By Annie Wilson
You’ve likely heard Hamilton’s unofficial slogan “Art is the New Steel.” Lately, in St. Catharines it’s looking more like “Art is the new Auto.” Plenty of autos (hauling steel no less) have been making their way to downtown St. Catharines, as dedicated workers build a new home for the next generation of the St. Catharines creative economy.
After much anticipation, the new shiny crown jewel in the downtown core, the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, is opening its doors this fall. The first project out the gate is a play and multi-media experience about the stories and people that have filled downtown St. Catharines with life. The Tale of a Town St. Catharines, produced by Toronto’s FIXT POINT in collaboration with St. Catharines’ Suitcase in Point Theatre Company, will run from 13 October – 23 October. It’s a love letter to downtown St. Catharines, and a celebration of the living memory of this community.
FIXT POINT’s Artistic Director Lisa Marie DiLiberto developed The Tale of a Town project with her life and creative partner Charles Ketchabaw. What started as a response to the looming corporate takeover of her neighbourhood in Parkdale has grown into a national endeavour that celebrates main street culture across Canada.
The Tale of a Town project is currently touring the country in The Storymobile (aka travel trailer-turned-mobile recording studio) and visiting small towns and big cities alike, collecting oral histories through interviews with independent business owners, local heroes, community stakeholders, and neighbourhood residents. This national venture will culminate in a multi-platform celebration of the country’s main street culture, in commemoration of Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.
FIXT POINT first came to St. Catharines as part of the 2011 In the Soil Arts Festival to learn more about the changing downtown landscape. This was the first time DiLiberto and Ketchabaw tested the project outside of Toronto.
DiLiberto says, “We were anxious to find out how people would react to The Tale of a Town done by “outsiders”, and Suitcase in Point gave us the chance to find out at their 4th annual In the Soil Arts Festival. Seeds are planted at In the Soil, as they say, and it’s true.”
And they’ve certainly covered a lot of ground over the past few years, visiting over 100 communities. “We created the show for the 2013 In the Soil Arts Festival and I couldn’t be more excited to open the new Performing Arts Centre with this Tale. Now, we can present the show to the community with all the bells and whistles in a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of a transforming downtown,” DiLiberto says.
The show will feature Suitcase in Point’s Deanna Jones and Edwin Conroy Jr., as well as additional performers and local musicians. It features stories from Jerry’s Alley, The St. Catharines Standard, Ostanek’s, Art’s Diner and the development of The Pen Centre to name a few. Mayor Walter Sendzik was first interviewed for the project in 2011 and shared new thoughts and perspectives in 2015 for this current iteration.
Reminiscing on her favourite St. Catharines tales, DiLiberto admits it’s hard to choose. “I love the Russell Hotel / Jerry’s Alley story – It’s a story of a punk and rock scene in downtown and we’ll have live music for the show to support it. It’s also quite a significant story since it’s a tale of a building that’s no longer standing.”
“Downtown is never going to be the same as it once was – and so we need to keep looking at what it is and what it can become,” says DiLiberto. As the Performing Arts Centre opens its doors for the first time this October, the community will be greeted with a fitting celebration of the here and now and a glimpse of what’s to come.The arts are bringing new life back downtown St. Catharines.
Insert new car smell.
NOTE: The venue for Tale of a Town has been changed to Odd Fellows Hall at 36 James St. (2nd floor). The show runs from October 13-23.