2016 Artists: Colleen Maguire

Colleen Maguire has been a costumed interpreter for six summers at the Huron County Historic Gaol. For the last four years she has portrayed Margaret Hill Dickson, the beloved Gaol Governess from 1876 to 1895. Colleen has extensively researched every aspect of Mrs. Dickson’s life, her family and her socially advanced work at the Gaol to provide an intimate and heart warming portrayal of this outstanding woman.

Colleen describes how her interactive theatre piece, Mrs. Dickson, presents Unharvested Histories: 

Some people toil away quietly their whole lives, They pass from this life of burdens and care and when those who knew them are also gone their contribution fades from memory. Those who pass their headstone see only a set of letters and some dates. But then someone stumbles across their name, there is an awakening and they live and breath again.

Behind the Scenes at Behind the Bars

 

Ahead of Unharvested Histories this fall, our latest ‘Off the Page’ feature spotlights Huron County! Behind the Bars’ night tours at the Huron Historic Gaol are a popular summer attraction for both residents & tourists in Goderich, Ontario looking to meet their friendly neighbourhood criminals, lunatics and vagrants. On Tuesday and Thursday nights in July and August, visitors to the gaol step into the past to interact with volunteers portraying the real men, women and children who lived and worked at the building when it was an operational jail (1841-1972).

Although she no longer spends her summer evenings in jail as a pregnant vagrant, Staging Our Histories co-director Sinead Cox contributed to Behind the Bars as a volunteer interpreter and coordinator while a student employee at the Huron County Museum. She caught up with current coordinator Madelaine Dunbar-Higgins, Museum Assistant, for behind-the-scenes insight on how staff and volunteers turn primary research into a one-of-a-kind interactive historical experience.

How long have you been working with Behind the Bars? Have you noticed any significant changes in the program over that time?
This is my third summer working on Behind the Bars. I spent my first year learning everything I could about the event, and have been able to improve my organization since then. We have many returning volunteers, and I believe my relationships with each of them has helped to make the program run more smoothly, as well as boosting their confidence to “perform” and ask questions.

Other changes include the increase in audience numbers each year, likely a result of word-of -mouth promotion – our most common response to the question “how did you hear about us?” Audiences seem to be becoming more engaged throughout their tour, asking questions and participating in dialogue as opposed to solely wandering through the building. I find that the level of excitement is increasing, and visitors are keen on telling their friends and families about the event, and to return in coming years as they anticipate changes in characters. Locals and tourists are becoming more aware of the event (and the fact that the Huron Historic Gaol is #1 on TripAdvisor’s “Things to Do in Goderich” list helps too).

This year, I am co-coordinating the event with Mackenzie Bonnet, who is also a University summer student. We are hoping that our collaboration and joint contributions will make 2016 the best Behind the Bars yet!

13417408_1122291751150154_8207625444624819901_nWhat kind of stories and characters are featured this summer?
We try to portray a variety of crimes at BTB. This year, these include theft, vagrancy or destitution, and insanity, we well as more serious crimes such as assault and murder. A new (and notable) character that we have this summer is the infamous James Donnelly. His is a story that many have heard of and that really resonates with people.

Can you explain how the character stories featured in Behind the Bars are researched and created? What kind of historical sources do staff use?
A great number of our character stories were assembled by past Museum Intern
Sinead Cox. Our main source of information comes from the Gaol registry, which lists inmates’ names, age, date of committal, offence, authority committing, length of stay, and then personal details like their hair and eye colours, whether or not they partook in “the drink,” and whether or not they can read or write. The registry also includes information on their behaviour or conduct while in Gaol.

Next, [using dates or details form the registry] we turn to local historical newspapers (Huron Expositor, Goderich Signal, etc.) hoping to find additional information on each crime. This helps to give a bit of background information on the nature of the crime and to add some real drama to each story. We also use census and land records, as well as birth, death, and marriage certificates which provide details on the inmates’ families, occupations, and residences. Old County Council minute books often provide information on peculiar prisoners whose stories were given extra attention, or inmates who required services beyond what the Gaol could provide (straitjackets, special remedies, transfers to other institutions).

Usually a month is spent editing previous stories and compiling new ones based on the ages and genders of our volunteers. Once given their story, volunteers create their own interpretation of their character and bring individual experience to the information provided. They are encouraged to come up with a “hook”, or a piece of information that will draw people in to chat with them, which helps bring a sense of creativity to the event.

