Better like vans

Our last blog was published December 11, 2014. A reminder, perhaps, of just how busy we’ve been. This is a great problem to have in theatre. We are approaching our 4th birthday on June 14th – our theatre company is entering Junior Kindergarten. Sheesh, I honestly could not have predicted that we would still be touring, that we’d have new shows in the works, and that we would have seen more of Canada than the average Canuck. But lately, as things have been getting busier, I’ve felt distracted. Stressed. Lately I have been guilty of forgetting to take a beat and reflect on this thing we’ve made.

Earlier this week, Leah and I were visiting some friends. Their daughter Rowan noticed a tattoo on my arm of the Theatre of the Beat van. It’s a rendering our friend and designer Landon Wideman created, a cross between a Westfalia bus and Scooby-Doo’s Dream Machine. Something fun to represent life on the road, which for us, is spent cooped up in a minivan.

Rowan asked, “Is that a van tattoo?” In a voice that insinuated the silliness of this decision. “Wow.” She said, now filled with disbelief. “You must really like vans.”

This past month we put 9,000kms on the ol’ Beat Mobile (a ’07 Grand Caravan, not a VW bus unfortunately) while driving out West to perform “A Bicycle Built for Two” in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Abbotsford, Calgary, and Edmonton. We were very grateful for Mennonite Foundation of Canada‘s sponsorship because I often forget just how big Canada is – and more noticeably – just how long it can take to drive across it.

To put it all in perspective, here’s a break down for you. It’s a 14 hour drive from Toronto to Minneapolis, another 8 hours to Winnipeg. We allot another 14 to Calgary, and then finish it up with another 13 to Vancouver. So yes, Rowan. I suppose I do like vans. I’d better, for how much time I spend in one.

But now we’re back. The van is parked, it’s vacuumed and it’s smelling slightly better. But it isn’t parked for long. We take off again next Wednesday for two weeks to the Ottawa Fringe Festival, and again in July to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. All in a touring company’s work. But I’d like to think this past tour was special. It was the first time since 2013 that we had the original crew (save for our original SM Katie Cowie Redekopp) reunited on the road. Getting the gang back together made it clear that a lot has changed, but that meant there was a lot to catch up on – a lot to talk about. There was also a lot of stops to make, sites to see, trails to hike, meals to eat, and friends to visit. We found our +90 hours of driving passed fairly quickly.

But, in those low moments – when exhaustion set in, or a loved one back home was missed, or the coffee finally wore off after a seven-hour driving shift – one does have to remind themselves: our work is our passion, our co-workers our friends, our office is the trans-Canada surrounded by prairies, mountains, and coastlines.

Anyone can tell you that pursuing a life in the arts can be difficult. The money isn’t great. Planning tours is tiring. Touring is tiring. Writing upcoming shows from the backseat of a van is not recommended if you get car sick. But, there’s something magical about it all. Something romantic. And, somewhere outside of Langley, BC I felt inspired to try and trap these thoughts under my pen in the form of a poem (below). A reminder to myself. It’s entitled “Hosanna in the Headlights” and I’d like to think it’s an ode to travelling with the people I love, living a dream I never thought possible, and remembering just how much I truly love vans.

-Johnny Wideman

HOSANNA IN THE HEADLIGHTS

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The time is nigh!

