The Parkdale Experience.
An interactive performance scavenger hunt blog.
What is this blog about?
This is where I live.
This is where I have lived for the past 5 and 3/4 years.
For the first 5 1/4 years I lived in a house owned by a friend. But she decided to downsize and sell her place - so I had to find a new place to live. Easy enough, I thought. Uh, noooooooo...
I found out quickly there weren’t many rentals available, but I really wanted to stay in Parkdale. Why? Because I love its multi-cultural vibe and the people that make Parkdale, well... Parkdale. It still has a “realness” to it, a vibrant arts community, and it’s filled with people who truly care about keeping it “real.”
I was lucky enough that I found a place (thank you, you know who you are!) through a Parkdale friend (thank you, you know who you are!) and I didn’t get displaced to another neighbourhood in the city.
But a lot of people ARE getting displaced. Mostly low-income residents because affordable housing is becoming “real” scarce as gentrification seeps into the neighbourhood.
So why aren’t people talking about this? Who’s doing something about it? How do we tell Parkdalians what is happening in our community?
Community meetings take place, but many people don’t want to go to more meetings. Many already have enough meetings to go every day, right?
So I started to think, what would be a fun way of getting the community together, start sharing ideas/stories, and “real”(ly) getting to know one another?
Yes. Immersive theatre with a combined arts-based scavenger hunt.
Yes. A scavenger hunt to make it “real” fun. More on this later.
Right now, I’ll start at the top about how this all came about.
Step 1. Coming up.
But here’s a video I made about Parkdale if you want to take a look... and if you want to contact me, this is my email address:
The Parkdale Experience email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Enrolled in the Media Production Masters program at Ryerson University, I was having a bit of a hard time about a month ago trying to figure out a side project to my main project. And I wanted to do something with immersive theatre on a community-based TV series I am writing (i’m a screenwriter, that’s why i have creases in my brow) about a female character from New York having to serve a 100 hours at a multi-cultural community centre in Parkdale. But it didn’t have anything to do with my major project that was on cults and cancer. Confused? So was I.
So I went to see my professor to ask her if I could do an immersive theatre scavenger hunt side project on this community-based TV series I was writing instead of on my main project...
And guess what?
She heard my idea and really liked it. But not as my side project.
AS MY MAIN PROJECT.
Me: (gulp) “But I already have a main project.”
Professor: “So let’s talk about your new main project.”
Me: “No, you don’t understand. I have my old main project and I have been working on it for two months.”
Professor: “You’re not really listening here, are you?”
Me: “I’m not?”
Professor: “Repeat after me: you have a new main project.”
Me: “I don’t have a new main project.”
Professor: (sighs) “I see this is going to take a while.”
I had my work cut out for me. I needed to find out if what I would be doing would make sense for the community of Parkdale. But I really didn’t know where to start.
Strangely, I saw on Facebook that a big Parkdale community meeting was going to happen in a couple of days. Now that is serendipity, people.
My cousin’s wife, Susan Armstrong, was going, too. She’s on the Parkdale Land Trust Committee. So we met there and a lot of people came. But more people should have come. Maybe everyone didn’t know about it. Maybe they thought they couldn’t do anything. Maybe they weren’t too interested.
But great! Maybe my immersive theatre scavenger hunt idea could get them interested?
Then we ALL went on a walking tour of Parkdale. We made a bunch of stops. At a couple of the community gardens, at the library, where they are going to be building new “affordable” housing, pointing out places along the way that make Parkdale, well, Parkdale. And we all ended up at an building wall of the newly painted Parkdale Solidarity flags on Queen Street.
The whole thing was pretty cool and I learned some stuff about where I live. And my new project started to make sense.
See my slideshow of pics below!
This is Helen Melbourne. She’s a visual artist, craftsperson, and runs an arts and crafts workshop every Tuesday in one of the community centres.
She was the first person I got the guts to speak with (who I didn’t know before) and tell her about my crazy idea.