How many volunteers and staff work on bringing  Behind the Bars to life?
In 2016, we have a total of 33 volunteers, several of which participate out-of-costume by helping to serve refreshments and answer questions about the general history of the gaol. 26 of our volunteers participate as inmates and staff sharing their true stories. Myself and my co-worker, Mackenzie Bonnet, are co-coordinating the event this summer, and there are generally 1-2 other [staff members] working on Behind the Bars.

How do you find actors for Behind the Bars and match them to the stories you’ve researched?
Our main source of volunteers is the growing number of actors that [have already] participated in Behind the Bars and who return each year. We advertise volunteer recruitment through public service announcements and social media, and I think many people become interested after attending the event themselves, or if they know someone who has volunteered in the past. Our youngest volunteers are 12 years old, and range to middle-aged adults and seniors. We match each one to a character who is of roughly the same age, meaning that the characters we have each year vary…We try to include the stories of inmates that worked well [with audiences] in the past, and also introduce new ones to add some variety to the evenings.

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Staff ultimately don’t provide the volunteers with a formal script to be recited, but a compilation of the facts and context information gathered through research. What do the volunteers themselves bring to the interpretation?
Volunteers are given very basic information on their character, and must fill in the blanks while being as historically accurate as possible. We encourage them to stay in character as much as they can. Our volunteers are eager to add their own twist to their story, or to bring previous knowledge to what they have to say. We hold training nights to share with them the general history of the building, and offer some acting tips, as they piece together tidbits of information. We ask them to spend time in their assigned locations, and to get a feel for how inmates would have lived during their stay, and what emotions they may have felt. Volunteers may also choose to find additional research on their character based on their interests (such as searching family histories or even finding their gravestone).

What about the audience? Since the tour is interactive, rather than scripted, what do the visitors bring to those interactions?
As the nights progress, the volunteers become more comfortable in their roles and learn what visitors are most interested in hearing, adapting their stories accordingly.

What makes BTB successful is the visitors’ participation with each volunteer. To enhance their experience, visitors must ask questions, and participate in day-to-day activities like tasting bread and molasses, playing crokinole, or helping to read letters to inmates from their family members. Last year, a character who was planning to escape from Gaol had visitors help him come up with an escape route – these are the kinds of things that make BTB so intriguing.

Can you walk us through briefly what the typical visitor’s experience is at Behind the Bars?
Visitors enter the building through a long and narrow hallway that leads to what was once the Gaol’s visiting room and “intake office”. On their way through, there is a guestbook to be signed, where visitors can come up with a reason as to why they were committed to gaol. They pay a small fee and are given a card that lists all of the staff and inmates they will encounter. They are given general instructions for making their way through the building (3 floors, spiral staircase, Governor’s House), and we often suggest they start by meeting an inmate who is not already acting with another visitor. After this, it’s all up to them! On any given night, there will be up to 20 actors to interact with. Behind the Bars is self guided, and visitors wander through at their own pace. We often recommend at least 45 minutes for a full tour, but you could spend hours at the Gaol if you wish to hear everyone’s story. We also serve lemonade in the large courtyard beyond the Gaol kitchen on the main floor of the building, where museum volunteers are situated to answer any questions that couldn’t be answered upstairs.

How does the surrounding space—a 175-year-old building with a panopticon layout, and narrow spaces– itself impact the program? Are there specific challenges or advantages to live performance in the Huron Historic Gaol?
The fact that this building is a National Historic Site makes these evening tours appealing. Visitors comment on [the] eerie experience of the narrowing hallway, the same echo-filled space that prisoners walked through upon their committal. The Gaol is octagonal in shape and was based on Jeremy Bentham’s ideas on prison reform – totally different from any jail one might see today. The panopticon layout…helps visitors to share the same feelings and experiences that prisoners once had, and to envision day-to-day life in this facility that was built almost 175 years ago. The layout can also be a bit confusing, and visitors have to learn to find their way up the spiral staircase and around the set-up of each room – something that seems so second nature to myself and my coworkers.

So the setting of the gaol–where these characters actually lived, and in some cases died– lends important visual and spatial context to the stories. Do you think the program could be successfully transplanted to another space and still work?
I don’t think that the program would carry the same effect if it was moved to another space…The history of the building is essential in conveying each character. One of the most effective ways of conveying the Gaol’s history is allowing people to walk the same halls and wander through the same courtyards that inmates did until 1972 when the Gaol closed. People often ask whether or not we’ve witnessed any supernatural phenomena, which wouldn’t be the case outside of this space.

