Odyssey Theatre comes to Strathcona Heights

Photo Betsy Mann

Betsy Mann

Did you enjoy Theatre Under the Stars in Strathcona Park this summer? It might surprise you to know that Odyssey Theatre’s activities in Sandy Hill didn’t stop with the last performance of The Amorous Servant on August 20. As part of AOE Arts Council’s Neighbourhood Arts 150 project, Odyssey brought its Spreading Roots outreach activity to a number of communities around Ottawa, including Strathcona Heights. Residents were invited to take part in creating a performance using dancing, singing, acting and—Odyssey’s specialty—masks. The theme was trees: their importance to people in the neighbourhood and their contribution to a healthy community. In each location, the performance ended with the planting of a tree, a living legacy for the neighbourhood.

A number of other partners contributed to this ambitious undertaking. Rag and Bone Puppet Theatre created masks and props; several local nurseries donated the trees that were planted; and the Community Development and Engagement staff from the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre (SHCHC) were on board for the activities in Strathcona Heights.

The community gathering garden, next to 430 Wiggins, was the scene for the group’s performance on Sunday, September 24. Even before the show began on that sweltering afternoon, the audience members were appreciating the importance of the urban forest as they found spots in the deep shade cast by the surrounding trees. The heat and the ambient noise (that darn biplane that regularly overflies us on sunny days!) presented some challenges to the young cast, but the show must go on and it did. After a short introduction by Lynda Giffen Clements from the SHCHC, the excited children took their places to show what they had practised in the previous workshops directed by the team of professional artists. A first group told about their love of nature and what trees meant to them. They were followed by another group wearing masks of animals and birds who showed the importance of the natural habitat to other creatures too. This part of the show culminated with singing and dancing around the paper model of a tree.

The second part of the show consisted of a performance by three young people who are involved with another outreach project led by Odyssey Theatre. This one, called Branching Out, aims to equip youth who are passionate about theatre with knowledge that will help them pursue their creative goals and with skills that will be beneficial to them throughout their lives. These older performers wore masks borrowed from Odyssey’s prop collection.

At the end, everyone was invited to the other end of the community gathering garden to participate in the planting of a pear tree. Children pitched in, shovelling earth into the pre-dug hole around the root ball of the new tree. Asked if they were going to look after the tree and water it, they all shouted an enthusiastic “yes!” Like the produce from the community garden, fruit from this tree will be available for residents or donated to the food bank.

This performance isn’t the end of artistic activities in Strathcona Heights. Starting the week of October 2, the SHCHC Community Development and Engagement team is also leading a multi-week project called “Awesome Arts” with six different activities (music, dance, painting, spoken word, etc.) for residents of Strathcona Heights in various age groups from 6 to 18. The activities will run out of the community hall and Viscount Alexander School; the wrap-up performance will be held on November 23.