She didn’t think it was so crazy. She thinks the community really needs something like this immersive theatre scavenger hunt project.
My heart skipped a beat when she said this.
When I asked her if she could tell me in one line what she thought about Parkdale she said:
“I’ve lived in many areas in Toronto, but when I moved to Parkdale three and a half years ago, it felt like I was coming home.”
Helen also runs the Greenest City Arts and Crafts night on Tuesdays and after our extended coffee conversation, she invited me to come have a look. What is it? It’s pretty much community members in Parkdale dropping by and making art. You don’t even have to stay the whole time! Just come and go as you please.
I finger knitted a what looks like a garland (I’m pretty sure it looks like a garland). I’ve never knitted anything in my life. I spoke extensively to a lovely woman originally from St. Kitts who comes to work on her arts and crafts skills because it makes her feel good, and she gets to meet people. So there you have it.
ART + COMMUNITY = FEELING GOOD.
(and who doesn’t want to feel good?)
Taking a bit of a break for the holidays. This semester almost killed me. I hate it when semesters do that. And here’s hoping that the new year doesn’t snowball into a frigid wintery 2017 with no hope in sight (and I’m not talking about the weather here).
See you all next year!
I’m back at the project. Actually, I never stopped, so not much of a break was had, but that’s what happens when you have a PROJECT.
But I did have a chance to go to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) to see the Francis Alÿs exhibition:
Francis Alÿs: A Story of Negotiation
It’s on until April 2017. Go, if you haven’t already.
His life’s work was an inspiration for my Parkdale project to a certain degree. His work is mostly community arts-based driven, a little out-of-the-ordinary with a poetic aesthetic, and he takes risks. That’s why I like him. I actually think I have my first artist crush. But it’s a good one.
You can also check out his projects here: www.francisalÿs.com
But here are some snapshots I took at the AGO (photography was encouraged. I’m (for once) not trying to get away with doing something that I’m not supposed to do.
So why an immersive theatre scavenger hunt, you ask?
Every summer from the age of five until fourteen, I attended a Latvian children’s camp at a Latvian community reservation in the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec. Like many North American camps, swimming, games, sports, and hiking, were activities that made up the regular daily program.
But in the Latvian camp, there was an activity called a šķērslu gājiens that set us apart from the rest.
A šķērslu gājiens is a participatory story-based treasure hunt and is often based on Latvian history or folklore. Campers are divided into small groups and over the course of a day, they travel on foot from station to station on a 40-acre piece of land and attempt to amass the most points to win the game. They search for clues, interact with counsellors who perform their designated character roles, create art from nature, sing traditional Latvian songs, and learn about the Latvian culture and other cultures from around the world – all in order to advance to the next station.
As the groups include campers of all ages, often outside of one’s regular circle of friends, meaningful collaboration and teamwork are encouraged to instigate a familial camp atmosphere. As these immersive treasure hunts continue to be practiced annually at the camp, stories are recalled from previous years and are conveyed from generation to generation. They contribute in making a positive impact on the Latvian community as they promote inclusion, cultural sustainability, and deepen the connection with the communal landscape.
So, I thought an immersive theatre scavenger hunt would be a good way to include the people in the Parkdale community - to connect to one another in a fun and participatory way.
I’m looking to put the one-day event in several locations in Parkdale that would serve as the stations.
But now comes the tricky part. I have to find a story to base the scavenger hunt on. I could use my own story of almost being displaced to another neighbourhood, but since this is a community project on Parkdale, I want to hear other displacement stories that have to do with affordable housing and write one main story about what happens when you have to leave your home, and what you would do and what can you do about trying to stay in your home and in the neighbourhood.
I was thinking of standing on the street corner, asking people if they have ever been evicted or displaced from their homes in Parkdale. But I decided to go make some photocopies for school before I froze my butt off standing on the street corner (there was that by-the-lake bone-chilling cold that day).
So I was on my way to see Steve at my photocopy shop, but I got hungry and high-tailed it to Ali’s West Indian Roti. Otherwise, I would have been grumpy researcher standing on a street corner.
