Reciprocity and sustainability

In spring 2019, as TSDC’s research completion date grew nearer, our conversations about project reciprocity and sustainability took on increased urgency. How could the project give back to the communities we worked with in a sustained way? How could a project like TSDC exist outside of a research framework, and without research funding? How could TSDC transition from a community-engaged performance research project to a community-engaged arts project?

We didn’t (and don’t) have answers to these questions. As with many good questions, however, they prompted us to imagine and explore. In our discussions with community partners two things became clear: Reciprocity and sustainability are interdependent and both would require situating TSDC into the broader community in a more integrated way.

Here are some of ideas we explored and initiatives we set in motion to work towards this:

  • Alternative approaches to re-mounting plays.
  • Plans to integrate a performance creation workshop series into the curriculum of Good Shepherd, Notre Dame House School.
  • Creating chapbook-zines of play scripts that performer-advocates and community partners could share.
  • Networking with people at the Hamilton Public Library to discuss hosting upcoming re-performances of Choose Your Destination and When My Home is Your Business to be accompanied by related educational activities and installations at the library.
  • Zine-making workshops with past participants and tenant rights advocates to create visual materials to support the issues addressed by performer-advocates in TSDC plays.
  • Monthly meetings with past participants (we call these ‘Sustaining Connections’ gatherings).

Then came COVID-19. All of TSDC’s in-person activities were placed on hold. So, we did what we do as theatre makers. We improvised. Our first priority was to figure out a way to transition our Sustaining Connections gatherings onto a virtual platform (more on this in a bit!). The second thing we did was start writing this workbook. As we pivoted to embark on these two new (ad)ventures — virtual Sustaining Connections gatherings and the workbook — we were struck by how they are both motivated by the same principles as the in-person activities we had put on hold — reciprocity and sustainability.

Reciprocity and sustainability are not only questions of giving back to the community and self-advocates who created and performed the plays and the community partners who provided guidance and support. Nor are they simply about project survival. They are integral to the broader goals of TSDC that we’ve discussed throughout the workbook:

  • Draw attention to how our norms of public communication exclude some speakers from public discussion and do not recognize some speakers as agents of social change.
  • Engage more and different kinds of people in public talk about visions for their communities and build solidarity between constituencies.
  • Extend the reach of performer-advocates’ voices and deepen the receptivity of audiences to these voices.
  • Expand the horizons of our imaginations — as performer-advocates and members of audiences and communities.
  • Creatively engage audience members as actors in the ongoing conversation that the play initiates about the future of the City.


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Transforming Stories, Driving Change Copyright © by Helene Vosters, Catherine Graham, Chris Sinding is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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