Mulgrave Road Theatre opens window to memories

By Lois Ann Dort    
July 20 2016

GUYSBOROUGH – Everybody has a story to tell, even if they don’t know it. That is the premise behind the newest offering from the Mulgrave Road Theatre Company, Generations, arriving just in time for Guysborough Come Home Week.

Generations, led by professional theatre artist Ryanne Chisholm, is a community-based production involving local seniors whose stories have been elicited through storytelling workshops held in and around Guysborough. The stories have been molded into a play script by Chisholm and will be performed by a the seniors who have taken part in the project.

The process began when the Mulgrave Road Theatre put out a call for interested seniors to join them in a “storytelling theatre program for community members in the third act of their lives” at the beginning of May. Since that time almost 30 seniors have been involved with the project.

In the beginning, Chisholm says, many seniors’ immediate response to the storytelling project was, “I have no stories. No one wants to hear my story.” That’s when, she says, her professional theatre toolbox came into use.

“We use techniques that we would use with young actors to try to have them open up. It is less about asking a specific questions than asking leading questions like: tell me about a time when or describe your childhood home... As soon as people start talking about something concrete...from that they start to tell a story...It’s about about asking questions that lead people into sections of their memory that open up those stories.”

The end result is what Chisholm calls collage theatre. “I have taken all of the stories and turned them into a play script. It is theatre that is a quilt...We have taken all these different stories and I have found a way to weave them together into one larger piece of work.

“It is not specifically one particular person’s story. It is little bits and pieces of lots of stories that have all been put together,” she says.

When asked what benefits she sees arising from the project, Chisholm can point to many but first and foremost is the forum created for senior’s voices to be heard. “There is a point in life it seems, where people move outside of mainstream society. Some people are more isolated at this stage in their lives.” The program has brought people together, gave them a space to be heard, and shown them the value of their stories.

“It’s incredibly important for building community relationships, that self-esteem that can happen in that sense of community...Group storytelling exercises, there has been a lot of research recently showing that it has a huge positive affect on Alzheimer’s patients and anyone who is dealing with memory issues in any way,” she adds.

“The act of storytelling is something visceral to who we are. We don’t do it as much now as past generations have. That sitting around and telling stories is a magical thing,” concludes Chisholm.

The Mulgrave Road Theatre will hold a public performance of Generations on July 29 at the Boylston Community Centre at 2 p.m. A performance will also be held at the Milford Haven Home for Special Care, for residents and family members, some of whom took part in the project, on July 27.