With acres of country landscape and fresh air, a couple new to the Peterborough area is aiming to create a unique retreat for artists.
But, first, actors Peyton Le Barr and Chris Whidden of Grassboots Theatre, are making their debut on the Peterborough stage.
Peyton speaks with Electric City Magazine about the new company, Grassboots Theatre, the move to Havelock and its debut production July 25.
Are you from Peterborough or what was the impetus for establishing the theatre company in Havelock?
“I’ve noticed again and again that Peterborough community members, more so than any city I’ve known, are willing to go see shows they’ve never heard of, by artists they know nothing about. It’s pretty remarkable. I’m convinced that this willingness to take a chance on art is a distinct quality and a key ingredient in what makes Peterborough so special.”
Well, we have no family, no friends, and no ties to Peterborough so it definitely came by surprise, even to us, when we bought a hobby farm in Havelock, a town we had never even heard of up until a few years ago.
The exact location really was decided because of the property we found. We knew it was perfect for what we are trying to achieve down the road. It has almost 20 acres with a lot of privacy to create a peaceful and intimate space for creating artists.
As for Peterborough, it was always our top choice since we wanted a community that already had a vibrant arts scene. What sealed our fate was when we realized the magnitude of support that comes from Peterborough’s audiences. It’s one thing for artists to take creative risks onstage, but we need audiences to bear witness in order for the art to exist.
I’ve noticed again and again that Peterborough community members, more so than any city I’ve known, are willing to go see shows they’ve never heard of, by artists they know nothing about. It’s pretty remarkable. I’m convinced that this willingness to take a chance on art is a distinct quality and a key ingredient in what makes Peterborough so special.
What makes Grassboots Theatre unique?
I suppose our approach to creating new work might be considered unique, or at least somewhat rare. We create work from a physical approach and it’s very difficult to write a physically-driven story while sitting in a desk chair at your computer. For this reason, we rely heavily on workshop development. Here we let physical improvisations and movement exercises instruct us and from that play we develop a story that later becomes our script.
I’d also say we place a lot of value in humour and play. Our stories may be socially relevant, but we’ll never make you feel like you’re at a lecture. Art can be fun, even if it’s also heartbreaking.
What impact are you hoping to have on the local theatre scene?
There are some incredibly talented artists in Peterborough but opportunities are scarce and theatre work can be incredibly precarious. Grassboots has already created a number of artist jobs filled by local artists and it’s our hope that over time we can continue to build more opportunities for collaboration.
We also hope that the work we create is a new and joyous experience for audiences to add to the already vibrant and exciting theatre scene.
Grassboots is also very keen to develop more community-engaged arts. We believe that art is not a privilege, it is a right, and all community members deserve arts programming that enriches their lives.
This is part of our company mandate and our first initiative begins this fall. I’ll be teaming up with Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, as well as the Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough, to bring creative storytelling workshops to their clients.
What is the timeline for the Havelock property and what is your vision for the best it could be?
Realistically we are looking at having the studio up and running in about five years. I would love to say sooner, but we are renovating a hobby farm that hasn’t been properly cared for in years and we’re doing it on a budget.
With the Grassboots Studio, we hope to offer professional-level arts programs to our local area as well as offer an artist retreat destination for creators in need of space.
What is the best thing that could happen for the company?
Aside from winning the lottery, really all that we can hope for is that what we contribute to Peterborough’s theatre scene brings joy, value and strengthens the community. Chris and I left Toronto for a life that allows us to achieve two things: spend more time creating work and having that work bring a positive impact on our community. If we can achieve that, then we are truly living the dream.”
Grassboots Theatre kicks off its theatre season with “Share Off! An open-mic for storytellers,” an evening of storytelling, July 25 at 7 p.m. at Artspace. Participants from the community will share their own true stories (five minutes or less) following the theme of “firsts”. “It seemed like a fun and unique way to learn more about the people of Peterborough on a more personal level,” Peyton says.
Community members are encouraged to sign up as a storyteller or attend the event as a guest. Spots are limited, so interested storytellers should register in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org
The best story, as decided by guests at the event, will be awarded a prize.
Tickets for “Share Off! An open-mic for storytellers” are available at the door. It’s $10 regular admission or pay-what-you-can for guests and $15 for storytellers.
Photos by Matthew Hayes.
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