The Shoe Project Antigonish:
Immigrant Women Tell Their Stories
This project involved eight local immigrant women in a ten-week writing workshop, followed by five weeks of rehearsals, culminating in a show on Feb. 8th and 9th 2019, at the Bauer Theatre, part of the 2018-19 Theatre Antigonish season. The participants were Karen Bissonette, Renée Romero Brown, Willie Duykers, Almudena Garcia-Garcia, Anu Joshi, Jyotsna Jain, Soo Kyeong Lee, and Yen Ngoc Nguyen. As part of the project, the dancer Liliona Quarmyne was commissioned separately to tell the story of her immigration from Ghana to Canada through dance; this was a strong and fitting piece to open the show.
Photos courtesy of Bernice MacDonald
The Shoe Project, a national organization, provided contracts, guidelines and a manual showing various ways to frame and edit the stories. On a local level, the project worked because of an excellent partnership between AHA!, Antigonish County Literacy Association (ACALA), and Theatre Antigonish. I worked with Jyotsna Jain at ACALA to recruit women before the writing sessions began, and with drama consultant, Laura Teasdale, during the months of facilitating the writing sessions and the rehearsals. I was also glad to work with Andrea Boyd, Reema Fuller, Heather Myers, Ian Pygott, and StFX student Lia Blackett, on planning, promotion, and execution of the show at Theatre Antigonish.
I had three goals for the Shoe Project Antigonish: to empower a culturally diverse group of immigrant women; to collaborate on a communal project to enhance women’s inclusion and social participation; and to value stories of difference within a small town in rural Nova Scotia. Certainly, the women felt empowered after the staging of the Shoe Project Antigonish; they felt that their stories were celebrated. This gave them enormous confidence. The response to this project has been overwhelmingly positive, since the community has welcomed these stories. As well, Colleen Jones of CBC came to Antigonish to interview the women for a short piece that was aired on television and radio. It was a wonderful way to spread the word about the project regionally.
There were difficulties along the way, but it seems fair to say that the Shoe Project was a success. If crowds are an indication, the theatre was full the first night, and nearly full the second night. But it was the group of eight women whose delight was most obvious: not only had they become very close, they discovered that they loved being part of the project and sharing their stories with others. I asked them to evaluate both the writing and drama sessions, and they agreed that other projects like this one should be initiated in the future. Yen Ngoc Nguyen, one of the participants, said, “The project has given me an opportunity to pause, look back and re-think my whole journey to Canada. It serves as a point of reflection, enabling me to appreciate more of my effort, my growth, and my appreciation for the beauty of living in this country. I treasure the time I spent with other immigrants in this project as it has widened my understanding and perspective.”
AHA! has a mandate to encourage wellness through the arts. Storytelling is a powerful way to involve everyone, including those who might be on the margins of the mainstream, as has been discovered with other projects.