Expressive Arts at Community Living Dufferin
At Community Living Dufferin, the arts open up exciting new ways of communicating – and strutting their stuff to the world.
This past spring, one of Community Living Dufferin’s two theatre troupes performed an original play called Out of the Box to packed houses at Orangeville’s Town Hall Opera House. Like all good actors, troupe members opened up, making themselves vulnerable to the whims of the audience. Like all good audiences, spectators were caught up in the performance, laughing and weeping on cue. When the show ended, they leapt to their feet, applauding.
Backstage hush. Houselights fade.
Audience members stop talking and turn to face the stage. Expectant.
In darkness, actors take positions. Nervous. Excited.
The curtain rises on another Theatre Orangeville production.
The risks taken by the actors had been rewarded. This collaboration between Community Living Dufferin and Theatre Orangeville had brought pleasure to both actors and audience, and given many on both sides of the footlights an experience like no other.
CLD is a local organization dedicated to helping people with developmental disabilities achieve fulfilled lives, both as individuals and as members of the broader community. It is part of the Canadian Association for Community Living, which operates in all provinces and territories.
Founded in the 1950s by a minister who started the first local school for children with developmental disabilities, CLD now operates a host of programs for children, adults and their families. It runs 12 group homes, provides independent living support, and operates QPAC – a packaging and assembly company that serves the region’s manufacturers. It also offers Options – a day program open to community and group home residents who go to CLD for a variety of learning and leisure activities.
In recent years CLD has also become the hub of a comprehensive arts program.
Joyce Cook, manager of both QPAC and Options, explains the growth of the arts program is directly related to “the variety of people from the community coming in to help us create a quality program.” They bring their artistic abilities in various media, from music to clay, acting to sculpture, and photography to drawing and painting. Joyce knows of only one other community living association that has started a theatre group. Others have drawing and painting programs, she says, “but theatre, clay and photography set our program apart.”
The program is helping CLD achieve one of its most important goals: bridging barriers and fostering communication and understanding. “Each person has his or her ability and talent just like everybody else,” says Joyce. “They just haven’t had an opportunity earlier in their lives to show their ability to everybody else and to be equal with everyone else.”
The arts program got its hands on clay five years ago, when CLD moved into its new facilities on County Road 3 (Fergus Road), just west of Orangeville. That’s when the organization received a donation specifically earmarked to purchase a kiln. “No one on staff knew very much about working with clay,” says Joyce, “so the community stepped in, some amateur, some professional, to teach different techniques and get the program going. Today it’s very popular.”
The finished work regularly sells at the Orangeville Farmers’ Market and community events such as Founders’ Day, as well as CLD’s annual Christmas craft sale on the first Saturday in December. Stop by a CLD booth when the artists are there and they’ll proudly tell you all about their work.
It was CLD client Ed Vander Veen who inspired the photography program, now called Click Connect Photography Club. “Eddie was always with his camera, taking pictures at every occasion,” says program co-ordinator Jodee Jack, a former nurse. Curiously, when the photography club was launched, Eddie wasn’t interested in joining. He wanted to focus on faces, the way he could at CLD, but in public this wasn’t always feasible. Fortunately, five others did get involved, at first sharing three cameras among them.
Today Click Connect numbers 22 photographers, including Eddie, divided into two groups. Most Wednesdays and Thursdays they go on local field trips. This summer, both groups also went on a three-day excursion to a cottage near Kincardine, with side trips to the historic jail in Goderich, the lighthouse at Point Clark and other locales.
Pete Paterson, a Caledon photographer and regular contributor to this magazine, frequently leads the Thursday excursion. He was drawn into Click Connect as a volunteer three and a half years ago.
“I was at CLD taking a photograph for a magazine feature,” he explains. “I had driven by the building many times but had no idea what it was. As I was looking around, people kept jumping in front of me, asking me to take their picture. I felt this great joy from them – unfiltered joy – and I wanted to get involved.”
On their outings, Jodee takes most of the group in the van, but a few like to travel in Pete’s truck. “Ted Graham likes to come along with me,” says Pete, “but he doesn’t take photographs. He just likes the ride and tells us stories about the old days in Port Perry when he used to ride around in the gravel trucks. Kirk Bailey loves classical music and often brings a CD to play.”
The fun is not always so sophisticated. On the recent Kincardine trip, for instance, Ted loudly sang along with Bob Dylan’s “Everybody Must Get Stoned.” Occasionally, says Pete, “unprintable” jokes fly, and the laughter is contagious, sometimes at his expense.
When the weather is bad, the group stays in, reviewing their photos to see what they can learn. “I rarely make suggestions when we’re out in the field,” Pete says. “The photographers are very creative and often see things I don’t see. But when we’re scanning the photos later, that’s the learning experience.”
Pete often starts discussions by asking why they took particular pictures and then he makes suggestions about composition. “I can see they are much more aware as photographers now, seeing things rather than just taking snapshots – and that’s what I try to bring to them. But they give me a lot more than I give them.”
Like the pottery, the photographs and photo cards are for sale at various events around Orangeville. They’ve been featured in the lobby of the Opera House, and every spring Click Connect hosts a gala exhibition of their best work.