As a child, I used to make mud pies. Lots of ’em. There was a certain sense of exhilaration that came alongside the exploration of sinking one’s hands into the murky unknown of a mud puddle. Well, despite the recent snowy invasion, I’d say it’s as good a time as any to continue this tradition. Yes, Theatre of the Beat is going to get its hands dirty!
For many years, people have been asking us to tackle the hot topic of homosexuality in Christian communities, and we feel that we are now ready to respond. This winter, we will begin writing a satire that combines comedy with drama to examine the roots of discomfort in Christian circles regarding sexuality and, mainly, same sex attraction. We feel that with the “Being a Faithful Church” conversation well underway in Mennonite communities, the time is NOW to get people talking!
We find solace in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who, in his response to the white pastors who were criticizing his efforts as “unwise and untimely,” wrote: “[A] non-violent [response] seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to (here’s the part we really like!) DRAMATIZE the issue that it can no longer be ignored… I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension…’ there is a type of constructive, non-violent tension which is necessary for growth… [And] frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.”
With this in mind, we want to respond quickly! We have already begun researching and interviewing individuals involved in the LGBTQ community as well as scholars/theologians who have researched this topic. Our hope is to be performance ready for the Fall of 2015. In order to help us reach this goal, Community Mennonite Church of Stouffville has agreed to be a partner and accept donations for this project. Their mission theme for 2015 will be “Speak Boldly,” and stepping behind this project will be doing just that.
We will be revealing the name of this project soon, but in the mean time, if you have any questions about this project please feel free to email info@theatreofthebeat.com; I would be happy to respond to any of your questions or comment.
 
Ways that you can help:
  1. Venues: We need places to host this show, so if you think your church or community would be willing, please let us know.
  2. Stories: We want to hear your personal thoughts and experiences on this topic. Your words will be kept anonymous but will help us find honest voices for the play.
  3. Donations: we are currently looking to raise $15,000. This would cover the researching, writing, creative team, and rehearsals for this piece. If you’d like to support this project through a donation (and receive a tax receipt), please send cheques to:
Community Mennonite Church of Stouffville
 P.O. Box 95028
 Stouffville, ON, L4A 1J1
 TOTB Project on the memo line.
Thanks for walking alongside us as we enter a new and exciting project; one that promises – like all good things – to be equally enriching as it is challenging.
 
Johnny Wideman
Artistic Director
“Staging change”
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Come celebrate 20 years of safer communities with the organization that commissioned “Forgiven/Forgotten” – and lives out the play’s key message!

If you live in Ontario and saw Forgiven/Forgotten as part of Theatre of the Beat’s spring 2013 tour, you may have been inspired to rethink the way our communities respond to crime. We certainly hope this was the case, and want to follow up by letting you know about an event that is happening on November 12th – an opportunity to continue the conversation about how we can build healthier and safer communities together.

While Theatre of the Beat members Johnny, Ben and Leah tour the Maritimes with a remount of Forgiven/Forgotten alongside new cast members Sukhpreet Sangha and Megan Piercey Monafu, I (Kimberlee) am sitting this tour out in order to complete a Masters of Social Work internship with Mennonite Central Committee Ontario, which is the organization that originally commissioned Forgiven/Forgotten. Although I certainly miss being involved in such an exciting and important theatre project (I’m living vicariously through the troupe as I look at the pictures they post on social media) it has been an honor and privilege to work for an organization that lives out the values of Restorative Justice that the play highlights.

MCC’s Circles of Support and Accountability works to create safety for the whole community by developing and strengthening interpersonal relationships with people who have or are at risk of offending sexually. These relationships, created by a carefully chosen circle of staff, volunteers and a core member, are designed to be supportive and authentic while simultaneously holding people accountable for their patterns of behavior and choices in life. The result of this model, which MCCO has been engaged with for the past 20 years, is fewer victims of violent and sexual crimes. Circles of Support and Accountability makes a significant contribution to safer streets and communities through enhanced public safety and protection of Canadians – for example, evidence gathered indicates 83% reduction in recidivism for sexual offences, in comparison to matched groups of offenders who did not have this opportunity to be part of the circle model.  This program reduces risk in our communities, meaning fewer victims – the most important outcome and primary goal of Circles of Support and Accountability.

When Theatre of the Beat performs one of our plays, audiences usually applaud us for our efforts. Feedback on what we do means the world to us, as it lets us know that what we offer is of value to the communities we find ourselves in. Unfortunately, the Circles of Support and Accountability staff and volunteers who protect our communities (living out the real-life values of Forgiven/Forgotten) rarely receive the encouragement and congratulations that they deserve because it can be hard to talk about sexual offending. This is understandable – it’s not an easy topic! However, it is extremely important to show our support for programs such as Circles of Support and Accountability, especially as they struggle for funding to stay afloat.