Now that I had less of a growling stomach, I headed to One Stop Computer on Queen Street West on the corner of O’Hara Avenue.
As usual, Steve, the owner from Guyana who has lived Parkdale for over 40 years, was very helpful. I started telling him about my project and he told me I should speak to a painter/artist that lives in the neighbourhood and who has experienced all sorts of problems with her landlord. But he didn’t know her name, so I gave him my card and told him to give it to her. He also suggested I go give my card to the store she lived above. So I did that, too. I felt like I was on my own scavenger hunt trying to find this person. 😳
I didn’t hear back from the artist over the next couple of days. Research takes time. But I went to see Steve and she had come into his shop again and gave her my card. So I texted her, we met up in Capital Coffee Shop and this is a (non) photo of her as she didn’t want her identity disclosed and encounter more problems with her landlord.
Basically, her story is that in 2014 her landlord wanted her out of her apartment as they wanted one of their family members to start living in her space. The presented her with a letter stating this fact.
She thought she didn’t have any rights, but then she went to the Landlord and Tenants Board and they told her the letter wasn’t an official letter that you are supposed to give to your tenants when evicting them. When she sent it back to the landlords and told them exactly that, they weren’t very happy.
Slowly but surely, the landlords started to interrupt her life by making it more difficult. I can’t tell you how because she wanted that part to remain anonymous, as well. Let’s just say a form of bullying was instigated.
They also called her a racist (they are originally from another country). She suspects they have had to deal with racism throughout the years and they used this term as she is Caucasian. She says this depiction of her couldn’t be further from the truth. She also states she has empathy for them, but she has also realized this is her home and that she has the right to stay there.
They are still demanding she vacate her home.
So who is right here?
Interview with artist, Lisa Kannakko.
LG: How long have you lived in Parkdale?
LK: 25 years on and off since I was 20 years old!
LG: Why did you move here?
LK: Because it was affordable and many of my friends from university lived here.
LG: And you stayed?
LK: I bought a house in Parkdale in 2004 for a steal, but I recently had to sell it.
LG: And you bought a new one?
LK: No, I couldn’t afford to buy again in this area. That’s why I’m here [in a high-rise apartment in Parkdale]. It’s okay.
LG: How was Parkdale back when you were 20 years old?
LK: There was a lot more shit going going down on the street then than now. There were a lot of street people. There were different kinds of street people. There were prostitutes on the corner and I would get propositioned on a regular basis.
LG: How did that make you feel?
LK: Scared and intimidated at times... but that doesn’t really happen any more. That was a long time ago.
LG: What’s the difference between now and then?
LK: There was no internet, iPhones, no social marketing... you could say what you think more back then. The community let you be who you wanted to be.
LG: In your opinion, does the community still let you do that?
LK: It’s way more conservative...
LG: You are the curator and host for “Open Show” at The Bell Jar on Dundas Street West. Can you tell me about that?
LK: I started “Open Show” two years ago. I really want to make something happen in Parkdale to bring the community together. A photographer from New York said I should curate, “Open Show,” a photography event that happens in many cities around the world and showcases emerging and established photographer works.“Open show” re-creates a positive community to get together and have conversations. I purposely don’t record it or film it, and I don’t create any social media around it besides marketing the event on social media, because I want people to have REAL conversations.
LG: What’s the point of it?
LK: You get to meet other photographers you haven’t met before, critique projects – personal projects that people want to get done. It’s a forum to get feedback via real life conversations about the work and connect with other photographers’ brains.
LG: Anyone can show their work? Even if you’re an amateur?
LK: Everyone has a right to speak their voice, and it’s a good place to do it. Everyone has a right to tell your story and you get honest feedback. But you do have to have the balls to get in front of an audience. But it strengthens your resolve in what you’re doing as an artist. Parkdale and The Bell Jar are safe places to do so.
Meet A Parkdale Youth Group called Mammalian Diving Reflex.
