Thursday, 23 August 2018

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Julia Tribe

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Julia Tribe training in community-engaged theatre and performing arts with Ruth Howard at Jumblies Theatre in Toronto

(July 20, 2018)  At this halfway point of my training, I feel extremely lucky to have experienced such a broad range of community arts engagement. Ruth Howard and the leaders of Jumblies offshoot companies have offered me amazing opportunities to observe and participate in their varied programming, with people of diverse ages, abilities and cultural backgrounds: Leah Houston AD of MABELLEarts, has welcomed me to participate as a guest artist and co-facilitator, in activities that support and realise the programming for their Iftar Nights Ceremonies; Beth Helmers AD of Community Arts Guild, has welcomed me to observe and participate in their new project and gallery show, Scarborough Transformations; Michael Burtt AD of Making Room, has welcomed me to participate and add my own artistic integrity to their celebration and showcase of Weaving Homes at Parkdale Activity - Recreation Centre (PARC); and Elizabeth Rucher AD of Arts4all, has welcomed me to discuss with her, programing and approach to community arts in the communities she serves.

These dynamic leaders have supported me through a collaborative lens, helping me explore and find playful forms to deconstruct and reconstruct the creative principle of community arts engagement. Their rich expertise and overlapping stories, creating a complementary cohesion for my learning.

Phase I

Community Choir

To begin I joined the Gather Round Singers, Community Choir, led by choral director Shifra Cooper, community artist and assistant artistic director  of MABELLEarts. This choir is a very important part of all music-driven interdisciplinary work that Jumblies and offshoot companies engages in. The choir has taught me to soften my gaze, sensitize my ears and open my breath to the collaborative voice. During the months of May to July we rehearse Tuesday nights at Church of Epiphany and St. Marks Church and performed  together at most celebratory occasions of Ground Floor, Making Room and MABELLEarts.


Next I became involved MABELLEarts during preparation and celebration of their annual Iftar Nights at Mabelle Park in West Etobicoke. This event is an inter-cultural ritual celebration spanning the holy month of Ramadan, where the Mabelle neighbours and artists invite community to pass the hours leading to sunset with art-making, songs, gardening, and a cooking-fire. The event’s programming stretches out over many months prior Iftar, holding art making activities, workshops and food preparation by the Mabelle Ladies Cooking Circle.

My time with MABELLEarts was over 4 weeks - May 17th to June 7th, beginning in an observatory role and then growing into a full collaborative artist and co-facilitator. I worked with lead artist, volunteers and community members of all ages. Over this busy weeks we created precision lanterns, weaving and wrapping branches, and creating amazing installations to adorned the Mabelle Park trees. Leah’s generous style of leadership, brought us all together, in a slightly chaotic but very cohesive environment, where we created everything that needed to get done. This experience forged a new appreciation for all things deeply collaborative.

“I see the art of hospitality as a great way of integrating virtuosity and participation” - Leah Houston

The magical illumination of Iftar Night against
community housing, Mabelle Park
Lanterns lighting up the way!

Community Art Guild

On the other side of town was the Community Art Guild, making art of all sorts with people in East Scarborough. I was invited by Beth Helmer to come out and participate in their programming during May and June. As this was in competition with my MABELLEarts schedule, I was only able to attend a few afternoons and evening. Participating in their Choir rehearsal, weaving and puppetry workshops, and volunteer one day in their interactive gallery show “Scarborough Transformations,” part of Toronto’s cultural Open Door weekend. All these samplings I enjoyed immensely, within it diverse communities of Tamil seniors, children, youth and adults of all ages and cultural background.

It seemed Beth’s approach to community arts engagement was more in keeping with my own. Possibly due to our similar backgrounds, deeply rooted in devised theatre and new work development, or maybe as we share a mutual love for multidisciplinary story creations? Whatever it was, I fully appreciated her and the tranquil setting of Cedar Ridge Creative less frantic then Mabelle Park!

I also appreciated the lengthy development time that she and her lead artist: Sonja Rainey and Ange Loft had cultivated during the exploratory stages of development on their new project “Scarborough Transformations.” They were very busy when I visited, holding workshops on and off site, through outreach in schools and other cultural community centers, in and around the Scarborough area. The Guild’s mandate “To make art making  accessible to all!” seemed alive and well, in all they did. The transformation theme about finding ways to explore the potential of  puppetry through shadow puppets, giant ice age creatures and tiny puppet stages telling stories of Scarborough’s past, present and future… So exciting!

Tiny puppet stages!
My Ravon made on Open Doors Weekend!

Giant ice age creatures!

The Guild, like Jumblies, seems to understand implicitly the importance for experimentation when conceiving such new collaborative works. Giving room for the unexpected to pop up and be shaped through our imaginative dreams. I find this a great attractor always and especially at this time of my own transformation: wanting to give more importance to content than product. I observe the Guild as a place of grace, honouring the importance of lengthy art-based exploration to nurture both the artists and the community it serves. Beth and her staff even served tea in real tea cups and food in between activities!

Another appreciation I wish to note, is the Guild’s careful and creative directional documents, particularly beautiful in their style of  graphic illustration and playful ways they encouraged you through the art making process.... Making everything extremely accessible to all!

Showing delightful visual documents!