You also staff the gaol during the day. How does the visitor experience change from the daytime (when there are no costumed interpreters) to Behind the Bars nights?
Daytime visitors read about historical facts, objects, instruments (musical and surgical), and uses of the gaol (or hear about certain artifacts and spaces using our audio wands). The Gaol really comes to life during our evening tours, providing the same sorts of information that our daytime visitors experience and SO MUCH MORE. I feel that Behind the Bars is a program that’s essential to sharing the history of the building and the municipalities it represented. Visitors want to be engaged and active. This is what brings them back year after year. The program’s popularity stems from its potential beyond guided educational tours. The enthusiasm shared by staff, visitors, and volunteers inspires others to come see what the event entails!

What kind of feedback or questions do you commonly get from audiences?
Visitors (and volunteers) often provide feedback and commentaries that will help us to improve the event and brainstorm ideas for years to come.There have been suggestions for new characters to include in BTB, such as a judge or any infamous inmates. It is through feedback that we learn what works and what doesn’t. Visitors always enjoy our volunteers’ ability to remain in character despite attempts to make them [break]. I can honestly say that we receive little to no negative feedback, and our guests seem to always leave satisfied with their visiting experience.

What’s the best part of working at Behind the Bars? 
My favourite part of Behind the Bars is hearing the comments and reactions of audience members/visitors. Their enjoyment of the event helps to remind me that my hard work has paid off. I love explaining the event to people, and seeing returning faces each year. I also love hearing the thoughts of our volunteers as they share with me particular encounters that made them happy and excited or shocked and confused.

Do you have a favourite character?Group (women) (1)

My favourite character would have to be Gaol Matron Mrs. Margaret Dickson (sorry everyone, you’re all great!). She is played by a local community member who is extremely devoted to our event. She has gone above and beyond to find information on her character outside of what she has been provided with, and she helps to set the tone of the event by keeping true to her time period (between 1876 and 1895). She is incredibly knowledgeable and encourages visitor participation, especially for those who seem hesitant at first. Each inmate has a different story, so it’s hard to pick just one.

Behind the Bars highlights histories of poverty and crime that aren’t visible at a lot of other local historical sites. Why do you think these stories are important to tell, and why is Behind the Bars the right platform? How do you balance a family event that attracts tourists, campers and young families with some of the darker themes and tragic stories attached to the gaol?
Behind the Bars is different from the presentation of other local histories in that it often focuses on the negative aspects of life in Huron County. Behind the Bars highlights the fact that the gaol was used to house not only prisoners, but also acted as both a poor house and asylum. This is a commonly asked question from daytime visitors and Behind the Bars attendees. It’s important to tell these stories because they are easily forgotten and are part of the unwritten history of the area. Characters in Behind the Bars portray real people and personify the struggles of the past, which is far better understood than reading an excerpt on the wall. We are able to create a balance between historical interpretation and entertainment, keeping in good spirits although some stories may not necessarily be happy ones.

What’s the best reason new or returning visitors should visit Behind the Bars this summer?
Visitors should attend Behind the Bars for a unique community experience that is both entertaining and educational. I encourage past visitors to return since each year is different, and they have the opportunity to speak with inmates and staff they haven’t met before. Our event and our audiences are ever-changing, and there’s always a new piece of history to be discovered with each visit!

Everything you need to know to visit Behind the Bars this summer:
Behind the Bars takes place every Tuesday and Thursday night beginning on July 5th, and ending on August 25th. Special admission rates are $10 for adults, $5 for children, and $25 for families. Children ages 5 and under as well as Museum Members attend free of charge. We open the Gaol doors at 7:00 pm, and encourage visitors to arrive before 8:00 to allow them to experience the event in its entirety. They have until 9:00 pm to find out everything they can about those who lived and worked at the Gaol!

Reminder: If you have an unwritten history about Huron County you want to share on stage this fall, the submission deadline for Unharvested Histories is July 4!

Staging Our Histories Returns in 2016

The co-organizers of Staging Our Histories are pleased to announce that histories off the page will once again be taking the stage in 2016!

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In October 2016, Staging Our Histories comes to Goderich, Ontario on Lake Huron.

