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!

Participant asks important questions

“Does It Really Ever Add Up to Anything? Who Is Listening?”

— Cass Henry

Community participant Cass Henry, who participated in creating the first performance of the pilot project for Transforming Stories, Driving Change, shares important questions about what effect this work actually has in the world. They are questions the research team will take up in the next phase of the project, in consultation with community participants who are working hard to make their voices heard.

Participating in this project has been a dual-punch for me. It has been a joy — to interact with my peers, to create a piece that is show-worthy, to perform and experience both the jitters and the post-performance-high. It has also been disastrously heart-breaking — to put so much energy into something and not really know that it will affect any form of change in the immediacy, to know that the next time I interact with a social service I am still likely to face the same problems I have faced previously, to expect that those in positions of power who have seen our work all agree it is though-provoking, but will it actually matter when policy is more of a financial numbers game than a human interest process?

I hesitate to think some of these thoughts and certainly to claim ownership of them by writing about them, because the process of creating our piece for Transforming Stories, Driving Change was truly a dream. I felt like a VIP who was coming to the table with all the knowledge and this research team was providing us with the tools (art) to squeeze out as much of that knowledge as I was willing to share. I felt respected, honoured, and truly inspired during the workshop phase of the process. When it came time to perform our work-in-progress, I felt treated like a real professional — we were fed, given time and space to practice, and we were financially compensated for our time. I have not previously (or since!) had such an amazing experience as a research participant, where I felt my integrity was upheld at every single turn. I highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to participate in this project that they take it!

But at the end of the day, tired from hours of work, practicing, performing and wrap-up discussion, I walk away wondering — does it really ever add up to anything? Who is listening?

We end our performance with the words “We need to talk.” And that couldn’t be more true. But when we leave our audience with their memory of our performance, that is the end of the conversation for us. We are still not invited to talk in other platforms. Our voices are given a momentary volume burst, before once more being silenced. Those with the power are making decisions that effect our daily lives, but rarely ever ask for our input or feedback in a meaningful way.

So do I write a review about my experience, about how lovely the researchers were, about how wonderful it was to be able to perform in front of students in the field and hopefully give them a different perspective of the system than they might find in their textbooks, about how empowered I felt in the moments after walking off stage after each performance …..?

Or do I write about how I really feel, about how I wonder whether this research ever informs true change? Are we merely stuck in the same rutted track, forever pushing against the edges, but in the end, succumb to the all-mighty dollar, sinking back once more to the path of least resistance?

Personal and Community Transformation

“In the process of conversation, change happens”

— Jones

Editor’s Note: In this blog, "Jones" discusses the transformative potential of Transforming Stories and advises other Hamilton community members why they should participate. Jones is a community performer on Transforming stories.

Have you seen any changes come about from the transforming stories pilot?

I would like to think am a very good observer. That’s my secret. I observe things. And I have observed some changes in the community. The last time we came together I had to say, “Guess what? You know things are happening! And they asked, “What do you mean?” So I said, “Such and such agency have changed their policy and then another agency did the same thing. And some other agencies are doing the same thing. I don’t know for sure but we could be having some impact!” And it’s not just one agency. It couldn’t be just coincidence.

One person that could affect change attended almost every performance we did. She even knew when we changed some aspect of the skit. Sometimes we did a little tweak and sometimes I wondered if I should tell her what we did. And I thought, no I think she knows it. I don’t have to tell her anything. And she was like, “Oh, you guys changed skit up a little bit.” So, she was paying attention. From her agency there were some changes that were implemented. Which showed in my opinion that if you talk with people, and you have discussions, not telling them, not yelling at them, not blaming them, but have discussions change can happen. Transforming Stories is about discussing the problem. It’s a conversational piece. But in the process of conversation, change happens.

What about you? How has Transforming Stories changed you?

I think it gave me a voice, in an area I didn’t think it would. So, we’ve done talks, workshops, and interviews, which were all valuable. We’ve gone to some social work classes and some other community events. We have given some community talks and presentations. We’ve talked about the committee and what we do.

