Growing

For the past two months, I have been heading out past the fields of cows on Tuesday evenings to play, tell stories, co-create, laugh, improvise, co-learn and teach playback theatre with an intimate group of Barrhaven youth.

At the start, gathering a group of Barrhaven youth was no easy task.  Asking youth ages 12-15 to improvise turns out to be a tough sell! However, with the support of Nepean Housing Corporation, South Nepean Satellite Community Health Centre and the Barrhaven BIA, we have a strong group of youth taking part in the project who are dedicated, funny, talented and overcoming their shyness to get onstage and play back their Barrhaven neighbours’ stories in our four public performances this summer!

Naomi5 In each of our Tuesday night sessions, I have been working with the group on building community, confidence and trust in addition to building their skills in: performance, movement, storytelling, sound-making and improvisation. The ensemble has slowly become more comfortable with using their bodies to express emotions and they are mastering improvising stories—even in French!

Since the beginning of May, we’ve been working each week on a specific playback theatre technique, introducing the group step by step to the rituals and art that is playback theatre.

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Playback theatre is made up of many improvisation techniques that are all used to play back the audience members stories in different ways. Playback theatre requires active listening to make sure the actors truly understand the heart of the story the audience member is sharing. It requires a willingness to deeply trust one’s fellow actors and have the courage to create and dive into the action on stage.

This style of theatre is challenging the youth in our group to discover and step into their strengths! For each performance, they will be on stage at all times. Before our first show on July 7th, we are taking the time to keep working on confidence building to support the group in opening up and being prepared to make bold choices individually and collectively on stage.

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Throughout our time working together there have been a few challenges that I did not anticipate.  I have learned from the group that in the age of Instagram and Snapchat that if two youth who are friends are seen on stage linking arms—it could be possible that all their friends and family in the audience would assume they are dating.   As such, there are a few youth in our group who have requested not to link arms or sit beside each other in our performances.  One of the techniques which is called pairs typically requires linking arms but to acknowledge the social media anxiety it could bring forth, we have collectively decided to do the technique a different way.  Our group specializes in sarcasm and would love to do a whole show in that language!  It has therefore been tough to guide the group away from sarcasm (unless it’s part of a story we’re working on) and into the exploration of their full range of emotions and expressions. When we began talking about the performances, the group went into panic mode when they realized that their friends might see one of our shows!  They had been thoroughly enjoying our Tuesday evening workshops and rehearsals, but hadn’t considered who might be coming out to the community performances we’re working towards.  When discussing show dates and times, they comically suggested and honestly requested a Saturday morning show since their friends sleep in on weekends! They got excited about performing at the seniors’ residence as they felt there would be full support from that audience. Working with this group of youth, I’m realizing that I’ve grown a bit out of touch with teenage worries. It can truly be mortifying to perform in front of youth that one considers to be more popular, or to be doing silly repetitive movements in front of someone that one has a crush on.  As such-I’m consciously aiming to meet the group where they are and have fully supported the 11am Saturday show!

As we grow closer to our summer performances, I have grown extremely proud of the strides the group has taken to learn these new techniques and overcome their performance anxieties to be able to thrive on stage.

I’m thrilled to announce that we now have all our performances lined up:

Show #1: Friday, July 7th ,7:30pm-Barrhaven Community House-16 Kilbarron rd.

Show #2: Tuesday, July 18th, 6:30pm-Court of Barrhaven-1111 Longfields Dr

Show #3: Friday, August 11th, 6:30pm-The Log Farm, 670 Cedarview Rd

Show # 4: Saturday, August 19th, 11am, Community BBQ lunch to follow,

Ken Ross Park: at the hill by the Soccer Field/Play structure

Each show will have free food for the community audience (sponsored by Loblaws and other sponsors TBA) and I am working on gathering some raffle prizes from local businesses.  So far Braces Haven Barrhaven has provided a generous raffle prize of $500 towards orthodontic treatment for each show!

 I am thoroughly enjoying connecting with the Barrhaven businesses and artists to try and bring community together to take part in our events.

As we draw closer to our first performance I am bubbling with curiousity and excitement to hear the stories the community will share with our youth and watch in wonder as the youth play them back!

 Naomi Tessler, June 2017

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