Part of my role here at MCC has been helping to plan the 20th Anniversary celebration of the Circles of Support and Accountability program, which is taking place this November 12th, at 7pm. If you are interested in learning more about Circles of Support and Accountability and celebrating 20 years of safer communities with us, we’d love for you to join us! Our evening of celebration, reflection and visioning will begin at 7pm at the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario head offices at 50 Kent Avenue in Kitchener, Ontario. If you would like to come (and we hope you will) please RSVP to Laura VanderGriendt at lauravandergriendt@mennonitecc.on.ca or 519-745-8458 ext. 214

[home] is where the art is

Indeed, Theatre of the Beat does makes ‘home’ where art is found.

home_art

In 4 different cities and 2 provinces, we continue to make theatre together. Sound like a challenge? Could be. However, seeing as we’re well-versed in long distance relationships with significant others, long-distance with our fellow beatniks is a drop in the proverbial pan! Just another advantage of being a ‘traveling’ theatre company.

Right now, we’ve got folks ‘at home’ in Ontario and Manitoba. Check out the upcoming projects below…

Touring ONTARIO  & MANITOBA   MAY 2014

Touring MANITOBA   OCT/NOV 2014

Presented in KW in SPRING, 2014

If you want one of these new shows to come to a city near you, we’d love to pop by and visit your home. We promise to bring good cheer and perhaps something from Applewood Farm & Winery.

Love from your Winnipeg correspondant,

Becs

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TotB: the Flintstone Vitamins of Storytellers?

Selah's Song: An Original, Social Justice Folk Musical

Selah’s Song: An Original, Social Justice Folk Musical

From an early age, we learn through stories. The “Dos” and “Don’ts” in nursery rhymes and parables trick us into learning. You have such a good time listening to the tale, when it’s all over, the teacher literally has to ask you, “What was the moral of that story?” You learned, but you had so much fun doing it, you didn’t realize. 

Having always struggled with reading, I was forced to engage with stories in an auditory manner, often in group settings: bedtime stories, teachers reading a loud in class, friends around campfires, playing imaginary games at recess. These fun, participatory forms of story telling further developed my appreciation for the ritual of a good story told well: this is probably what attracted me to theatre. 

As an artists and an activists, Theatre of the Beat has always been interested in using story as a tool for social change. We want to challenge and inspire, to edify and entertain! But “social justice theatre” has had a bad rap. People want light and fluffy, they think “social justice theatre” equals a depressing Soap-box built for ranting and guilt-tripping. Sounds fun right? Kind of like drinking Buckley’s Cough Medicine: you know if you drink it, things will get better, but it just tastes so darn terrible.

So, with a Merry Poppins rendition of “spoonful of sugar” in mind, TotB is pleased to announce it’s upcoming season! One that strives to be the Flintstone Vitamins of “social justice theatre”, a medicinal, yet oh so tasty 2014! This year, we are very excited to announce that we’ll be premiering “Selah’s Song” (a social justice folk musical in partnership with SmallTall Music) at Nineteen on the Park in January, and “Committed” (a dromedy about marriage, in partnership with Shalom Counselling) at the Conrad Centre in May!

We’ll be providing you with more details as the shows draw nearer, but yes, Theatre of the Beat’s upcoming season is proving to be unlike any other. We’ll be trying out some new, never-before-been-tested techniques of song and laughter that promise to make 2014, a big year for social justice theatre!

Until next time,

Johnny Wideman
Artistic Director
Theatre of the Beat
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They just grow up so darn fast

