Celebrating Westboro’s trees with a unique community collaboration

By Judith van Berkom – 

Spreading Roots in Westboro is a community theatre project designed to celebrate Westboro’s trees and green spaces through story and song. The production has been evolving over the summer and the final performance – starring some Westboro friends and neighbours – will be taking place at Dovercourt Recreation Centre on September 10.

When Rebecca Benson, project director of Spreading Roots in six other locations as well as Westboro, was asked if she was interested in taking on this project, she read The Hidden Life of Trees by the German forester, Peter Wohlleben. The book provided insight into what trees feel, how they communicate – through a ‘woodwide web’ – providing her with an expanded view of the importance of trees in our communities.

Spreading Roots is a unique community theatre project that celebrates the trees and green spaces of Westboro. Participants gathered in Clare Park for a workshop on August 26. Photo by Al Goyette
Spreading Roots is a unique community theatre project that celebrates the trees and green spaces of Westboro. Participants gathered in Clare Park for a workshop on August 26. Photo by Al Goyette

Spreading Roots in Westboro is part of Neighbourhood Arts 150, a collaborative arts project that celebrates the arts in different communities across Ottawa. Presented by the AOE Arts Council, Odyssey Theatre and the Volunteer Gardeners of Clare Park, and funded by the Government of Canada, Spreading Roots had their initial meeting with the Westboro community in June 2017.

Deb Chapman, coordinator of the Volunteer Gardeners of Clare Park, responded enthusiastically to Odyssey’s outreach. She’s actively involved with the park and works closely with the Westboro Community Association.

“I have an interest in the arts and am keen to participate, I also belong to another organization called Big Trees of Kitchissippi, which tries to protect as many of our large, mature trees,” says Deb. “Westboro is blessed with big, mature trees – that’s what we are known for.”

Spreading Roots’ first workshop took place in Clare Park on Saturday, August 26. Attended by a small group of adults and children, the workshop included three components: the first, a song composed by musical director, Vanessa Lachance, with lyrics by Jacqui du Toit. “It has a really sweet melody,” says Deb. “We went over and over it and today [Sunday], it stuck with me and I was singing it all day.”

Deb found the second component of the workshop – which involved the memorization of dance steps –  more challenging.

The third component of Saturday’s workshop was all about the script – telling the story about trees and what they mean to the residents and the wider community. As a project in development, the script is being written right now with participant input.

“It’s a different way of getting the message across, of why trees deserve to be celebrated,” says Deb.

A second workshop, Putting the Show Together, is scheduled for September 7 at the Dovercourt Recreation Centre and will provide an opportunity for Deb and the other participants to fine tune the performance. In preparation, Deb and others will be approaching musicians in Westboro as well as neighbours and friends to become involved in this initiative.

Interested in participating? Putting the Show Together takes place Thursday, September 7 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.. The final performance and tree planting at Dovercourt Recreational Centre takes place on Sunday, September 10 at 6:30 p.m. All are welcome to attend.

Follow the project online at 150ArtsOttawa.ca.

Leave a comment

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s