Marking Room

My final community arts engagement was with Michael Burtt at Making Room, in the neighbourhood of Parkdale in the West End of Toronto. This was a short but very intense experience from June 11th to 29th, helping mount a Celebration Showcase called “Weaving Homes.” This project shared the result of six months of community arts workshops exploring the journeys: What did we leave behind? What did we find along the way? What is home? The workshops were held with seniors, school kids, PARC members and Making Room members and artists, creating art, sharing stories, making shadow puppet shows and creating an audio installations. The concept of home inside and out, was also reflected through the teaching of the ancient Tibetan Lhama Thong Tong Gyalpoz, with special support from the Tibetan community.

Making Room explores all their work through a radically-inclusive, interdisciplinary arts-based exploration, bringing people and community together through art-making. By making personal connections through the doing and making of art, moving closer to an inner home. In this frame of collaborative inclusion my own relationship to “home” was therefore on the art-making ‘table’ as well! My present state of being homeless I shared with the group, and my desire to embrace a more international rapport with my artistic identity. Michael valued the relationship I had with the project, while hoping my design background would bring a complimentary mix to the creative team of artist, volunteer, and PARC community. He asked that I bring a visual, tactile and performative cohesion to the project’s staging, while creating a home to house all the art-making elements that were being created. Our approach became a type of overhead installation and performative landscape, with shadow screen for the puppetry show in the center… A creative 3D neighborhood to be Installed in less than a day, June 29th at PARC!

This partnership with Making Room was over a three-week period and met three days a week. On Wednesdays, Michael would lead us through a morning meditation and then in the afternoon industriously weave and braid and create. On Thursdays, in morning we would have a cheek-in and share, then strategize to see what needed to get done followed by another busy art-making afternoon. On Fridays, we would cheek-in again, then some would go off to workshops and others would hold a community art drop-in at PARC. This weaving of sharing, meditation, and art-making made me think of how close art and ritual is and how great it is to created spaces, where everybody feels supported and united in a common goal.

I found the Fridays afternoons at PARC, a hub of activity, ripe with chance encounters and engagement! We offered an open framework, where people passing through might indirectly enter into art activities or on an ongoing going basis for those who felt an ease at expressing themselves and the art medium at hand. I found working with this community required a divided focus, of one-on-one and group interaction. Finding presence and responsiveness engagement key, with self-care and mutual respect a very important part. During these drop- ins, I drew from my own expressive art therapy training and love of the playful. PARC and its community richly layers with creativity offering alternative ways to express seen and be heard...

Finger Weaving

How will we bridge our home to home?


My Home is in the trees.
Mine is round with bright doorways.

PARC Drop-in
Unexpected surprises


Throughout Phase I, I tried to meet Ruth on a weekly basis, sharing what I was learning, and to get her input while I shaped my next week's activities. Sometimes this worked and other times it was “catch as can,” with a phone chat or email. I never felt a lack of support and we always found time to eventually connection.

I also tried attending Jumblies company meetings and cultivate rapport with artists affiliated with their programming. Participating in workshops and sometimes arranging to meet outside of them to chat and share experiences.  Supporting this community of young, old and in-between was and is an important part of my learning in this collaborative environment.

The following Jumblies workshop I participated in:
Beading and Medallions / Facilitators - Jamie Oshkabewisns and Ashley Riley
Ceramics / Facilitator - Parker Dirks
Harassment in Community Theatre / Facilitator - Nadia Bello
Composing Community Workshop with Toronto Creative Music Centre / Facilitator - Ruth Howard and other lead artists

Another highlight is having access to wonderful lead and associate artists: Sonja Rainey, a community-engaged installation artist and theatre designer; Alejandra Nunez, musician and composer; and Lillia Leon, dancer and choreographer. Our growing rapport, exploring our relationships with community artist and its intersectionality with theatre. I hope in the future we will find performative ways to further benefit artists and community together.

Phase I - Summary

It has been amazing opportunity; nurturing an ease in my collaborative presence and expansion in my ability to facilitate community art engagement, within varied communities of diverse ages, experiences, cultural distinctions, and languages. In each new community I have worked and played with, I feel I have grown by using art-making as a way to learn, shape and appreciate each other’s distinct and complex stories.

Phase II - Planning

As I consider my next phase of my PTTP mentorship, Ruth and I have discussed the possibility of my facilitation on three week-long workshops at the offshoot companies. These workshops could run simultaneously or independently of one another during September and/or October, with a possible final week in Jumblies Ground Floor programming, or an opportunity to co-facilitated with Ruth? As to the nature of these workshops, they are yet to be determined, but once I hear back from each offshoot leader, I will start to explore some ideas I have in mind.

My goal is to take a more creative leadership role, engaging in partnerships through self-directed initiatives that requires me to plan and shape workshop themes while staying responsive to each distinct community’s needs. To support this planning, I am giving myself a week in mid-August to just make art and explore where I am in my learning. This will take the form of an interactive installation piece, where I can deconstruct and reconstruct my thoughts, ideas and or impressions in the flexible framework. As a theatre designer this is what I do, I play with ideas through shapes in space, enhanced by colour and texture... respecting abstraction as a wise voice of aesthetic inquiry, where unexpected discoveries can find form in alternative ways. I will do this at the Jumblies the Ground Floor Studio, the week of August 20th to 26th. Taking all I learnt from Phase I into the realm of liminal space where I can dream and see things a new.

Ground Floor

Related Reading:

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 1, 2018.

Learn more about Theatre Ontario's Professional Theatre Training Program

Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

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