This is Nerupa and Sanjay from Mammalian Diving Reflex. I didn’t even ask about the name. I will next time.
They are in to help me with the immersive theatre project. It’s only because I brought good snacks - and that they want to make Parkdale a better place, because they grew up there.
They are also very knowledgeable about affordable housing in the neighbourhood and they want the same diverse and multicultural people to stay in it. So do I.
So let’s all figure out some ways we can make that happen. It starts with awareness and conversation in the community, and that’s what the immersive theatre scavenger hunt is all about.
Speaking of which, it’s happening! Saturday, May 13th at 2 p.m. during Parkdale’s annual festival, “Spring Into Parkdale.” That’s real soon... so stay tuned for more details!
Meet a Parkdale Actor, Writer, Director... head of the actors!
This is Luis Fernandes. He is an actor, writer, director, and the head of a Parkdale theatre group called, Unit 102. He’s in charge of making the immersive theatre scavenger hunt, well, uh... immersive! He is working with me on having “ the hunt” come to life with Parkdale actors that have been in his troupe and plays.
It looks like we’ll have about 20 actors involved in “the hunt!”
He also knows many Parkdale actors and artists who are low-income residents and tells me they would be in a jam if their rents were increased. They would definitely have to leave the neighbourhood. Everyone needs a little drama in their life to keep things interesting, right? I say the actors needs to stay in Parkdale - and so do many other Parkdalians.
Luis even put on a play in January 2017 about Parkdale called, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. The play spoke to issues of gentrification in Parkdale, how gentrification affects a community, and also incorporated elements of dance, circus, and movement. It also got great reviews... amazing! Clap, clap, clap...
Meet A Wanna-Be Parkdale Resident.
This is Beatriz Lobo Campos. Her middle name means “Wolf” in Portuguese. She is Brazilian, not Portuguese. She will set you straight on this fact immediately (and then you’ll know why her middle name is Wolf).
She’s been in Toronto 7 1/2 months now and has many opinions on it. Interesting to hear a Brazilian perspective of our Canadian culture. What is Canadian culture, anyway? I think it’s many things, but the word ‘diversity’ comes to the forefront of my mind - especially these days.
Beatriz is also in the Master’s Media Production program at Ryerson University with me. She is a director, writer, producer, production wiz, and is creating an international interactive digital storytelling project for her major thesis project. She also just finished directing a pilot of a web-series. She will be a great director one day and is someone to watch (one just knows these things).
Beatriz is also my go-to person when I need sound advice and she just helped me story edit my first draft script of The Parkdale Experience. Thank you! This is another example of how art promotes collaboration, and it also helps grow your creative community pool.
She also really likes Parkdale and hopes to move here from the Yonge and Bloor area where she lives right now - if she can afford it. But she’s heard she can’t. She would definitely add flavour to Parkdale’s already diverse community - we like flavour here.
TICKETS FOR SATURDAY MAY 13TH DURING “SPRING INTO PARKDALE”
(and it’s free!)
There are 5 performances in 20 minute intervals starting at 2:00 p.m. and the show runs approximately 1 hour 1/2 to 1 hour 45 minutes. You can select your time on the website - but there are only 75 spots available, so book soon!
2:00 to 3:45 p.m.
2:20 to 4:05 p.m.
2:40 to 4:25 p.m.
3:00 to 4:45 p.m.
3:20 to 5:05 p.m.
**Please take note some of the venues are not wheelchair accessible or are more difficult to access for people with disabilities. Please contact the following email address to discuss options: email@example.com
I just want to say a heartfelt thanks to all the people that are helping me along the way. The list is long as I have met and interviewed many people - too many to feature in the blog at this moment...
But everyone’s input and support is really important, no matter how small. The small ideas lead to bigger ideas as I try something new and venture into the unknown.