Future editions of Staging Our Histories will take place in new locations across the world, providing a platform for new and established local artists to present their diverse perspectives on unwritten histories. Our next live performance event and film screening will be the weekend of October 15th, in Goderich, Ontario. Thank you to our venues, the Livery theatre and the Huron County Museum, as well as the Huron Arts and Heritage Network for acting as our local partners in 2016.

In addition to returning artists from 2015, we’ll be welcoming original submissions from new dancers, storytellers, poets, playwrights, and filmmakers, especially those exploring the lesser known histories and communities of rural Ontario. Look for our call for submissions and further details about this year’s theme in the coming days! Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for up-to-the-minute updates and news about other exciting projects near you that take history off the page.

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Artists talkback at the 2015 Staging Our Histories at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Questions about this year’s event? Contact us at staginghistories@gmail.com

Photo credit: Nazes Afroz

Students Bring History Alive in Kolkata’s South Park Street Cemetery

Last December, Think Arts and students from schools across Kolkata, India, opened a temporary exhibition at the South Park Street Cemetery. In the coming weeks, a new batch of students will have the opportunity to bring history to life in their own way in the same space. Read on to learn more about the project. (Feature image photo credit: Nazes Afroz)

The South Park Street Cemetery in Kolkata is one of those iconic spaces in the postcolonial world that whispers to passersby of a very different time and place. The weathered, mossy stones now interrupted by trees and plant life that have had centuries to stretch their limbs invite you see the cemetery as an artefact of the past with little bearing on the bustling city outside its walls. Though largely forgotten by residents of Kolkata, it still has a pull for some people, like Ruchira Das. “Every time I visited the South Park Street Cemetery in Calcutta, I have been moved by the gravity of the place. Not having grown up in Calcutta, I discovered this fascinating place quite by accident, during one of my visits to the city.”

But Das, founder of Think Arts – an organization geared to engage children with the world around them through the arts, in unconventional ways – was also keenly aware of the kind of history that the cemetery represented in the city’s past. “After I moved to Calcutta a few years ago,” she writes, “I got a chance to spend a lot more time at SPSC and was struck by the fact that the cemetery was in use during one of the most interesting periods of Calcutta’s history (1767 – 1830) – it was during this period that Calcutta was named the capital of British India, the Asiatic Society was founded, the Bengal Renaissance took its roots and the city saw several such significant events.”

Upon realizing that many of the city’s residents, including children like those at a school just a couple hundred meters away from the cemetery, had never entered the space, Das approached the Christian Burial Board, under whose management the cemetery fell.  The board mirrored her concern about the lack of public engagement with the space.

“Paradoxically enough, it was in a cemetery that the pages of history came alive for all of us.”

Das proposed a project wherein school children would spend six months researching and exploring the narratives buried in the site to develop an exhibition called ‘Our History, Their Times.’ The project was designed to encourage students to think about the spaces and stories that surrounded them through art forms they were familiar with: “Retracing a city’s history and presenting it using their [students’] forms of expression can be an involved, exciting activity with a tremendous scope for learning – learning outside textbooks.” For Das, the installations, which ran from the 7th to the 13th of December, 2015, represented a critical understanding and response to the histories to be found in the South Park Street Cemetery – an engagement that was as much about the form as the content in the physical pieces themselves. This emphasis on the value of art as an active site of learning is something Das believes in firmly, and was a driving factor behind the project. In her concept note on the project, she expressed a need to ensure “that the youth is involved in critical thinking – of investigating history, discovering stories, examining perspectives and questioning the accepted.”

The students, grades eight to eleven, came from schools across the city. They were captivated by the romance of the cemetery from the start. Reflections on their first visit to the site highlighted the picturesque beauty of the space, but also revealed a curiosity of the stories that lay behind tombstones and beneath their feet. “I thought that the cemetery was exquisite, but beauty certainly isn’t skin deep,” wrote one student. “The visit gave me the opportunity to make my way deeper into the stories of the people who lay there, and introspect on the lives that once were. It certainly had a great impact on me.”

The project was a huge success, both among participants and with members of the general public who poured visited the exhibition last December. Over the six months of the project, students explored the histories of individuals associated with and interred at the site, as well as those of the nameless Indians and Europeans who lived in Calcutta during that period. Working in groups with help from visual artist Nobina, and professor of English, Dr. Sudip Bhattacharya, students produced a number of different responses to the space, and explored various themes to bring the history of their city to life within the walls of the cemetery. Sunita Biswas, a teacher at Modern High School for Girls was as enthusiastic as her students about the project: “It’s been a wonderful learning experience for the entire team…teachers and students. It gave them a better understanding of Kolkata and its past. Paradoxically enough, it was in a cemetery that the pages of history came alive for all of us.”

