By: Claire Mastrangelo
I started my job at the Festival a little over a year ago, and one of the things that really surprised me about Stratford was the level to which the city got involved in Culture Days. The city can boast not only that Festival General Director Antoni Cimolino is the Chair of the movement’s National Steering Committee, but also that its participation in Culture Days rivals that of some of our country’s largest urban centres.
In both 2010 and 2011, Stratfordand the surrounding area (Listowel, Milverton, Mitchell and St. Marys) hosted more than 50 free events for members of the community. People could join in jam sessions, go to documentary screenings, get a lesson in stilt walking or learn to create creature costumes. The Stratford Public Library let you “check out” real people, and the Festival put on family events with performances, face painting and costume try-ons (we have some great photos here). The festivities have been hugely successful, bringing the community together to play, try new things and just enjoy each other’s company.
Soon after Culture Days wrapped up I realized that, in Stratford, these sorts of celebrations don’t just happen over one weekend in the fall: they continue all year round. Right now, for example, the Festival’s hosting a concert by Gordon Lightfoot, Factory 163 is housing Playmakers! Theatre School and the Children’s Choral Project, and Perth Arts Connect is pointing people to a whole slew of holiday activities, including a scotch and chocolate tasting at Foster’s Inn. (I need no other reason to love this time of year!)
And, of course, Stratford’s exporting its culture through Artistic Director Des McAnuff’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which is on now at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse and moving on to Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre next March.
But as much as culture is about pleasure and entertainment, it is also about nurturing a population.Stratford’s community, which has benefitted so much from the arts, in turn conducts outreach both for and through its artists.Stratfordis home to a Chapter of Performing Arts Lodge, or PAL, an organization that supports members of the theatre community who have retired and now struggle with low incomes and isolation. Some of our younger actors help out by putting on a yearly benefit cabaret, which is a widely popular event here.
Further afield, Festival artists, artisans and teachers volunteer in Suchitoto, El Salvador. They’re working to help a community that’s been fractured by civil war rebuild their economy and turn the town into a major theatre centre – just likeStratforddid in the early 1950s. (Antoni Cimolinois involved in this project, too; I should ask him what kind of coffee he drinks.)
In other words, celebrating culture is integral to the way of life in Stratford. Culture is the city’s entertainment, its economy, its community and its charity. I’m still amazed by how fully the people here embrace it – it’s the metaphorical equivalent of those boisterous greetings from your uncle at Thanksgiving. So, Jian, share in the love and bring Q to Stratford. After all, you’re part of the family.
Stratford readers, what cultural activity’s going on near you? Let us know in the posts and with your tweets using #QinStratford or “like” us on our Facebook campaign page and share there too!