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The Neighbourhood Theatre takes learning outside the classroom

Pointe-Saint-Charles collaborates with Concordia students on an audio tour and other inventive activities
November 19, 2014
By Jessica Kirsh

As a post-industrial area of Montreal, it doesn’t get more politically loaded than Pointe-Saint-Charles, a working-class neighbourhood with historic architecture, gentrification and a long history of community mobilization.

That makes The Point, as it’s called, an ideal location for artistic and social interaction with The Neighbourhood Theatre (TNT), a component of the Right to the City (RTTC) project. It’s an interdisciplinary, experiential learing course that invites both graduate and undergraduate students from various Concordia departments, including Studio Arts, Urban Planning, Journalism, Dance, and Theatre, to work “in residence” with local community partners.

Urban interventions

In the spirit of RTTC’s unique co-teaching initiative, three classes — Ted Little’s The Neighbourhood Theatre, Cynthia Hammond’s Industrialization and the Built Environment, and Steven High’s Working Class Public History — meet to brainstorm about creating short, site-specific theatre pieces, spatially-informed urban interventions, and an audio walking tour of The Point.

“My expectations have been completely blown away,” says Art History student Samantha Wexler. “I have learned so much more about myself, the people around me, this place and time in Montreal, as well as its resilience, than I ever imagined.”

The RTTC project was made possible through a grant from Concordia's Curriculum Innovation Fund (CIF). Hammond, chair of the Department of Art History, is the principal investigator on this grant, and works closely with her co-instructors, Steven High, Canada Research Chair in Oral History, and Edward Little, chair of Theatre and founder of The Neighbourhood Theatre project.

“Many of the students are working directly with social and economic problems that have a deep historical basis, and whose effects can be seen in The Point today,” Hammond has said. “Students are discovering creative means to bring these histories, and present-day spatial stories into greater visibility.”

Residents act up

Concordia students taking the three-credit course work with young people recruited from community partners to create theatrical representations of how they experience present-day life in The Point, along with their hopes and fears for the future of their neighbourhood. The TNT projects address the many facets of the neighbourhood, including food, voices and geographic layout.

In partnership with the Atwater Library’s Digital Literacy Project, the YMCA and St. Columba House, TNT meets with RTTC at Share The Warmth, a citizen-led resource founded on the principles of social economy, education as a right, food justice, and community self-determination.

The three classes are scheduled to launch the “beta” audio walk and booklet on Saturday, November 29, 2014. At 1 p.m., students and guests begin the walk, which includes site-specific performances and urban interventions. Then from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., there is an exhibition of projects and performances at Share The Warmth, located at 625 Fortune Street.

Read more about the Neighbourhood Theatre at Atwater Library

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