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Exploring the stories of the Grand River

Arts and EntertainmentExploring the stories of the Grand River

Over 20 people attended Grandview Theatre and the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity’s presentation of “A Grand Winter” at Brantford’s Canadian Military Heritage Museum on Saturday, December 16, 2023.

The story featured poems, images and songs about the winter months along the Grand River.

The project is just one part of a larger project called “The Grand River Community Play Project: the Voice of a River,” a 310 km long play that will travel along the length of the river, stopping in various communities along the way.

“This is a longer project and it’s something we will be doing in August of 2025 down the length of the river, starting at the headwaters with the production,” said Peter Smith, Director of the show. “We will then move our way down the river over 18 nights, ending in an all-day fair at Lake Erie with a presentation happening in the evening. Each performance will be a little bit different as some will be skewed towards the community we’re playing in, but there will be a core show about the stories of the Grand River.”

A women writes a letter home to her mother in January of 1827 during “A Grand Winter” on Saturday, December 16, 2023.

Smith said that himself the team have been hard at work collecting stories from various people and their communities to build the project.

“A community play project is the story of a place, told by the people of the place and will be played back to the people of the place,” he said. “So, while a community play is being worked on, stories are being told constantly between the actors and the technicians.”

He said that the stories are told from different perspectives along the way and through different art elements such as puppetry, quilting, art installations and more.

“One of the things we’re thinking about doing is an anthology series where we have different writers and different cultures writing pieces for the community play project,” he said. “Everything is still in play, we have about a year and a half before we get on our way, but we will continue with story circles. These story circles are happening up and down the river and one of the things we’re looking at with regards to structure, is potentially a loose look at the Two Row Wampum, so with Indigenous stories alongside settler stories. The third piece of this is actually the voice of the river herself.”

The Skater speaks to the voice of the Grand River during “A Grand Winter” on Saturday, December 16, 2023.

He noted that the afternoon presentation was more of a sneak peek into the project, rather than a fully actualized performance.

“This is a workshop presentation,” he said. “So, some of the actors will have their scripts in hand, some of them won’t. There will be some little bumps along the way but what they’ve accomplished in a very short period of time, is really impressive and I’m very proud of them.”

The play opens with a woman writing home to her mother in January of 1827 as she looks out from a cabin along the river. Her writing is strategically weaved throughout the story.

The Skater observes a pair of skates given to him by the River during “A Grand Winter” on Saturday, December 16, 2023.

Soon after, a lone man, known only as “the Skater” (Brett Miller) appears on the stage when he hears a soft voice, the River herself.

“As odd as this may sound, I’ve never spoken to a river before,” he said.

“Oh, but you have,” replied the River. “I’ve been listening to you and many others for thousands of years.”

The lone Skater works to keep pace with Andrew Colving during “A Grand Winter” on Saturday, December 16, 2023.

The River soon reveals a wet pair of skates and encourages the skater to take an adventure from one end of the river to the other.

Along the way, the Skater travels through time, flipping between the 1800s and present day. 

Throughout the journey he encounters a man looking for his fellow 99 lumberjacks, Andrew Colving, Absolom Shade, Pauline Johnson, Jean Farquharson, a group of Swiss Mennonites, as well as many others.

As the play unraveled, various elements moved the story along such as well-timed music, poetry, shadow puppets, lighting and sound cues, as well as a choir.

The Mennonite Choir performs during “A Grand Winter” on Saturday, December 16, 2023.

When the play wrapped up, the audience stuck around to discuss the show with cast members, and to share their thoughts and stories about the Grand River as a way to add to the community play project. 

For those interested in learning more, throughout 2024, the group is also planning to put on other workshop plays such as A Grand Spring, A Grand Summer and A Grand Fall, which will take place in various locations along the Grand River.

If anyone is interested in joining the project, Smith encourages people to reach out and get ahold of him at peter@ruralcreativity.org

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