For their national Tale of a Town Canada project, Toronto couple Charles Ketchabaw and Lisa Marie DiLiberto are travelling province to province collecting stories of main streets and downtowns for a series of plays celebrating main streets across the country.
©GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
For every main street and downtown, there are countless stories that can be told.
Now one Toronto couple is travelling the country, gathering them one tale at a time to capture a collective community memory of main street culture.
Lisa Marie DiLiberto and Charles Ketchabaw, who are founders of Toronto’s FIXT Point Theatre, are presently tripping across Prince Edward Island, stopping in communities small and large with their story mobile, which in this case is a tow-along teardrop camper, interviewing people from all walks of life for their Tale of a Town Canada project.
In addition to being fodder for their podcast series, A Walk Down Main Street, which is distributed by The Walrus Magazine, these personal stories will be the foundation for their Tale of a Town Prince Edward Island play, which will be presented at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside from July 31 to Aug. 3 and at The Victoria Playhouse, Aug. 8-24.
“We ask them about stories about main streets, so it’s their personal stories. So it’s not necessarily about the hardware store but it’s about the hardware store as a kind of conduit to personal stories that have a big effect on you,” says Ketchabaw.
“In P.E.I. we hear a lot about Saturdays where everybody would come into the main streets of downtown to socialize and hang out; love stories, people meeting each other on main street; and general stores, a lot of people have stories about general stores and the proprietors of general stores, and their importance. They’re kind of getting knocked out now because they can’t compete. I think there’s just a general wish and want for more or continued independence of main streets.”
The couple’s Tale of a Town Canada initiative, which is leading up to Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017, began in their Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto when they created a radio piece and a play based on DiLiberto’s love of main streets and downtowns and the memories that they foster in people.
In 2012 they decided to take their main street story on the road, starting with Ontario, then Nova Scotia and now P.E.I. where they have been interviewing people in their hometowns. There is also a story mobile onsite at the 2014 Celebration Zone in Charlottetown.
“Often people will come out with their history books and they’re telling you about something that happened in 1892, but we’re not interested in that actually for this project,” DiLiberto says.
“It’s really about trying to steer people into their lived memory, what they can remember about growing up here; that’s the whole history that we’re interested in capturing because it’s information they can tell us firsthand about their own experience.”
Not all main streets or downtowns are things of the past. In fact, the couple found that there were some happening spots on P.E.I.
“We were in Alberton, and it was packed with vehicles and people walking up and down the street the whole time we were there — going to get their mail, going to get things, so that was a pleasant surprise,” Ketchabaw says.
“Montague was interesting because three people came and played songs for us, it wasn’t like we put a call out for people to bring songs . . . We met this one guy who was a real estate agent who has a song, All the Way to Cardigan, about going to get beer.”
These stories form the basis of the Tale of a Town series of plays, with some of the real life interview audio being woven into the performance.
“That really grounds the audience and gives them the real sense that these are real life stories from real people that we’ve collected,” DiLiberto says.
“And it’s an interesting style because it’s another element to work with. You have costumes, set, movement, projection of images and, in our case we have this story or this sound that we use to give depth to the piece. I see it as uncovering the source material almost.
“You could almost call it docu-comedy.”
Ketchabaw says main streets and downtowns are places where people connect across socioeconomic class structure.
“People go there and they connect. And so when we lose that we lose a broader understanding of each other because a lot of times you’ll see a doctor speaking with the labourer and the farmer and fisherman and the stockbroker. But those people are just sitting there having coffee, they’re not talking about who has what,” he adds.
“I think that when that disappears we’ll have a big problem. So we’re trying to encourage people to really realize that and to come back downtown and to main streets.”
AT A GLANCE
Tale of a Town P.E.I. opens on July 31 at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside at 7:30 p.m.
Subsequent shows are on Aug. 1-2 at 7:30 p.m.
It is also showing at the Victoria Playhouse in Victoria, Aug. 8-24. Show times are Tuesday to Saturday, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, 2 p.m. matinee.