THE VOICE OF THE RIVER: The Grand River Community Play Project

A community play that connects the communities and inhabitants that live along the length of the Grand River – a river that starts in the highlands of Dufferin County, and travels 310 km, before emptying into Lake Erie at Port Maitland.

About a million people live within the watershed, a watershed that passes cities, towns and villages, trees, wild grasses and coyotes, and includes thirty-nine municipalities and two First Nations territories.

CURRENT UPDATES

A GRAND SPRING has played in Brantford and in Dunnville May 25 and May 26th, 2024 and will play at Chiefswood Park on June 8th at 6.30pm – all welcome.
> No need to register!
> Directions to Six Nations – Chiefswood Park in Brantford, click here.
Photo: Aisin, Sam, Neo and Brett

Marl – the blind gypsum horse puppet from a GRAND SPRING
Brett Miller – Wild Prairie Grass

A GRAND SUMMER

A GRAND SUMMER has been invited to be a part of the Hillside Festival on July 20th. It is an all-day event with puppet-building workshops, storytelling, flag choreography, movement, drawing, music, and song. It will be a fun day that culminates in a performance on the Sunset Stage at 7pm.

A GRAND WINTER

A GRAND WINTER 2023
We produced A GRAND WINTER in December 2023 with performances in Cambridge at the Idea Exchange and in Brantford at the Canadian Military Museum. The journey takes us to a GRAND AUTUMN in late October and onward to full production in August of 2025. This is an inclusive activity and if you’d like to get involved – let us know and it will happen.


What you’ll find on this page:

  • Current Updates (above)
  • Project Brief
  • Past Events
  • More about the Project
  • Partners
  • What is a Community Play?
  • Project Legacy

Want to donate to the Grand River Community Play Project? Click here.


PROJECT BRIEF

Project Brief: The Grand River Community Play Project: The Voice of The River is an interdisciplinary piece that will connect the communities and inhabitants that live along the length of the Grand River – a river that starts in the highlands of Dufferin County, travels 310 km, before emptying into Lake Erie at Port Maitland. About a million people live within the watershed, a watershed that passes cities, towns and villages, trees, wild grasses and coyotes, and includes thirty-nine municipalities and two First Nations territories.

The Voice of The River is about community and the meaningful connection to Indigenous leaders and communities along the Grand River. It is an inclusive creative activity involving artists, municipal and Indigenous leaders, scientists, Elders, Community folk, children, NFP organizations, educational institutions – and most importantly the Grand River. This is a project about storytelling – in all the ways stories can be told – in spoken word, in song, in dance, ceremony, in art installation, in silence, through different cultural lenses, and via technology. It is being imagined as an environmental experience – something that will develop and build over time, leading toward a unique presentation in all four seasons, and over many years, passing the experience along to next generations for them to reimagine, for them to inhabit with their own stories.

The CCRC is a unique rural centre that continually explores in collaboration with others what it means to be rural and how we can participate more fully. 

This project expresses two of the CCRC’s core pillars: 

The Grand River Community Play Project: The Voice of the River connects the CCRC to a new rural constituency along the length of this Heritage River. In the process of bringing people together from different communities, by promoting each of these communities as participants in the project, by bringing people together who mightn’t have ever come together, stories have been told, ideas have flourished, and actions are taking place to regenerate their home, their community, their relations with each other. And in the process have brought folks into the CCRC fold from rural communities that didn’t know about us before.

Painter
Pat Flood

The Grand River Community Play Project: The Voice of the River has created a rural network connecting people along the length of the river with each other and with those connected to the CCRC. By coming together in creativity with a purpose to tell their stories, eyes and hearts have been opened to learn more about where they live, and who their neighbours are. 

The project has brought together a number of Learning Centres including Laurier, U of Waterloo and U of Guelph and the Six Nations Polytechnic. It has become a research project in regenerative tourism, mapping and storytelling, rural economic and social development, and that information is being shared with people along the waterway and will eventually be available to a much broader community. In our work with the learning centres – a younger demographic has come forward, students from different programs have come aboard to participate technically, in performance, and in research.


PAST EVENTS

Community Quilt Project & Story Circle Workshop (Ongoing)

Be a part of the story of the River, created and developed by the people of the River, and ultimately told to those who are engaged and impacted by the River.

This was an info/workshop session happening to explore ideas for you to create own square for our quilt celebrating the Grand River.

This is your opportunity, anything goes! The only limitation is a 10X10-inch square and your imagination

Bring your own material or use the material provided. All skill levels are welcome!

What happened in 2023?

We continue to gather in story circles, weaving song with story, and poetry, performance with quilting, mapping, photography and documentary film. The structure for the piece is based on the Two Row: indigenous stories will flow alongside settler stories with the third structural piece being the voice of the River herself. Over the next year and a half, the project will continue to evolve and grow – leading to a full production in August of 2025. At that time the company will travel by horse-drawn wagons journeying from the headwaters to the mouth of the Grand. Each day we will stop in a community and weave ceremony with music, dance, theatre, and interactive art installations. We will share a meal and the next morning be on our way, inviting people to join us as we travel. And on the fourteenth day there will be a final performance/celebration at the mouth of the Grand in sight of Great Lake Erie.

November 2022
Season One – Play Prologues

The first season saw two presentations over two weekends in November of 2022 – one set in Chiefswood Park at Six Nations, and the other at Abe Erb’s Grist Mill in Waterloo, Ontario.

The Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity in association with Six Nations Tourism, the Two Row Wampum, Six Nations Polytechnic, RTO4, and the City of Waterloo, offered two unique presentations – one held at Six Nations and the other in the city of Waterloo.

