01 May 2014

A 'SPARC' of Inspiration

I spent last weekend in Ontario's Haliburton Highlands for SPARC: Symposium for Performing Arts in Rural Communities

The event centered on the Haliburton School of the Arts, a gorgeous facility set amongst beautiful wilderness and peppered with outdoor sculptures.

Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed and directed towards a rack of costumes and a photographer. Yeah, I think I'm going to like it here.

Devil meets hula cape meets Hamlet.... whaaa?
Next we were guided over to a wall where we put a pin on the map to show where we'd come from - a great representation across Ontario, Canada, and even a few international guests.

We were given index cards on which we each wrote what we were seeking and what we were offering. Mini versions of our costumed photos went on the cards, too, helping people find each other and make connections. It's easy to feel awkward about networking, but these few fun icebreakers really helped set the stage for meeting one another.

There were three stirring plenary sessions that were held in the Great Hall...

And numerous smaller sessions, including mine! I was honoured to have been chosen as a presenter, and gave a workshop called "Celebrating Local Stories With Shadow Puppetry."

How much can I possibly talk about shadow puppets...? Turns out, a whole lot!
After presenting a slide show covering my work with Shadow of a Doubt Collective, ArtsCan Circle, Puppets Without Borders and the Ontario Arts Council's Artist in Education program, it was time to offer some hands-on experience. I guided the participants into brainstorming a local story from their community, which they shared with each other. 

Participants sharing their own local stories
Then they had the opportunity to make a shadow puppet of their very own.

I love these two shadow puppets that got hung up in the Great Hall,
a nod to the history of  logging and forestry in Haliburton
There were *so many* great presentations, like this one on site-specific theatre by Kendra Fanconi of The Only Animal. Here she discusses her work "NiX," set in a geodesic dome with a set made of snow. WOW!

But it wasn't all classrooms and Powerpoint presentations. We went on field trips!

You're either on the bus, or off the bus... and we were definitely *ON*.
Who would want to come to a place like this without getting to experience some of nature's magic?

There were also tons of performances of theatre, music and dance, keeping the creativity flowing and helping us get to know each other's work.

Bi-coastal collaboration:
Newfoundland's Dan Rubin with Tina Jones from B.C.'s The Kerplunks
There were so many wonderful, like-minded people at SPARC. New friendships were forged over box lunches and bus rides, and there are great hopes of building a network of us creative rural folk to keep these conversations going.

Sadie Dixon-Spain from Scotland's The Walking Theatre with Tina Jones
To wrap up the symposium there was a presentation from the youth caucus. Some 20 or so youth were in attendance, and it was really important for all of us to hear their perspective.

All in all, it was an incredible couple of days, and I returned home to my own beautiful neck of the woods, inspired and invigorated. As a rural creator of performing arts I face particular opportunities and challenges - but now I feel like I'm not so alone. There are artists creating incredible work in the most unlikely places, and I'm going to keep on keeping on, carving out a place for myself in Prince Edward County's local culture.

Home sweet home.

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