Thanks to Ruchira Das and her students, the South Park Street Cemetery was bustling with live bodies for the duration of the exhibition, which brought in residents of the city from all walks of life who were curious about the colourful displays scattered between the trees and tombstones. “Our History, Their Times” was such a success that the Christian Burial Board has asked Das to facilitate the project again this year with a new group of schools. They will be starting their research and work on their projects in the coming weeks, and open up the cemetery gates for a second exhibition in December, 2016.

You can learn more about Ruchira Das and her organization, Think Arts on her Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/thinkartskolkata/.

Acknowledgements

One week ago, the first-ever Staging Our Histories featured seven extraordinary stories examining the past and its repercussions in the present, performed live to a full house at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage. We are very thankful to the talents of our performers and our superb host, Adrian Harewood, for making the evening enthralling & unforgettable.

There were many people who made Staging Our Histories possible, however, that you didn’t get a chance to see on stage. The co-directors would like to thank the following individuals for their support and their valuable time, as well as all other colleagues and friends who supported and promoted the event:


To our core volunteer team, who have been a vital part of Staging Our Histories from almost the beginning, we owe a huge debt of gratitude for everything they contributed behind-the-scenes during our months of planning, and the huge amount of work they did on May 31st!

Kathryn Boschmann, for taking time out of a busy week to run communications for us on Sunday

Matthew Moore, for learning to be our stage manager in one afternoon and doing a fantastic job

Christina Parsons, for being an mvp & making sure everything was where it was supposed to be, when it was supposed to be there


Tannis Price, our dedicated & talented photographer who tirelessly documented the whole day


Christopher Chaban, for his constant assistance, including crucial door-holding, on May 31st


For their generous help with running errands & being all the places we couldn’t be, and/or clean-up after the reception…

Sujata & Arvind Bajpeyi

Alex Wilkinson

Erin Gurski & Michael Chiarello

Vinayak Bansal, Anusha Jahagirdar, Zahir Bakhari, Saumya Bansal, Fizza Ahmed SheikhLeah Teichroeb & Meagan Barnhart


Jenny Srour, for kindly offering to watch the young son of a performer so she could participate in our talk-backs

Marissa Romano, for opening her home to our performers


For donating tickets…

Sharon & Laurie Cox

Siobhan Falconer


For generous donations of food, drinks or gifts…

Bridgehead

David’s Tea

Pure Kitchen

Stella Luna Gelato Cafe

ZaZaZa Pizza


Our caterers…

Kettleman’s Bagels, for our rehearsal lunch

Johnny Farina, for our reception sandwiches


Our Printers…

Merriam Print


David Dean, for his support & the donation of his book History, Memory, Performance 

James Opp & John Walsh, for their guidance on behalf of the CCPH


Our Sponsors

Carleton University’s Department of History

The Carleton Centre for Public History

Carleton University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences-Office of the Dean

The National Arts Centre‘s Fourth Stage

#MyLiveHistory: Tweet @StageHist & Win!

All the world’s a stage. What’s yours?

How do you prefer to experience stories? What captures your imagination and gets you excited about the past?  Is it museum programming? Movies? Video games? A family member that tells a great tale? A nice commemorative plaque, maybe? Something a little unconventional? How have you shared your own unique perspective on history with others? Show us! Tweet your photos of history (a)live to @Stagehist.

Staging Our Histories spotlights the ways histories are talked about, embodied, represented, remembered and forgotten off the page and outside of the classroom. Before our performers take the stage at the National Arts Centre on May 31st to express their thought-provoking histories through theatre, storytelling, film and poetry, we want to hear from you!

WIN by sharing your favourite experiences of history off the page!

Become a #twitterstorian and tweet original photos or video links of your favourite way to  experience history a(live) to @StageHist with the contest hashtag #mylivehistory, before May 29th.

On performance night, participants with the most retweets* win two FREE tickets to Staging Our Histories and a copy of History, Memory, Performance, generously donated by editor David Dean, to be presented at the reception following the night’s performances on May 31st. The runner-up will also receive a pair of tickets (kindly sponsored by individual donors).

