A Shared Table: “Storylab”

In January, 2020, I joined a small group of co-facilitators to plan curriculum for what we intended to be three IBPOC-centered creative lab sessions and a public pop-up for stories to be told, art to be shown, and food to be shared in March and April. Cue pandemic. Co-facilitators and Artists alike pivoted gracefully and exceeded our wildest expectations. We’re now in month 10 of online gatherings for what we affectionately call “Storylab,” sharing life and new and in-progress creative works of all kinds. We are happy to announce the launch of an online exhibit on January 11, 2021!

This community of Artists is balm and magic. Please check out the promo video below, created by the incredible Vuelo con Los Angeles, and follow @asharedtable.ca on Instagram for more information on all of the Storylab participants and the upcoming exhibit!

My creative process was cracked wide open in Storylab by the wisdom and openness of the Artists on this journey. I create work differently now because of them. (IG links in the video post above!) Rafay makes gorgeous music. Rucha is full of deep creativity and a commitment to wellness for self and others. I don’t think there’s anything Sobia can’t do creatively or in any other realm. Sarah puts beauty and goodness into the world.

And dear Co-Facilitators:

Eli Farinango, Kichwa Photographer/Beautiful Human, encourages me to just make things rather than editing and filtering myself before I even begin. I’ve started creating in different media that I was too afraid to choose before my time with her. I encourage a deep dive into her photographic world.

I first heard the rich storytelling gifts of Pat Wright (G’ama Trica) at A Shared Table’s “Sankofa” event in September, 2019. I have benefitted greatly from her creative prompts and guidance about storytelling craft, teaching, and life.

Extra special shout out to Bernadette Arthur, Founder and Chief Experience Officer of A Shared Table. She challenges me to step up in hard, necessary, and beautiful ways, encourages me, and holds me accountable. She also makes me laaaaaaaugh and takes wonder-filled crunchy newfallen snow walks in the woods. It is my deep honour to call her friend.

Joy.

Big feet and trash can to fill

In honour of Carroll Spinney, I present to you two of my favourite storytime socks.

Image of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch socks

The cuffs of the socks read as follows:

Big Bird: I like big books.

Oscar: Go away! I’m reading!

Big Bird modeled wonder, astonishment, gentleness, and curiosity for me. Oscar taught me it’s okay to express my emotions, whatever they might be. No surprise then, that these two marvelous beings still sing at me and inform my work four decades later. My favourite picture of Carroll Spinney shows him performing Oscar while wearing Big Bird’s legs. Proof that these disparate creatures can (and often did) inhabit the same body.

I love this tribute to Carroll Spinney from Judy Gold. We are not alone, dear friends.

Writing Workshop Wonderland!

I’ll be away from my Saturday home at Locke Street Farmers’ Market on September 07 so I can take two writing workshops with Marie Louise Gay! She’s in Guelph that day as part of the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. First up is “Inspiring Children to Write,” followed by “Writing for Children.” I am so excited to spend the day with Stella maven and curly hair inspiration MLG! ♥️

Locke Street Farmers’ Market Folks, you are in goooood hands on 09/07! Graemazing will be at Market to amuse and amaze! Locke Street Family Day is also happening 11AM-4PM, with bucketloads of fun, including a bouncy castle, face painting, and lots of family entertainment.

I’ll be at Donut Monster (Locke) for storytime on September 10. When I return to Market on September 14, we’re going to sing songs and read stories about books and reading!

Thesis Thankfulness – 16 years after the fact

Mental Health Advocacy, Inclusion, and the Empowerment of a Marginalized Community Through the Utilization of Theatre: A Historical Overview of Our Own Voice Theatre Troupe, Memphis, Tennessee

👆That’s the pretentious clunker of a title I gave my 2003 Master’s thesis…

It’s now been 16 years since I boarded a plane for Memphis to gather oral histories for my thesis research on Our Own Voice Theatre Troupe. Upon re-reading the final document, I am encouraged both that I’m now a much better writer and that my core research concerns have only strengthened in the intervening years. In many ways, OOVTT is responsible for the shape much of my work has taken. They provided me with a devised theatre roadmap for how to work, as well as a shining example of mental health advocacy in action. Karaoke Visiting Hour and There’s An Easy-Bake Oven Where My Heart Should Be would not be possible without them. I am much obliged for our visits, for being able to see them perform at home and on the road, and for their whole-hearted participation in the very first Easy-Bake Workshop. Special thanks to Khyber Daniel for our conversations this week and his prompt to dig my thesis out of cold storage!

Screen capture of University of Memphis Library catalog record for Amber's thesis.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a copy of my thesis is now held by the University of Memphis Libraries!

I am also incredibly grateful to my old friend and librarian, Dorothy Hargett, who allowed me electronic access to the full-text of my thesis this week! (I lost all my floppy disks a few moves ago.) I was fortunate to be one of Dorothy’s co-workers for almost a decade, and she was an actual angel whenever I needed care or a listening ear. Absolutely none of that has changed. When in doubt, ask a librarian! In Dorothy’s honor, I provide this paltry example of how I attempted to repay her kindness over the years (these beauties were taken for a library customer service presentation she created):

That’s some quality overacting right there.

XOXO from NC

04 – 07 JULY

Charlotte, NC with my college roommate and her family!  I got some real sleep and introduced a wee one to some books and watched her she started to really walk. Did you know that Mister Rogers Neighborhood is available on PBS Kids? This episode about the death of a goldfish led to a scene about sadness I’m working on for the easybakeheart project.  ❤

08 JULY

Goodyear Arts is an incredible multi-artist space that is a dream of both I want to go to there AND if you build it they will come (and I want to build that) proportions. I caught up with Matt Cosper and Kadey Ballard of XOXO to talk a bit about process and training before observing a generative workshop (Matt, Kadey, Jon Prichard and Will Rudolph). It was deeply good and normalizing to be among folks who approach collaborative art-making in a similar way.  If you are even remotely Charlotte-adjacent, go check out a workshop performance of the deeply cool All Our Little Innocence (the children’s crusade) on August 25 at Goodyear Arts. You can find more information on their website or by liking them on Facebook or following their Instagram.  (Can you tell I like them a lot?)

While you’re at Goodyear Arts for the workshop performance, please check out Holly Keogh’s First Day. She’s a massive oil on panel and quite possibly the spirit guide for the easybakeheart project. I’m in love with her and with Holly’s body of work.

09 – 12 JULY

Fayetteville, NC with Naaman and our family: lots of reading time with my newly 7-year-old niece and starting book 2 of our co-authored series. (For interested parties, book 2 is about a monkey and a butterfly who run a race; both characters have small parts in book 1).  I’m still drooling over the scrumptious meal we siblings ate at Chef & the Farmer.

Durham, NC: Last night, Naaman and I bid adieu to the marvelous Nancy Hanks (moving to WI today), and then ate dinner and talked children’s books with Lauren Rachel Greenspan and Will Flowers.

AND NOW IT BEGINS IN EARNEST

I’m now bunked down in Elisabeth Lewis Corley and Joseph Megel’s amazing house in Pittsboro, NC. My companion for the day is Touchstone, a charming cat who, in Elisabeth’s words, “has her yes and no about people.” I believe Touchstone is currently  leaning towards “meh.”

I submitted a site-specific theatre festival proposal this morning (non-easybake) and have been working on some materials in advance of a working dinner tonight for easybakeheart. Emily Hill and I begin generative workshops in earnest tomorrow afternoon! Barring major hurdles, we’ll have something to show in a workshop performance here in Durham, NC on July 27.

Today’s inspiration: We are Built to be Kind