At the shows, the photographers’ greatest sense of success comes when people look at the pictures and say, “These are really good.” Period – without adding “for people with developmental challenges.”
Reactions like that prove the value of the arts program. The arts provide an alternative way for the photographers and others to express themselves, Joyce Cook says, and sometimes a way to overcome their anxiety. “The creative process gives them a sense of accomplishment in building something, as well as confidence and pride in the fact that others admire or purchase their work.”
Artistic endeavours have other therapeutic benefits as well. Matthew Fleming is an Orangeville musician who has worked in Toronto, Ottawa and other centres. He often brings instruments to CLD for Options workshops. “I take all kinds of percussion instruments, shakers, hand drums, really neat things from all over the world,” he says. “We work on rhythm and counting. Soon everyone is connecting, paying attention to each other and having fun.”
“Rhythm can be soothing,” says Jodee, “and because participants often use both sides of their body equally – a huge challenge for a lot of people – drumming also helps with their balance.”
Of all these activities, the most ambitious foray into the arts at CLD is the performing arts program. Called Creative Partners on Stage, it was conceived when Theatre Orangeville and CLD began working together on the fundraising, design and construction of the Fergus Road facilities. Opened in 2010, the 24,000-square-foot building now houses not only CLD but also the theatre’s set workshop and rehearsal hall.
When planning for the building began, David Nairn, artistic director of Theatre Orangeville, was on the CLD board, and together with CLD executive director Sheryl Chandler was inspired to find a way for the two organizations to share more than a building.
“We wanted to ramp up their theatre and performing arts capabilities,” says David. “So we sent a teacher, Steve Urion, to Concordia to learn more about teaching people with special needs. He was a theatre guy himself and developed the first program.”
They also consulted Diane Dupuy, founder of Famous People Players, the renowned Toronto-based puppetry company that tours the world and is also dedicated to enriching the lives of people with developmental disabilities.
“She was hugely informative and supportive,” says David, who then laughs. “She only asked that we not do any black-light puppetry.” That’s the distinctive style of glow-in-the-dark puppets that made Famous People Players famous.
Creative Partners on Stage mounts two productions each spring. Elizabeth Glenday and Jane Ohland Cameron lead the two troupes. “Liz’s is more musical theatre, more structured, like this year’s Red in the Hood, a traditional musical pantomime,” says David. “Jane creates original scripts like Out of the Box around who the performers are. Both celebrate the abilities of the performers and it’s some of the best work we do.”
“It’s very much a team effort,” says Jane, noting her productions involve staff and volunteers from both CLD and Theatre Orangeville, along with the actors themselves. “The whole show is genuine. It comes from the actors.”
In Out of the Box, Adam Thompson described fishing with his father in a steady voice that belied the emotion he felt. Kelly Hu-Dong danced through his segment. Barb Squirrell talked and joked about her family and her cats, including the one named after her husband George. Mike Goldie talked about going for coffee, and Glen Hamilton chimed in with ad libs and clapped his hands with such enthusiasm the audience couldn’t help but join in. Sarah Henry-Godfrey presented a heartfelt monologue on her artwork (see sidebar, page 72).
“They have a great range of choices to express themselves, to find their voices,” says Jane. “They’re working hard around the challenges in order to show us what they have to offer. I’m in awe.”
Rehearsals, which take place one or two evenings a week, usually start six months before the performance. Along with Elizabeth or Jane, as well as the actors and support staff from CLD, there are occasionally others, including choreographer Jenee Gowing and vocal coach Susan Cooper, but the process is anything but onerous.
“Every rehearsal is as joyous as what you see on stage – the highlight of the week,” says Jane, who has degrees in English, drama and teaching, and was a member of “a very poor theatre company” in the early ’70s. “Looking at these actors, people often see the challenges they face, rather than the profound talents and often the brilliance they have, working hard to come out. As their worlds open up, as their confidence and skills expand, it opens our world as well. To me it is the actors inviting us into their world as they find their voices. We are honoured guests.”
“Everyone is enriched,” echoes David Nairn. “You’d need a heart of stone to see those shows and not be overwhelmed. These are companies of actors, no different from any other company in the world.” Last year two of the performers, Anne Rogers and Deborah Woods, auditioned successfully for parts in the Christmas pantomime in Erin.
“This work needs to be seen on a much larger stage,” says David. “I’d love to take one of the CPOS productions to something like the Toronto Fringe Festival, or even the Edinburgh International Festival, and show the world what the people of Dufferin County can do.”
Art from the heart
Last spring’s original production of Out of the Box, performed by a troupe of actors from Community Living Dufferin’s Creative Partners on Stage, was a triumph for everyone involved.
One of the actors, Sarah Henry-Godfrey, joined the troupe just this year. Very shy at first, Sarah showed no hint of timidity during her very moving performance. She spoke from the heart, illustrating her words with examples drawn from her multimedia art, photographs and journal.
Sarah’s mother Leslie confessed, “I tried to record Sarah’s performance with my tablet. When I watched it later, the picture was on its side and all I could hear was me, sobbing.”
Here are some of Sarah’s words and art.