FEELING THE WARM GLOW OF EGG LAKE
In late October, Angela Chalmers set off north, towards Egg Lake, Manitoba. It’s a seven and a half hour drive from Winnipeg. As she got further away from the city the radio stopped picking up signals, so it was a good thing she had downloaded forty hours of podcasts prior to her trip. The seven and a half hour journey grew by an hour when she made a pit stop at the Swan River fire department to pick up fire extinguishers which the community had requested.
Once her destination was reached, Angela remarked on how quiet it was in Egg Lake, how differently the time flowed there. “As the guest in this community, I had to adapt to the new flow of time,” says Angela. As she spoke more about Egg Lake, it was easy to picture a place draped in a magic curtain, “a shift happens, needs to happen,” continues Angela. Expectations are left behind, you must relax, and let the world happen around you. Angela painted a picture of a quiet community that values togetherness, but not in a busy, loud way. One way is through the togetherness of a bonfire held a few nights a week, where the community chats and tell stories. There is something about a bonfire that brings people together — its warmth, light, protection. Egg Lake is a community that enjoys this connectivity.
Every morning, Angela would start her day at 7:30 am, and would enjoy a cup coffee with the Elder before class. “We would talk about big things and little things…” said Angela.
Art can bring joy in different ways to all kinds of people. During difficult times, it becomes even more clear how meaningful and important art is to all of us. Angela states that there is magic found in every transformative step of theatre. “When all the pieces come together – the story, the costumes, the lights, and especially how the actors transport you to another world…for a minute you are a part of the story.” Angela continues that for young people that magic comes when they see “a part of themselves in the story…a character trait, a physical trait, a relatable experience.” When young people see themselves represented or feel a part of the process, it opens doors to a place where anything is possible. “That is a gift, that is magic,” She says.
For a week, Angela taught six students ranging in ages from 15 to 21. During their workshops, the students were encouraged to create through self-expression and to develop three key acting tools: the body, the voice and the imagination. In a place like Egg Lake, immersed in its rhythm, coming in to teach with the sometimes
frenetic energy of the city does not work. Angela stressed that a shift needed to happen so that the students didn’t put up walls. Building trust first is important. Once the trust is there, then the students start to feel comfortable enough to express themselves.
Angela maintains, “Workshops and theatre classes are less about developing little actors and more about making a space where young people can find their voice.”
When you live in a city, it is easy to take access to art for granted. In the quiet of Egg Lake, art may not present itself in the same way as it does in a city, but is rather growing on the trees and running through the vines of the rocks. It is present in everything.
Frontier School Division educator Matt Lind, who helped make Angela’s residency possible, said, “There was nothing but praise for Angela. The students ate the experience up!”
The students decided to make a stop motion short film called “Smile”. They created the story, chose the music and did the editing, says Angela. Before starting on the film they gathered tree branches and sticks and stones to create that world. “Smile” is a three-minute short film that uses both live action and stop motion to tell the story. It opens with a live action shot of a bonfire, and then moves seamlessly into stop motion animation. The cast of characters includes a person walking along the road and wildlife such as a bear, a dog, and snakes that all make appearances. The students built a long stretch of highway leading to the stars, as well as a car and a teepee. Angela maintained that although she brought her skills and experiences with her, it is “to support them in presenting their lived experiences.”
Magic was created by these six young people in Egg Lake, which will have a lasting effect on the participants. “The week lit a fire in one student and now he may pursue film and the arts because of it,” said Lind.
Inspiring students is one of Angela’s favourite things about teaching. “I love when the quietest, shyest person in the room gets up, performs and smiles. And I love when the older ones have that “AHA!” moment.” Angela said one participant said to her on the last day of the week, that she wasn’t really sure about this lady coming in from the city, but it turned out she was pretty “cool” after all.
Angela feels that she learns from her students as much as they learn from her, and Egg Lake was no exception. “I come home and have learned so much. From how to really listen to how to build a fire and a millions things in between.”
There is something special about a gathering around a fire at night. The fire is the first shot in the film, Angela was taught how to build a fire during her time there, and she taught a student a skill that set a fire in him to pursue something that brings him joy. As people we need to remind ourselves that we are all interwoven in our stories, we are all simultaneously the protagonist and the supporting actor. We can all light a fire in someone else’s heart and teach them how to light one to cast a warm glow.
When it was time to head back to the city, Angela was leaving on the heels of more pandemic restrictions, and into a snowstorm. Because of the storm, the trek home took ten and a half hours, guided by the taillights of a semi-truck.
P.S. MTYP would like to thank Egg Lake and the Frontier School division for inviting us into their community. If your are interested in MTYP visiting your school or community either in person or virtually, please visit our website at mtyp.ca or reach out to our interim Drama Outreach Coordinator, Matt Armet at [email protected] for more information.
P.P.S. Angela has more creative endeavours on the horizon. Don’t miss Angela Chalmers’ podcast Disability Stage Right, with co- host Stefanie Wiens coming to ITunes in late December. This podcast interviews actors with disabilities, and explores their experiences, and their representation within the theatre community.