Beatriz Lobo Campos. Dr. Laurie Petrou. Soo Mahabir. Susan Armstrong. Jan Nathanson. Anna Bartula. Zile Liepins. Bareket Kezwer. Helen Melbourne. Jason McKinney. Kate Munro. Lisa Kannakko, Monique Keleman. Kathy Allan. Kenneth Collins. Tamara Habesch. Lizette Valdmanis. Aldis Sukse. Tracy Cocks. Darren O’Donnell. Lee Henderson. Jon Sasaki. Andrew Winchur. Lynne Sky. Janina Fogels. Anita Csapo. Tracy Cocks. Rosamund Small. Kalsang Dolma. Elviga Sebris. Tina Cooper. John Jowett. Cait Cantillon. Alan C. Petersen. Christina Gutmanis - and the many, many, others that have let me talk about my project...
Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT) Meeting
Yes, another meeting, and even though we are two weeks away from the event, it was important to go to because there were PNLT elections.
When I walked in, I expected the same type of atmosphere and greeting I received at the first meeting I attended. Instead, I said hello and had conversations with over a dozen people. When I walked into my first meeting, I knew only one person. What a difference a few months can make. I felt like I belonged to a place and a community. An amazing feeling...
I wasn’t registered to vote, but I did put my name down on the roster, and I’ll be able to vote next time.
Parkdale residents, Lynne Sky and Maya Bastien were there.
Lynne gave an emotional speech about how the land trust could save lives. Lynne has been an amazing supporter and do-er in Parkdale and lives in a rooming house. She is also one of the researchers surveying Parkdale about the disappearance of Parkdale’s rooming houses. She has nowhere to go if she gets evicted from her rooming home. Of course she was emotional - wouldn’t you be?
Maya Bastien together with Susan Armstrong have made two short films on affordable housing issues in Parkdale. One starred Lynne. That one was really emotional - how could it not be? It will be in “The Parkdale Experience” so more people can “see” where the problems lie. Both are amazing films... I’ll add them to the blog at the end so I don’t spoil the surprise if you have tickets for “the hunt.”
I lied. One more community meeting before showtime!
I was in talks with the last of the locations that I’ll keep secret for now except for showing this picture below. Then I was told that it would be best if I attended a meeting of this said DIY bike shop and its members to discuss my case. Okay, I mentioned the location, but shhhh... don’t tell anyone. Plus I didn’t tell you which DIY bike shop. Okay, so there’s only one in Parkdale, but still...
So, I heard rumours in the neighbourhood these members were kinda tough. So I went in prepared to talk to the members in their monthly meeting in the toughest clothes I owned. Haha. Like that mattered.
Upon arrival, Derek greeted me and he was very welcoming and helpful; I had an interesting conversation with Frank who is the guy that I see walking on the street in bare feet (because it’s good for one’s health, he tells me - my grandfather used to say the same thing) and turns out he lives on my street (Parkdale is a so small sometimes); and Dawn, who scared me at first, but she asked some great questions in a friendly manner when I presented my case to use the location for the scavenger hunt.
At first, it seemed like they wanted to help, but then the question of disrupting their business came into play. So it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. And I needed this location.
Then someone chimed in - this man - and I don’t even know his name, but he said, “I think we should do this! It will be good for business and good for the community!”
I sat there as everyone looked at each other and slowly agreed to give me some space in the back alley. I”LL TAKE IT!!! (this is what I screamed in my head and not out loud). Instead I said, “thank you, that would be great.” Phew. I had my last location all set for the scavenger hunt. David would be my contact and he was also very accommodating. Thanks, David!
The scouting of locations was a very time-comsuming process, but also really cool because I got to see all these spaces that make Parkdale what it is, and meet all of these proprietors and ask them about their businesses.
I also got to know them and ask them how they’re feeling about gentrification and Parkdale’s affordable housing issues for low-income residents. Some of them are against a gentrifying Parkdale, but a few are for gentrification as it brings more people into the neighbourhood who spend money- and therefore it helps sustain their businesses.
I’m not saying that all gentrification is bad, but it should be up to a community and its residents to decide how it happens. People should have a say in the neighbourhood they live in and not just follow what developers have applied for or what was voted for at a city council meeting.
