Dogs, Theatre, and Accessibility in the GCTC Studio
Bronwyn Steinberg is the Director for Raising Stanley / Life with Tulia in the GCTC Studio.
I am a total dog person. We always had dogs growing up, usually three at a time. I was even born in the Year of the Dog. And I’ve always been a theatre person. My mom took me to rehearsals with her when she was a high school drama teacher and I was only seven years old. Occasionally these loves have come together—my beloved miniature dachshund Kudra, who was with me for eighteen years, used to sit on my lap during rehearsals and even accompanied me on tour. So I was delighted when Eric at GCTC introduced me to Kim Kilpatrick and Karen Bailey and their new collaboration, Raising Stanley / Life With Tulia. Kim is a storyteller and disability rights activist; she’s blind and navigates the world with her guide dog, Tulia. Karen is a visual artist, a painter, who raises guide dog puppies before they go off to guide dog school. And I am lucky enough to be the theatre director that came along when they needed a collaborator to help them with a new project.
For many months now, I have been working with these talented artists on an inclusive, interdisciplinary performance piece that we are so excited to share with Ottawa audiences this summer in the Studio Theatre at GCTC. We are working to combine Kim’s stories of living and navigating the world with dogs and Karen’s paintings of Stanley, a puppy that she raised, through live storytelling and video. Along with our stage manager Louisa Haché and video artist Trudy Wohlleben, we are working collaboratively to craft the performance. The process has been an exciting challenge, as we are all moving out of the comfort zones of our usual artistic practices.
One of the most interesting explorations for me has been figuring out how to build accessibility into the fabric of the creation of the piece. In my limited experience of seeing accessibility techniques included in a theatre performance at all, I’ve always seen it as something added in at the end, like ASL interpretation or braille programs. So for this piece, we agreed that not only do we want to create a narrative for Kim to tell that is engaging, moving and funny, and to do justice to Karen’s beautiful paintings through the video projection, but we are also discovering how accessibility techniques, like audio description, can be part of the creative process. In fact, I’ve ended up with more of a role in the performance than any of us anticipated! You’ll have to join us for the performance to find out how and let us know what you think. I am so pleased to be working to create this important communal experience in a way that is accessible and inclusive for all audience members. And what better way to come together than to share in the love of our beloved friends and companions, the dogs that comfort, guide and inspire us?
Raising Stanley / Life With Tulia runs in the GCTC Studio Theatre from July 26 – August 5, along with Karen’s full series of “Raising Stanley” paintings exhibited in the Fritzi Gallery. We acknowledge the generous support GCTC, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Community Foundation of Ottawa.