By Kate Gilderdale
Stouffville Free Press
In the last couple of months I have seen two live shows in Toronto created by performers and writers whose roots are firmly based in the Stouffville area.
The first was a dance series at Harbourfront’s Fleck Theatre in January, which included Motus O Dance Theatre performing their exhilarating piece ‘Chasing the Dream’. Devised for the Pan Am Games in 2015, it showcased a host of sporting events from soccer to cycling in a joyous celebration of sport and art.
From their haunting interpretation of Marina Nemat’s memoir, Prisoner of Tehran, to an exuberant take on classic novels like A Christmas Carol and Alice, Motus O demonstrates the importance of art in our daily lives. They also work with schools and hospices and lead workshops for people with acquired brain injury to help them communicate through movement.
In February I attended the Toronto premiere of Dandelions in the Wind, written by Whitchurch-Stouffville playwright and author Jennifer Dance Bowen. The musical play tells the story of a loving young couple – a white woman and a black man – caught up in the turbulence of America’s civil rights era, and echoes the horrific racism experienced by the playwright and her late husband during the sixties and seventies.
Using potent, sometimes brutal, images from the era as a backdrop to the story unfolding onstage, the play offers an honest and at times heartbreaking assessment of how far we still have to go before true equality is achieved. Given the dignity and peaceful demeanour of the Alabama bus boycott protesters, the violent response of their oppressors is doubly shocking and the play forcefully reminds you of the dangers of complacency in a world that is, once again, becoming increasingly hostile to immigrants and minorities.
With a score that ranges from slave chants to gospel songs, the show also has its moments of humour and empathy, including the beautifully-drawn bond between two fast friends, one black and one white, who refuse to be cowed by the ignorance and hatred of their racist neighbours. It was a fitting addition to Black History Month events and a reminder that we can never afford to be complacent.
I may not live in Stouffville any more, but I am reminded of my old home town daily whenever I visit a coffee shop or store and wheel my granddaughter’s stroller over a StopGap ramp. The amazing work done by former Stouffville resident Luke Anderson and his team of volunteers to make accessibility a reality are appreciated not only the those who rely on wheelchairs or walkers to get around, but also by parents pushing strollers and anyone hefting a shopping cart filled with groceries.
And there are some events I will always try to come back for – among them the Stouffville Studio Tour, the Heart and Stroke Big Bike fundraiser and the Terry Fox Run. We first came to live in Stouffville in 1976, when people in Toronto didn’t know how to spell, never mind pronounce, the town’s name and there was no GO bus or train to take people into and out of the big city.
It was a small town with a lively centre and a big heart. It has grown exponentially since then, but it still has a big heart and it will always have a special place in mine.