In going through all these stuff, it can be traumatizing. But I found conversing about these issues in this format, it was therapeutic, even though it was nerve-racking going up on stage and bearing it all. I am not very good at — one-on-one is great. Public? Oi! It’s nerve-racking! And I’ve gotten so many complements from people, including, the director. She said, “You’re really good at this. You are a natural.” And I say, “Mm-mm! You have no idea. I couldn’t sleep at night. I kept on thinking about this stuff. I was this nervous wreck!” And she says, “Girl, I didn’t see one hint of nerves.” And I will say, “Really?” So, I think something came out of this whole thing, which I didn’t even know I had. I began to speak and converse in a way. And my voice was heard. They were things that I want to say that I did not get to say at all. Or not allowed to say. Or I thought about it but didn’t say anything, but put on a smile. But I got to say some of those things. And I have more, trust me I’ve more stories to tell.

What advice would you tell a community participant who wishes to participate in Transforming Stories?

Advice number one, I would tell them to attend one of our performances. Most times they are free to attend. See what we are doing, and come chat with us. We look scary, but we are not scary. We are the most soft, shy, reserved women that you will ever come across. You know?

And I would encourage people to jump in. It’s not as scary as it seems. If you don’t feel that you have the guts to do the performing, sit around and watch the people that perform. You will learn so much. Because we still struggle with talking about this difficult stuff. And sometimes people feel or say that, “I don’t want my story to be out there.” Well these stories are a combination of people stories, it is not just one particular person’s story. My character’s stories are things that I’ve heard from friends, some have happened to me, some I have witnessed, Like taking someone to a place to get services and you hear some of these things being said.

And it’s good, because you get to say what you really want to say. And the people behind the desk get to hear what you really have to say without it being directed at them. Because they are human beings as well.

So, I say to people, just come. Attend performances. Join. And see where this can take you, because you would be surprised how much impact you can have for yourself and your community. It’s going to be the best thing ever, because you become part of the solution.


Saying what we really wanted to say



“Transforming Stories actually helped us to tell exactly what we want to say… instead of saying what they want to hear.”

— Jones

Editor’s Note: In this blog,"Jones" discusses the performance-as-research process from her perspective as a community performer on Transforming Stories.

When we were planning this whole skit, we didn’t know where it was going to go. We were just following the leadership of these wonderful people. We had three chairs set out. And we pretended that people were sitting there like you’re sitting in front of me right now. The chairs represented different agencies. It could be any agency; it could be your medical doctor, pharmacist, and specialist. Someone who works in social assistance, a case manager, a housing manager, someone from the food bank. Anybody you want to have a conversation with.

In the whole process, we spoke to the empty chairs, making statements that were expected of us to say normally to these agencies and service providers. What we would like to say to these people if they were in front of you? All of us, in real life, we all have the polite way of saying things, you know?

There is this thing in the community, where you feel that you need to say this, this, and this to get that.

So, you say this, this, and this.

But… what you REALLY want to say is not coming out.

The directors, they wanted us to say what we REALLY wanted to say.

Instead of what we SHOULD say.

You know what I mean? And so we went for it. Oh my God! I think that was the best breakthrough, I mean for me personally. And I think for the people who we were working with. Because we actually went ALL OUT!

This never made the skit, but I have to share this example. Going to your doctor’s office, your doctor will say to you, “How are you? What can I do for you?” And you say, “Oh, I have a headache.” And the doctor will say, “Fine. Take Tylenol”. Or send you to another institution. What you really want to say is, “Doctor, not only is my head hurting. My neck is hurting. I’m grinding my teeth. My back is hurting me, and I can’t sleep at night.” But for various reason the doctor doesn’t want to hear all that, you know?

Transforming Stories actually helped us to tell exactly what we want to say, instead of saying what they want to hear or what is expected of us to say. Which is the secret to this whole project. It evolved that way. Plus we have this wonderful great team who knew how to channel us in the right spot.

The organizers [of Transforming Stories], they are amazing human beings. They are amazing. They get it. They understand and appreciate what we have gone through. And they appreciate that we are sharing this. Because it takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable. To talk about your dirty laundry. And this is not just your dirty laundry, this is the dirty laundry of all of us, in the community. It is all of our problems. And to have them acknowledge that even though they may not have had some of our collective experience, or even exact experience, or even some of what we have gone through. They were wowed!