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Contest Details

Eligible tweets will include a photo or linked video of an activity, performance, artwork, location, person etc that inspired you to experience or reflect upon the past and/or its legacy in the present. Everything from playing a video game that takes place in an alternate past, to a selfie on a historic walking tour is welcome. Tweets may be in French or English.

To be considered for prizes, all tweets must  include Staging Our Histories’ twitter handle (@stagehist) and the contest hashtag #mylivehistory. If you are tweeting about the work of another individual or cultural/heritage organization, we encourage you to tag them as well.  Entrants are welcome to submit multiple tweets. The contest ends midnight on the night of May 28th.

@Stagehist will retweet all eligible tweets. The  two tweets to receive the most total retweets** before May 29th will be the winners!*

Our first prize winner receives a copy of History, Memory , Performance, edited by Prof. David Dean (value $90) and two FREE tickets to Staging Our Histories (value $30+ tax). The runner-up receives two free tickets (value $30+ tax).  These prizes can be collected on Staging Our Histories’ performance night, May 31st at the National Arts Centre.***

The histories you tweet can be untold, unofficial and unexpected, but please make sure they are also sensitive, thoughtful and respectful. Any tweets of a graphic nature or those deemed offensive, hateful or inappropriate by the co-directors of Staging Our Histories are disqualified from consideration for the contest and will not be retweeted by @stagehist.

* In the event of a tie, Staging Our Histories’ organizing team will act as judges to vote for the winning tweet and the runner-up. The organizers’ and performers’ tweets are not eligible to win the prizes.

** For the purposes of this contest, we will count only RTs, not quoted tweets, MTs or favourites.

*** The winner must provide a full name & contact information by private message/email to collect his/her prize on May 31st.

The Box Office is Open!

On May 31st, the National Arts Centre`s Fourth Stage welcomes theatre-lovers, film buffs, students, historians, twitterstorians, and anyone who has shared or appreciated history and memory off the page.

Staging Our Histories tickets are officially on sale at the National Arts Centre’s box office! Get yours today, and be part of history a(live). A $15 ticket includes seven performances, talk-backs with host Adrian Harewood, and a reception.

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Staging Our Histories is a not-for-profit event organized by three volunteer co-directors, and supported by the Carleton Centre for Public History, Carleton University’s History Department and Carleton University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences-Office of the Dean.

Tickets on Sale NOW!

Get tickets for the first-ever Staging Our Histories today! 

May 31st, 7:30 pm                       National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage

CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS via Ticketmaster 

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We’re pleased to announce that you can now reserve your seat at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth stage to experience ten talented artists embodying the past and its implications in the present through storytelling, film, theatre and poetry. The evening will additionally feature talk-backs between audience and artists moderated by host Adrian Harewood.

Be a part of our first year and participate in a dialogue regarding how history is told and how it is received. Our audience is a significant and valued part of an interactive, one-of-a-kind evening of live performances and conversation. A ticket to Staging Our Histories grants you the chance to see eight extraordinary works, an opportunity to address the artists, and an invitation to an end-of-the-night reception at the National Arts Centre.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Adrian Harewood Hosting Staging Our Histories

The Staging Our Histories team is very excited to announce that prominent local journalist and broadcaster Adrian Harewood will join us as our moderator and host on May 31st, 2015. Mr. Harewood will facilitate short talk-back sessions between the audience and performers that encourage contemplation and active discussion regarding the themes and questions raised on stage during the evening.

Audience members and performers are invited to a reception after the event to informally continue the discussion!

If you want to share our stage, submit your performance proposal by January 9th, 2015. Storytellers, dancers, musicians, playwrights, filmmakers, and poets are all encouraged to submit. We are looking for diversity in both subject matter and performance styles, and pieces that will catalyze a greater understanding of how we remember, forget, and tell stories to make history. Get all the details and the proposal guidelines here.

If you are more interested in securing a spot in our audience, more information will be coming in the new year regarding tickets!

The co-directors of Staging Our Histories would like to thank Adrian Harewood for joining us for our first year, and for continuing to be an advocate and supporter of social conscience and culture in the Ottawa community.

A Chat with our Co-Directors Part II: An Awesome, Mind Blowing, Intellectually Stimulating Show

IMG_3180On Nov. 29th, the three co-directors of Staging Our Histories (Arpita Bajpeyi, Sinead Cox and Marie-Anne Gagnon) met with colleague Christina Parsons via the magic of the internet to talk about the concept and their expectations of the event. You can catch up with Part I  of the the discussion here.

