Mocean's annual choreographic lab CLEaR Forum, Photo by Kevin MacCormack

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Community, Commitment and Communication

Susanne and I are currently in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador at the 39th Labrador Creative Arts Festival.   

Today is our last day of the festival, so sadly later today we will part ways with the 16 visiting artists that we have bonded with during the seven day festival. During our time here we have had the pleasure of sharing stories and trading teaching tricks with an incredibly inspiring group of individuals/artists.   

After the festival closes tonight Susanne and I will stay on to continue working with Let’s Dance, a local dance school in the HVGB area, so stay tuned for a post on this portion of our outreach and education activities later! 

The morning view at our billet's house

About the Festival (aka: the logistics of a committed and inspired community)

At year 39, the festival is Canada’s longest running Children’s Art Festival.  Since we arrived, it has been a whirlwind of teaching, sharing stories, and experiencing the Labrador hospitality.   This year the festival invited 18 artists from across Canada to share their artistry and professional practice with students from across Labrador. The range of invited artists includes theatre, puppetry and voice, singer songwriters, interactive media and music integration, visual artists, a cartoonist, a contortionist, a children’s writer, costume designer, a food writer and two dance groups! (Our friends Calla Lachance, Andrea Tucker, and Tammy MacLeod are here!)

The festival itself is centred around the nightly student plays which are written, directed, performed and produced by the students themselves. Each night we pour into the Lawrence O’Brien Art Centre to witness the hard work, dedication, and the inspired imaginations from students up and down the Labrador coast.  The students prepare their plays in September-October, and they also fundraise and/or get assistance from the festival to travel to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to perform their plays and take part in the workshops and festival experience.

In the daytime the artists are busy teaching workshops at the local schools, for the various adult and education centres, and for schools in the surrounding communities. We were also teaching workshops at the community North Cross Church (the larger rental venue) for the visiting coastal students who are in town sharing their plays  ­­– these students are also billeted around the town, therefore they really get to share in a full community experience making new friends with the other kids and families in the town.
The festival also prioritizes giving accessibility to the arts for all Labrador students by providing workshops up and down the coast for those who can’t make it to Happy Valley. Some of the lucky visiting artists get to the remote coastal communities to deliver their workshops, stay the night or fly back in time to see the nightly plays. The coastal communities who participated this year include: Nain, Hopedale, Makkovik, Postville, Rigolet, Cartwright, Black Tickle, Port Hope, and Mary's Harbour.

Map of Labrador

Behind all these logistics is the Labrador Creative Arts Festival committee and a community army of volunteers. Volunteers drive the artists to all the different regions in “the big land” of Labrador, volunteers to make lunches, to billet the visiting artists and coastal students, fundraise, and volunteers are in the theatre to support the students backstage so that the “heart of the festival” ­– the student plays can be shared with the community on a nightly basis. 

My Festival Reflection (aka: my attempt to articulate the open heart)

The theme for the 39th Labrador Creative Arts Festival is Communication. The students presented their community school plays centred around this tying theme, and each night Susanne and I witnessed truly wonderful stories, interpretations, and reflections of how communication and communication devices effect their daily lives and world around them. 

You could tell it was comforting for the students to be on stage talking about the positive and negatives of social media and texting. This topic is ripe in their minds and is a key driver in the teenage tool for communication. 

Yet ironically, in contrast to my accessibility, these students are coming from tiny schools where the student population range is 2 students to 60 (no exaggeration here), from communities with limited road and internet access, and where flying in and out is the only means for communication with the outside world.  So the range and intimacy of their perspective was incredibly heart warming.  Honestly though, I am somewhat envious of the space and pace that this situation fosters in both the people and their artful reflections. The Labradoreans really have mastered the zen quality of “ma”.

Seeing the students work on stage together was also incredibly powerful to witness.  The people of Labrador are especially grounded, “serving it with nothing added,” understated, open-hearted, and are extremely exceptionally when it comes to just being yourself.   

On top of this, the plays’ presentation or performance styles all have a special sense of family or community about them. There is a natural wild and naive spirit that dances alongside the students as they perform their plays.  It is a spirit that can’t be rehearsed no matter how skilful one may be at drama, yet it is still extremely evident due to the reality that the students have known each other their whole lives, or they likely are a cousin of someone on the stage with them, or a whole family for that matter - literally and metaphorically, it is a spirit that only the culture and the landscape of “the big land” can foster.   

I am incredibly thankful to have witnessed such tender and introspective student plays.
Getting some office work done during our airport delay
Saying goodbye to the "Big Land" from the airplane