And they protected our integrity. They protected our mental state because when you are talking about stuff like this, it is very challenging. They made sure that we were taken care of emotional-wise. And they made sure that we felt that what we were saying was worthwhile. I think it’s because of that, I and these wonderful group of women performed the way we did and why were we were able to do this. Because we couldn’t do it ourselves. It is like you have a car with all its bells and whistles, and if there’s no oil in there or if you don’t fill the tank with gas, you ain’t going anywhere, right? So, the organizers were the oil and the gas for us and helped us perform this powerful, ground-breaking awesomeness!

A powerful way of communicating issues

“When the Transforming Stories team came to us, we were part of an advisory committee that advised a larger committee that supports women who were facing homelessness. So, there were two co – chairs and 8 members. City employees we worked with introduced us to people at McMaster’s Social Work and Theatre departments. And they came in, talked to us about the project and asked us what we thought about it. And we were like, yeah let’s go for it. Why not? We came to educate and inform. That’s one of our primary objectives to inform about the gaps in the system, to provide the women’s perspective.”

— Jones

Editor's note: 'Jones' is a pseudonym chosen by one of our anonymous project participants. Every now and then we will hear from our participants about their experiences of Transforming Stories, Driving Change.

What is your role on the project?

I performed as one of the characters who had all of these experiences. Life happened. She was unable to go back to work or continue work, and she was then beginning to face all of these challenges: losing her family, having a marriage dissolved, and all these other things. Some of the information we used in the skit is not only ours, the people performing in the play, but it’s also our friends, people who we’ve talked with, people who have shared stuff with us. So, the stories come from different voices. These stories are a combination of all these different experiences. And I think that was powerful because you realize how similar we are, that we all walk on this path. We think that we’re just alone, but then when you start talking about it you start realizing, oh man there something wrong here! All of these experiences are like my experience. Something must be wrong. So we kinda brought all those stories together. There is a little bit of us in there. But not so much so. It is actually saying what is happening out there. It’s sharing stories.

Have you ever use arts approaches before to share these stories?

No! No! Not like this. We have not! And that’s the beauty of this project because I didn’t go to drama school. I don’t know much about acting or anything like this. It was nerve-racking! Right? But we had good mentors, directors and teachers. They were just awesome. And it all came together with us telling these stories. It was fascinating!

For a person who does not know Transforming Stories how would you describe the project to them?

It’s like sitting around a fire and talking about life, school, health, relationships and stuff. You are relaxed! You’re calm. You are venting, not really venting, but just talking about stuff. You are reminiscing.

I remember the first time we sat down together, we were told to bring an object or two that meant something to us. We sat in a circle and explained what that object was. For me personally, that story circle reminded me of my grandmother. Because grandmama would always sit with us and have this chitchat. This comes from my culture. But the theatre director was saying this approach is common in Indigenous cultures too, this story sharing. And I thought they do this too? I guess were all the same.

And it brings a sense of community. Because you are in a circle. There’s nobody above or below. We are one. And I think that’s kind of sets up this catalyst of actions. All the women in our committee, ten of us, we were open about stuff and sharing stuff. And a lot of stuff came out when we were doing this. And that evolved into something else.

So, let me make this short, Transforming Stories is basically telling your story from your perspective without pointing fingers. Because you know, it’s experience. It’s not to make anyone feel bad. It’s not about making anybody feel sorry. But it’s sharing. We are sharing it from a place of truth. It’s not like I’m going to tell you what you want to hear because of your position. It’s more like what I’m going to tell you irrespective of your position. I think the Transforming Stories process takes away the shame. It takes away the pressure. We get down to the nitty-gritty. I think it is a very powerful way of communicating issues.

I hope, this is my hope, I think Transforming Stories should go on. I don’t have anything against town halls, but I’m hoping that we have Transforming Stories about different topics, and have people come around and talk. Let’s have a discussion. Let’s chit chat.