Christina Parsons: Do you feel that you may encounter some contention between people who have experienced certain histories differently?

Marie-Anne Gagnon: There are so many pages of history to choose from that it would be a big coincidence. But if so, I don’t think that would be a problem, but rather a great opportunity for exchange and fostering understanding.

Arpita Bajpeyi: Absolutely! Part of the event will be opening up the floor so that the audience and performers can have those conversations in a positive, constructive space. But I think the very nature of the performance implies each history will be a personal interpretation.

Sinead Cox: There will be the talk-backs. And as much as performance can be very cathartic and personal for a performer when they’re talking about history, I think an audience can also have a very visceral reaction, positive or negative. The day we had our performances [at Carleton], I remember it being very draining: they were incredible, but it was emotional. I think performance is great for engaging you intellectually and also getting you right in the gut.

Marie-Anne: We have left the theme very open-ended so that people can bring forward whatever project they would like. In future years (if we are lucky enough to make this happen again!) it could be interesting to narrow the subject to see different interpretations of the same topic

Christina: Very true, it would be great to see many facets of the same topic.

Marie-Anne: As Sinead was saying, in our experience, people chose very personal topics, that had to do with their own history or that of their family.I guess we wanted to see that happen again. Because it was so powerful.

Arpita: Those are the stories that were the most powerful.

Sinead: It’s interesting how commonalities pop up even when the topic is broad. I think patterns emerge. Like grandparents.

Marie-Anne: Did you know genealogy is the most researched thing at LAC? Just proves that people care about where they personally come from. Henry VIII can seem rather far.

Christina: Being able to share personal stories on a larger scale can be very affirming to someone who does not usually have that platform.

Sinead: Yes! And I think as much as [submissions] can be about a personal history, they can also be about NOT having that history. Of being divorced or alienated from your history, or conflicted about it.

Arpita: And that is something we’re hoping to provide, for sure. A space for histories that are typically overlooked or ignored because of the way that they are told, or because of who is telling them. And those can be incredibly powerful pieces too.

Marie-Anne: But I suspect we might also see performances about parts of history that interest the participants, even if they are not directly connected.

Sinead: What speaks to people isn’t always directly close, for sure. Maybe someone feels very connected to and passionate about Henry VIII! As long as they’re telling that story in a new way, we’d be interested.

Marie-Anne: Most historians study not their own culture. Part of being a historian is having a curiosity for what you don’t personally know.

Christina: Are you making an effort to include indigenous or counter-colonial narratives?

Arpita: I think the three of us definitely gravitate towards those kinds of narratives, for various reasons. I’d be surprised if none of them appear in the program!

Marie-Anne: Indeed.

Sinead: I hope so. Attention all of you with counter-colonial narratives: please submit!

Arpita: That’s part of the fun of this experiment. Seeing what comes our way.

Christina: What mediums are available? For instance, will you have audio/visual equipment?

Arpita: We will provide most equipment, unless it’s highly specialized.

Sinead: That’s a good question! We’re definitely interested in film and multimedia. So we will try to accommodate the proposals we accept within the limits of the venue.

Marie-Anne: We should probably mention how long the performances should be, and how long the evening will be.

Arpita: The evening will begin at 7:30, and performances and talk-backs will run until 9:30, after which there will be a reception. Performances should run between 5-20 minutes.

Christina: Also, for posterity, what day is it?

Arpita: Sunday May 31.

Marie-Anne: If you’re coming to Ottawa for the CHA AGM, please drop by! [It will be] an awesome, mind blowing, intellectually stimulating show. (You don’t need to include that. Just a fact.)

Sinead: It may need to be the title!

Keep an eye out for exciting news and updates about Staging Our Histories in  the days to come, including the official announcement of our venue! Many thank yous to Christina Parsons for her time, and for her thoughtful questions as our moderator. You can hear much more from Christina in her upcoming podcast, H is for History and read her work at History Watch.

You’ve read how the co-directors envision the outcome of Staging Our Histories, but the reality will be up to you, and the challenging, surprising and powerful work you submit by January 9th! Read more about the submission guidelines here.

If you have any queries for Arpita, Marie-Anne or Sinead before you submit, email us at StagingHistories@gmail.com.