Sustaining Connections

Lately, we’ve been thinking a lot about how we maintain and nurture the amazing connections and relationships that have been forged through TSDC’s performance creation workshops, performances, and performance exchanges. One way this exploration has been taking place is through a series of monthly Sustaining Connections gatherings this fall. In August we sent an invitation to everyone who had performed in a TSDC play over the last 5 years “to come share some food, chat, and play a few theatre games.” We let folks know that we are currently not in a position to consider new performances or re-mounting performances we’ve already done, but that we wanted to explore how people might want to stay connected to the project. With no promises, just an invitation to gather, eat and explore together, we weren’t sure what to expect.

Within hours, RSVPs affirming participants’ desire to attend began rolling in. Good Shepherd generously offered to provide food and a space to gather. At our first meeting we collectively decided that we would meet monthly through fall, and open the group to invited guests. For our September meeting, we invited everyone to bring an object and consider the following prompt as preparation to share in a story circle:

Imagine what Hamilton might be like ten years from now if it were to become a much better city. What do you imagine life would be like in that much better Hamilton for people with experiences like yours?  Please bring an object that will help you tell a 1-3 minute story about something a person with experiences like yours might do in a much better Hamilton 10 years from now. How would life be different for them?

We held two storycircles and closed the evening with a group response round of,
these are stories of people who… 

At our November gathering two performers from We Need To Talk! took a moment to reacquaint themselves with the props from their performance (the beautiful paper maché rocks made by Melanie Skene, TSDC’s production coordinator and set designer).

…and, we explored zine-making — a daring new venture for many/most of us! (Thanks to Melanie Skene and Jennie Vengris for showing us the ropes.)


zine pages

We concluded our fall gatherings with a December potluck that was as rich with offerings of spirit and conversation as it was with food!

…and made plans to reconvene in the new year!

Seeds: When My Home Is Your Business

“I wish this could be a snapshot into a meeting, at the beginning, before we even begin to discuss programs.”

— When My Home Is Your Business audience member.

November has been a busy and exciting month for Transforming Stories, Driving Change. In addition to our current workshop creation series with youth from Good Shepherd Youth Services, When My Home is Your Business (WMHIYB), a Transforming Stories production created earlier this year with participants recruited through the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton‘s Displacements Project, was performed for audiences at the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) national conference and the Gathering on Art, Gentrification, and Economic Development (GAGED).

Since both the CAEH and GAGED gatherings foregrounded issues of homelessness and displacement, Alice, Sami, Hannah, and Emma—the fictionalized tenants of WMHIYB’s apartment building from hell—found themselves sharing their tale of living precariously in a mouse-infested building, with a dysfunctional elevator, a single working washer and drier, and a fire alarm that is regularly triggered by the dust from renovations engineered to displace them, with in-the-know-audiences.

Patti McNaney, Interim Executive Director at the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, and Katherine Kalinowski, Assistant Director of Good Shepherd Hamilton, graciously hosted the post-performance discussion at CAEH. After getting confirmation from the audience that there was little in the play’s content that surprised them—little that they hadn’t heard, seen, or lived before—Katherine posed this question: “What’s the difference in telling a story this way as opposed to other ways that we learn about people’s lived experience and as advocates and allies make sense of those stories?”

One audience member responded: “As I was watching, I was thinking, I wish I could have taken this into my meeting last week… policy and programs are very far removed. Something like the complaints, how it actually affects the daily life of tenants, and how it can actually create bigger, bigger problems and there’s more stress, and there’s more complexity…You don’t get to see that in an office in Yellowknife. You have no idea. You just know that this person didn’t pay their rent, or they did this, or this… I wish this could be a snapshot into a meeting, at the beginning, before we even begin to discuss programs.”

After the GAGED performance an audience member offered a similar reflection: “One of the things I thought was really powerful was that while many of us talk about the systemic issues with housing, we often talk about these things in a really abstract way. Hearing these very personal stories, albeit fictionalized, but obviously relating to very real experiences, kind of turned that abstraction on its head. So we get a sense of the very real material and emotional effects, and the relationships that are built but also suffer as a result of some of these issues.”

For many audience members, it’s the relationships that develop between Alice, Sami, Hannah, and Emma that are at the heart of When My Home is Your Business. As the play’s characters navigate the multiple stresses of their neglectful landlord, unresponsive city agencies, and gentrification’s ever-looming threat, they must also struggle to overcome the horizontal tensions that are amplified by these larger fear-producing structural forces.

When, near the end of the play, Emma shares packets of flower seeds with her neighbours, the seeds become a metaphor for their collective relationship and their visions for a better Hamilton. In the play’s final scene Alice, Sami, Hannah, and Emma stand beside their doors and share their hopes in a direct appeal to the audience. In Alice’s words: “The most beautiful gardens are not just made out of roses. A garden is made out of many flowers, but it needs rich soil and time to grow. We need you to tell us which flowers you want to help to grow. We need you to be part of our garden.”

After the performance, Mashal Khan and Sabrina Sibald from Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton hosted an opportunity for audience members to share seed reflections on the performance with their home communities. They offered to take photos of participants in front of one of the doors from the play while they held a sign with a message written in response to the prompt: If this door could speak, what would this door say? 

Here’s Sabrina standing in front of Emma’s door with her response.

Sabrina Sibald, Assistant Social Planner with the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, holding sign front of Emma’s door.

Cassandra Roach on displacement


“Many of the people being displaced are the more vulnerable in our society.”

— Cassandra Roach



Editor’s Note: One of the aims of Transforming Stories, Driving Change is to bring greater attention to issues of gentrification and displacement in Hamilton. Cassandra Roach the Community Outreach Worker for Transforming Stories, Driving Change shares her reflections on displacement due to gentrification in the Hamilton area.

Displacement is the involuntary loss of housing, losing the place you live in due to no fault of your own. And gentrification has increased displacement in Hamilton. This is because gentrification increases the perceived value of a neighbourhood. People who have more money come into a low-income neighbourhood, and then they put more money into it. So, the price of everything goes up, including the price of rent. So landlords want to take advantage of this so they attempt to kick people out of the places that they live so that they can raise the rent.

The Residential Tenancy Act has rent control guidelines. For instance, in 2017 landlords could only raise tenants’ rent by 1.5% per year. The concern is that landlords are doing everything they can to kick current tenants out to raise the rent beyond the guideline. And so, people are priced out of their neighbourhood. These neighbourhoods might have resources that these folks need, or exist in a community that they love. Maybe their children go to school in these neighbourhoods, and now they have to leave and look for another place.

Now in Hamilton, the price of housing has increased everywhere. It is tough for people to find affordable housing. Folks on ODSP, on OW, people on fixed incomes, have a difficult time finding a place. And of course, many of the people being displaced are the more vulnerable in our society. Individuals who are new Canadians, who are racialized, single-parents, sex workers, people who are already having trouble paying the rent because of low income. Gentrification increases this issue tenfold. And then once people are pushed out, they are displaced. It is hard for them to find an affordable place in their neighbourhood because the rent has increased everywhere.