Neworld Theatre’s community activities include workshops at Burnaby’s Down Syndrome Research Foundation and at Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House in East Van.  This is Chelsea Haberlin and Christine Quintana chatting about Neworld’s approach to community engagement.

Christine Quintana (Marketing and Operations Coordinator): Okay hello, this is Christine

Chelsea Haberlin (Associate Artistic Director): And this is Chelsea.

CQ: And we’re here at Bandidas havin’ a breakfast.

CH: Ye-yuhh.

CQ: And we’re gonna talk about community engagement. So I think that community engagement is like the kind of thing that we say all the time, but what does that even mean, you know what I mean?

CH: Yeah! Totally.

CQ: Like it’s become one of those grant things where like – the words are meaningless. What do you think the concept of it is?

CH: Community engagement, what is the concept.

CQ: What is that?

CH: I guess the simplest way that I think about it, is that it’s taking the tools that I have as a theatre artist, and using those tools with people in the community to help them have conversations and explore ideas that are coming up in their lives. That’s the simplest way that I see it.

Click below for full audio of Christine and Chelsea’s conversation.

CQ: Yeah I like that. I like that. And I also think, like I’m of the mind that programming is community engagement

CH: Totally.

CQ: Like it’s not just the auxiliary activities but it’s actually the work itself.

CH: In the way that Neworld does it, it is-

CQ: Well, that’s true. Because it’s embedded in the creation process.

CH: Good programming is. That’s so true – because we make theatre for the community so it is inherently community engagement, if done well, right?

CQ: Yeah, I mean ideally that is what our checks and balances are when it comes to making programming decisions. Um – so we have some community engagement activities this season that are attached to productions, and some that aren’t yet. Tell me about what you do about Frog Hollow (Neighborhood House).

CH: I do so many different things at Frog Hollow! Basically what happens is that Frog Hollow has a community group that – they identify a group of people that attend the Neighborhood House, so it could be women, it could be seniors, it could be children. And then they ask me to come in and do some theatre with those groups. And in the way that I do theatre, it’s not that I go and do drama games with them, it’s that I go in and I use – like I said before – the theatre tools I have to help them tell the stories of their lives, to explore the things that are on their mind. And so in this last year I worked with a group of immigrant women and we explored their stories and put on a short piece for other parents – because most of the women involved were parents – and upcoming I will possibly be doing more of that, I will possibly be working with a group of seniors, and that is a program that is led by the interests of the seniors. They’ve identified things they’re interested in and we’re gonna do some theatre.

CQ: That’s awesome. And I really appreciate – I saw your showcase last year – I really appreciate that it’s led by the participants because I think that community engagement can sometimes have this kind of colonial vibe of like “we’re coming to you to bring our thing” and it’s nice to see something that’s actually a collaborative event.

CH: Totally, and that’s really important to me that the things we’re doing are not my ideas, they’re the ideas of the group. And that it’s good theatre, not because it looks like the esthetically appealing theatre that you would see at a professional or regional theatre, but it’s good theatre because it’s honest.

CQ: I went to daycare there (At Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House) and my mom like went and hung out and that’s where we met people from our neighborhood when we first moved here.

CH: I love that. It’s a neighborhood house and it’s really a home for so many people, all the women I worked with said that they really started to feel settled here once they joined that community.

CQ: Yeah. Even when I went to see your showcase, I came in and didn’t really know where to go, and right away someone was like “Hey, hi – how are you doing? What are you up to?”

CH: There’s always coffee. There’s always snacks! (Laughing) There’s always someone to welcome you at the door.

CQ: Snacks. Such an important part of-

CH: Snacks are vital. Snacks are a big part of community engagement.

CQ: (laughing) I would agree with that! And some other wonderful snackers – our friends at the Down Syndrome Research Foundation! So that’s been workshops that Marcus, Jamie, Niall and Veda and sometimes Zak were doing.

CH: Yeah!

CQ: And you did a couple.

CH: Yeah I’ve been there a few times, mostly because it’s really fun! Not because I have anything in particular to do with the project.

CQ: And what kind of stuff did you do there?

CH: Oh it’s so awesome. Niall basically leads the day, and we go there for an hour and a half on Friday afternoons. And it’s a group of people that come together and Niall leads a warmup and we do a little check in, and then we have been exploring King Arthur. So Marcus comes in with an idea of what the scenario is, and then we improvise scenes. And they are the most engaged, dropped-in bits of improv I’ve ever done in my life. Because the scenes are high stakes, because it’s King Arthur – so you come from doing a warm up where you’re pretending that an object is something else, right into “oh I’m a goat that’s being screamed at by the King for pooing on his foot” – you just like, go immediately into something with the highest stakes and there’s always quite dramatic scenarios. Really fun.

CQ: I love it. And from these workshops we got our King Arthur cast members, Tiffany (King), Andrew (Gordon), and Matthew (Tom Wing).

CH: Yeah.

CQ: Which is awesome. And it reminds me of how much we get from our – I’m even reticent to call them community engagement because it puts it under and umbrella that is increasingly kind of just rhetoric and not the embodied ethos – but we get so much from this. IT’s not just that we just go in and do something and then peace out, it’s that our work is changed by –

CH: Oh like for King Arthur, the community engagement is the production. The things that are happening in those – under the umbrella term of community engagement – are the things that have become the play. Scenes that we’ve improvised are scenes in the show. So completely, I mean there’s a crossover there to the point of them being blended into one.

CQ: Yep. I feel like as – and I know this is a longstanding tradition at Neworld, but as a younger artist coming into this company, I learned so much from the way we do community stuff here.

CH: Me too. I’ve learned a lot from Marcus and how seriously Marcus takes artistic collaboration with anyone. And that collaboration with, for example, the people at Frog Hollow is considered on the same level as collaboration with international artists, that everything is put on the same plane. And is viewed as equally valuable. And I think that’s the key to unlocking very fruitful and meaningful community engagement, and not as you put it, a “colonial approach”.

CQ: That’s good. I feel inspired. And I want more coffee, so I think we’re good here. Thanks for listening, friends.


Art by Katie So.