Rebecca and Kim, leading a workshop at Camp Kahquah

Rebecca and Kim, leading a workshop at Camp Kahquah

Nearly two years and five months ago, at a dining table in Winnipeg, MB, I sat down to a computer – Benjamin Wert by my side – and clicked a button that asked something along the lines of, “you actually wanna start a social justice theatre company…really?”. I clicked “yes” and printed off a piece of paper that proved Theatre of the Beat existed; but that was as far ahead as I had thought.
Now, since June 14th, 2011, we have completed three cross-country tours, created 6 (soon to be 7) shows, and have performed over 100 times in theatres, churches, high schools, and even prisons across Canada and into the United States. With hopes and dreams that far expanded the boundaries of a “Sole Proprietorship”, it should come as no surprise that we have quickly outgrown the “business” as it was originally registered.
And so, I am very pleased to announce that, Theatre of the Beat will be moving into the non-profit sector! Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be working with our Lawyers, newly appointed Board members, and the rest of the Company to draft a brand-spank’n new Constitution, ready to be signed in late November!
Thank you to everyone who has helped to support us this far. By coming to shows, by following us online, for talking about our work, we couldn’t have done it without you! We never could have imagined that we would have come so far in such a short period of time, and for this, we are forever grateful.
Until then,
Johnny Wideman
Artistic Director
Theatre of the Beat
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When Gadflies don’t buzz quite enough

Hayley Brooks, a junior at Goshen College. Photo by Kate Stoltzfus

Hayley Brooks, a junior at Goshen College. Photo by Kate Stoltzfus

As some of you may know, we just performed Gadfly at Goshen College. Performing a play about Americans, as Canadians, for an audience of Americans, feels a bit strange at times. Although we always strive to provoke, “challenge and inspire”, the last thing we ever want to do is misrepresent. That’s why, when we read Hayley Brooks’ article “Queer erasure and representation in Gadfly” we knew we had some explaining/apologizing to do.

Hayley, a junior at Goshen College, was excited to see Gadfly because she assumed it would tell Jim Wenger’s story. Jim was both a roommate of Sam’s and a co-editor of Menno Pause; he also happened to be gay. Although he had not come out to his fellow classmates at the time, it was later brought to the President’s attention that Jim had taken out a personals ad in a California newspaper, seeking a male partner. Several suspensions later, paired with the controversial material of Menno Pause (an underground student newspaper), brought about the expulsion of Sam Steiner, Tom Harley, Lowell Miller and Jim Wenger.

Boiling down Sam’s life into an hour long performance was extremely difficult – especially after hours of interviews with Sam and Sue, archival research and historical dramaturgy. With a small cast, and a story filled with many fascinating characters, we were forced to combine entire groups of people into a few representational characters. Sam’s character was the focus of the play; the three other Menno Pause editors were combined into one character which we chose to be Jim Wenger.

Upon seeing a workshop performance of an early version of the play, Sam felt that the way we initially depicted Jim’s character did not accurately portray the person that Jim had been. Because Jim had passed away, and out of respect to his memory, Sam asked us to change the character’s name. We decided to combine the names Tom Harley and Jim Wenger to create the fictional: Tom Wenger.

Originally, there was a small reference to Jim’s sexuality in the script, but this one line did not dive into the complex issues of homophobia for fear of side tracking the focus of the story. We eventually decided to remove the reference altogether because we felt we couldn’t accurately explore and do justice tothe complexities of both Sam and Jim’s stories in the brief amount of time that Jim’s character was on stage. Perhaps a story like Jim’s is one for a future production.

We’ve always recognized that the issues surrounding the Civil Rights Movement discussed in Gadfly directly translate to issues of homophobia today. In the “Talk Back” after the show, Sam did not shy away from this comparison. He spoke openly about homophobia during the late sixties and alluded that Jim’s sexual orientation was probably a reason for his expulsion. This discussion seemed particularly fitting as we looked out over the crowd of purple shirts and pink/white wrist bands (showing Student solidarity for the “Where’s My LGBTQ Prof” movement).

Hayely’s article has served as an important reminder. By not acknowledging issues – like homophobia – in our histories, our plays, and our conversations, ignorance surrounding the issue will only persist. We apologize if the story we told was invalidating to experiences of the LGBTQ community who might have identified with Jim’s character. Please know this was not our intention. We truly respect Hayley’s courage in coming out to the Goshen community, and also in writing articles like “Queer erasure and representation in Gadfly“. Kudos young Gadfly, please continue to keep us accountable. Thank you for provoking, “challenging and inspiring” us. 

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