Posters of “The Parkdale Experience” have been reposted all over town (someone keeps taking them down!). Check.
The secret start off location email has been sent to ticket holders. Check.
Press releases have been sent to media. Check.
Interviews and conversations with press have been had. Check.
All locations have been secured and verified. Check.
All the million details have been sorted and confirmed. Um, check?
Props and costumes have been figured out and confirmed. Oooo...check?
Last-minute actor drop-outs and re-scheduling other actors is in the works. Help?
Food has been ordered for the actors and volunteers for the dry run and before showtime. A big check.
(take note: make sure your actors and volunteers are well fed - they make for much happier actors and volunteers!)
This is the lovely “The Parkdale Experience” artwork by graphic designer, Zile Liepins, who volunteered her time and effort. It goes with the “Wizard of Oz” and affordable housing theme and I got goosebumps when I saw the poster. “This is really happening,” I thought (omg) as I put it online on “The Parkdale Experience” Facebook event site - check it out:
Also, on the Facebook site for participants and people that are interested in the event, I am doing a photo countdown in anticipation of the event while still being elusive in the information I’m dispelling.
Surprises are great because when are we ever surprised anymore? We need more surprises in life to jump start our creativity and feel excited. Yay!
The weather predictions for Saturday, May 13th have been acting like a bad boyfriend. Every day something different would appear on the weather map. Yesterday it was rain - today it is what the image holds below. Sun! I love this image. But I also know it’s going to change.
Change is okay, we just have to be aware of it and prepare for it.
But the hunt will be up and running - rain or shine! We have advised people to dress accordingly and wear comfortable shoes, and that we don’t have any place to put their extra shopping bags or coats. Otherwise, we might have people showing up with everything they own, plus the kitchen sink.
Weather is something to take into consideration when putting on an interactive performance scavenger hunt that is partly outdoors. You have to make sure that materials are covered from rain, and more importantly that your participants and your actors are comfortable and aren’t stuck in a monsoon. So you have to come up with some alternate plans - which we did!
A Parkdale resident thought that rain might be ideal, then participants would know how it really feels when you don’t have a roof over your head! Ha. Good one.
I don’t even know how to thank all of these actors who volunteered their time. They made the script I wrote come alive. Otherwise, the show would just be pieces of paper with words typed on them, and that definitely does not make an interactive performance scavenger hunt.
Every day we rehearsed the scenes through improvisational techniques. Luis headed this up, but I learned a lot, too, as he looked to me for guidance when he didn’t have the answers. It was great to be a part of this process. Not only did it help the re-writing of the script (that I did everyday after rehearsals), but I also learned how to shape the story and punch up the dialogue via the actors’ improv. They were also extremely generous with their comments and really wanted to make the script even better.
Screenwriters usually don’t have an opportunity like this, except for table reads, but that’s just what it is - a table read, so it’s harder to read the actors because they’re sitting down and not in motion. I also got to know many artists I didn’t know before. Again, art and collaboration brings people together. An amazing experience. I am so grateful... thanks, guys!
Friday, May 12th. Dry rehearsal, also known as the dry run. A sunny day. Let’s hope for the same tomorrow.
This is really getting real. As real as Parkdale is in all of its glory.
With all the actors, we walked through the whole script from one location to the next as we all gave pointers and ironed out some last minute hiccups. We thought it could be shortened but we also had a hard time figuring out where. We had a bit of a talk with the actors afterwards and made sure they didn’t keep the group past their allotted time. This would cut some of the time, and we took away one puzzle from the “gardener” stop as it was at the end of the scavenger hunt and the groups would probably be puzzled out!
The most interesting part of this dry run was how the local Parkdalians kept mixing into the show. One man came up and listened to the actor playing the “real estate agent” and thought he was a true-to-life real estate agent. Now that’s good acting! A few more locals interjected - but it added some interesting flavour and made the production feel more real. Great!
Now off to finish the last minute details and get some rest before the big day tomorrow...