The Tale of a Town delves into the lost culture of main streets across the country.
Lisa Marie DiLiberto and Charles Ketchabaw make up the main actors, producers and co-creators of the show that debuted at the Grand Theatre on Jan. 30. The Tale is a mix of camerawork, miniature sets, a live band, stories and monologues told by the two actors accompanied by audio recordings of the people they met on their travels across Canada beginning in 2014.
The multimedia presentation is based around DiLiberto and Ketchabaw’s idea to drive cross-country and discover the pulse of Canada leading up to its 150 celebrations.
The two collaborators retell their story with each performance, adding in some location-specific details for the locals in the audience. Showing at the Grand Theatre until Feb. 4, the show features discussions about Brian’s Record Shop, the former S and R Department Store and even an appearance from Mariah Horner — a local theatre celebrity and director of the Storefront Fringe Festival.
The Tale is told through two camera setups, which project onto a large screen. One camera is pointed at a map used to show the distance covered on the road trip. Another is aimed at a mini-stage where DiLiberto and Ketchabaw set up props like miniature houses, cars and full city blocks as the play unfolds.
The dynamic stage is well-executed and allows the audience to listen to the recordings while following along with the projection of images.
The story begins with the two starting their journey in Parkdale, Toronto. The pair decided to build a portable recording booth dubbed the ‘storymobile’ to bring with them on their road trip. Since they first set out, they’ve recorded over 3,000 interviews in 200 communities.
In a town called Oyster Pond, Nova Scotia, DiLiberto and Ketchabaw stopped briefly at a convenience store and interviewed those inside.
Sipping coffee, the people interviewed by DiLiberto spoke of Webber’s — a general store that ran for 80 years before closing shop recently.
Webber’s was considered the ‘main street’ for Oyster Pond because of the town’s small size. It was a place everyone could go and buy what they needed, see the people they knew and come together as a community.
The closing-down of stores creating a change in the feel of the neighbourhood was a topic in most of the recorded interviews. This idea of main street heritage and culture under threat is also a central theme to the play.
DiLiberto and Ketchabaw explained that in each of the communities they went to, there was a sense that the main street had been lost. Usually, it was expanding commerce that rendered main streets obsolete.
In other cases, like Prince George in British Columbia, the issues are different.
Ketchabaw said that on his visit to downtown there, the problem wasn’t big-box stores and parking lots replacing old businesses. Instead, homelessness and drugs were the widespread issue at hand.
This exploration off the beaten path is what brings home the message concerning Canada 150 celebrations in The Tale of a Town
Instead of unreserved patriotism, the show focuses on the marginalized peoples that aren’t often the subjects of heritage celebrations.
DiLiberto delivers a monologue on the lasting effects this trip had on her and Ketchabaw towards the end of the show. This ends up being one of its most powerful moments.
She questions why they explored and celebrated main street heritage when just a few blocks away from the downtown core, people were stepping over the homeless.
Her ending note really encapsulates the critical and yet open tone of the show. She says we must question — during Canada 150 — what was so great about those downtowns that we lost?
DiLiberto said that community was great, but that main streets were just a place for community to play out.
The performance asks the audience to recognize what remains so special about these main streets even after they’ve been replaced and forgotten. However, it goes further: viewers are made to consider how we, as a country, could possibly move forward knowing the extent to which people were excluded from the community and heritage that Canada 150 celebrated.
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