PROLOGUE #1
WHERE: Chiefswood Park – 1037 Brand County Hwy. 54, Osweken, Ontario
WHEN: November 12, and 13th, 2022

The presentation began just before sunset on both days – with a Thanksgiving under the trees followed by a walk of the Park with stops along the way for stories/poems/songs. The journey concluded at the Six Nations Tourism Office with an interactive art experience with the Dragonfly installation. A discussion followed to explore next steps for the Grand River Community Play being built for the summer of 2024.

PROLOGUE #2
WHERE: Abraham Erb’s Grist Mill – Caroline St N, Waterloo, Ontario
WHEN: November 19, and 20th, 2022

The presentation began in the afternoon with a water ceremony on Laurel Creek and was followed by stories/poems/songs. Attendees were led by music while entering the Grist Mill to experience the interactive Dragonfly installation. A discussion followed on next steps for the Grand River Community Play.

(Dragonfly image by – https://www.exarstudios.com/)




MORE ABOUT THE GRAND RIVER COMMUNITY PLAY PROJECT

Over the course of the summer of 2022, we listened and gathered stories. This led to the presentation of two play prologues in November 2022. Based on these prologues and subsequent discussions, the Grand River Community Play Project continues to connect with many people and organizations, gather stories, and hold workshops at different locations along the Grand. These developments will take us to a full production in the summer of 2024.

The Grand River Community Play Project is the story of the river created and developed by the people of the river and ultimately told to those who are engaged and impacted by the river. It is a coming together of stories and, as importantly, a coming together of people along the length of this magnificent waterway. It also creates room for the river to speak for herself.

The Grand River Community Play Project is produced by the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity – where we strive to establish an inclusive gathering place, a place for creativity and meaningful participation.


PARTNERS

A creative team has been assembled that includes professional musicians, designers, writers, producers, and technicians. It gathers poets, and community choirs, and visual artists, and photographers, quilters, mappers, academics, historians, scientists, folks from settler communities, from heritage centres, libraries, museums, and people from the Six Nations through the Two Row on the Grand, the SN Polytechnic and Indigenous Knowledge Centre, SN Tourism, and the Water Walkers led by Anishinaabe elder, Mary Ann Caibaiosai.

EXAR Studios in London, Ontario, have built two interactive art installations in the shape of Dragonflies (a metaphor and mascot for our project) that hold video, images, and audio, from up and down the River. We continue to add to the Dragonflies as they visit senior centres, museums, libraries, festivals, markets, and schools.  The stories we collect become a record of the River, the Dragonflies an ambassador, a magnet, a legacy project, for points in time across many different times. They provide a unique entrance into the stories of the River for those from local, national and international communities, who arrive to bear witness.


WHAT IS A COMMUNITY PLAY?

It begins with a conversation and builds towards a unique theatrical experience. The contemporary community play movement got started in 1979, by a play produced by the Colway Theatre Trust. The Company went on to produce over 50 productions worldwide and spawned collectives to create their own community play projects. The process is transformative and through the months leading up to a production there are more conversations, meetings, workshops and rehearsals – friendships are developed. The result is that people feel connected to each other, to their shared sense of place. It is inclusive and anyone and everyone can participate. Whether it’s as an actor, a manager, a designer, a researcher, writer, builder, a musician, dancer, a technician, whatever it is, the production is community led and the two year process to create the play develops the thinking, and the talents, and the skills of all involved – and weaves them together. It is a community game-changer.


PROJECT LEGACY

This is an inclusive project that brings artists and communities together – something that will evolve as the communities continue to evolve. It brings people together who mightn’t ever have come together, it brings people together and involves them in a creative, transformational, experience. It is a celebration, a holler, something that leaves the campsite better than found. It brings people to the area who know nothing about the River. And by bringing people together in creativity, in celebration, a mutual dependence begins to grow, and in that environment ideas flourish. We begin to see each other anew, and a deeper understanding that the Grand River is a relation of ours, a community member, who deserves our respect, emerges.

To restore any place, we must also begin to re-story it, to make it the lesson of our legends, festivals, and seasonal rites. Story is the way we encode deep-seated values within our culture. Ritual is the way we enact them. We must ritually plant the cottonwood and willow poles in winter in order to share the sounds of the vermillion flycatcher during the rites of spring. By replenishing the land with our stories, we let the wild voices around us guide the restoration we do. The stories will outlast us.” ~ Gary Paul Nabham

The map to the left was created by our friend, Marcia Ruby. What she writes in the margins are grist for the mill in the creation of this project. The Indigenous story of the Grand River, one that intersects with the Settler story now and again, runs very much independently of it. There is much to learn and over time, with humility and respect, hopefully it will be revealed by the First Peoples who live along the Grand and have done for millennia. There are the more recent stories of the Settlers – those who live on the River, or have been impacted by it – and these stories will also be a part of the project. And there is a third story, I believe – the story of the River herself… how is that story told? Can we hear the voice of the river? What can she tell us?

The following piece of writing comes from Peter Godfrey-Smith’s article entitled, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness.

While a little bit different than hearing the voice of a river, there is something in what he says that speaks to the awe of being and could be a way forward for the project:

“Octopuses and their relatives (cuttlefish and squid) represent an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals. Since my first encounters with these creatures about a decade ago, I have been intrigued by the powerful sense of engagement that is possible when interacting with them. Our most recent common ancestor is so distant—more than twice as ancient as the first dinosaurs—that they represent an entirely independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behaviour. If we can connect with them as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over. They are probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.”

Is there a way to understand a river in somewhat the same way? Different – but in being open to the relationship – is a different understanding possible?