Four weeks and nine public performances later, the springtime tour of Stardale's The Make Believer Project has come to a close. A spoken word piece by urban, Aboriginal girls, telling the truth as they know it, their final show including the experimental video they created in conjunction with Contemporary Calgary, played to a standing-room-only crowd on June 21 in honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Elders and visitors from communities as far away as Saskatchewan travelled to Calgary to witness the final presentation. For the girls, the dual feelings of loss and celebration were palpable at this being their last show. After a month of performing up to three times per week, the strength and growth in them as individuals was equally palpable.
Their truth is one that's typically uninvited, bulldozed or ignored entirely in the world we live. With the help of playwright Eugene Stickland and director Helen Young, however, the girls not only found their voices, but the power within them.
Shaped from words and writing of their own, the content of The Make Believer Project is heavy, yet after so many performances, the girls themselves are not. Or at least, they're not anymore. This is the power of speaking your truth out loud, over and over again - and having that truth be respected and heard by audiences who wanted to receive it. For these girls, some as young as 10 years old, the experience has changed each and every one of them. What's real is that their lives are often hard and awkward, but through The Make Believer Project, they've learned the have the power to create a different reality for themselves. And perhaps more importantly, they now believe they can.
One audience member said this: "That touched my soul; I could feel the truth and pain of what they were saying. That level of honesty is so brave." Another, a high school teacher, said: "The presentation is so powerful and it brings the voice of the girls to the conversation about moving forward with truth and reconciliation in our communities." A young person in attendance gave perhaps the most touching review: "Hearing them makes me feel less alone and like, crazy, because I've felt those things too."
It's said that the truth will set you free, but the saying is incomplete: The truth will indeed set you free, but in speaking it, you set others free too.
May 28, 2018
Carrie Gour for Stardale Women's Group
Opening night of The Make Believer Project was an unexpectedly moving experience for everyone lucky enough to be in attendance May 23rd.
In partnership with Contemporary Calgary at the C-Space Theatre, the girls of Stardale performed their own writing, facilitated by renowned playwright Eugene Stickland and directed by Helen Young. For many of the girls, it was the first time they'd ever spoken in public before, let alone exposing the inner-workings of their hearts and lives. Their bravery was rewarded: The audience was measurably touched, reaching out afterward with the following unsolicited reviews.
The performance was so authentic. The tears were flowing for me very early on. I don't know any of those girls, but I was so proud of them. With each performance, I can only assume that they will get stronger and more confident as a team of warriors. I've already told many friends and colleagues about the performance and I absolutely intend on coming to one of the performances again in June. - Sarah, grade school teacher
I was honoured to experience [the girls'] voices. - Betsy, physiotherapist & German New Medicine practitioner
These girls clearly have found a space where they are safe and able to share the things that have been holding them back. The most poignant response was when one of the ladies said, "The best part of Stardale is that we know we are not alone, that there are other people going through what I am going through." Isn't that, truly, all we need in order to begin to heal? Please pass along my sincerest gratitude and congrats to all the girls, Eugene, Helen and all the other amazing people that work with you at Stardale. All the best for the rest of your shows! I am sure they will just get better and better! - Allison, high school teacher
I was moved to tears at the Opening Night of The Make Believer Project. I encourage [everyone] to attend and hear their stories of resilience and wisdom through pain and systemic discrimination. The girls took time after the performance to share what being a part of [Stardale] has meant to each of them, completely candid and in some cases, raw. It reminded us all in the power of female friendship and kindness. I don't think anyone in that theatre left with the same perspective and inspired to do more to build a more inclusive, supportive society that fosters our differences, culturally and individually. - Laila, O&G Director of Community Investment
You have many chances to see this powerful performance for yourself, as The Make Believer Project is going on tour!
Then Urban Stories Theatre will host performances June 5, 6, 7 & 8 at 7:30 pm at the Knox United Church, 506-4th St. SW. Each performance at the Knox, will be followed by "A Touch of Grace," another production about teen prostitution and the people who help young girls get off the street and reclaim their lives. Tickets can be purchased through Urban Stories Theater. On the evening of June 7th there will be a reception hosted by the University of Calgary Campus Mental Health Strategy and student Wellness Centre, which will take place between 6 to 7 PM. The reception is open to the public.
The Make Believer Project is also confirmed to present at the Globe Theatre on Saturday June 16th in conjunction with Changing the Face of Addictions Society, from 3:00-5:00pm. Following the performance, the Society will be showing a film on Heroin and hosting a discussion about addictions.
Finally, Stardale will be performing in commemoration of National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 at the new South Health Campus at 2:00pm. Open to the public and free of charge.
May 11, 2018
Carrie Gour for Stardale Women's Group
"Not one of my words is here. I just edited the words of the girls of Stardale. I teach writing to University students, and the work here is every bit as good as anything I get there... the voices are honest, and that's everything."
These are the words of playwright Eugene Stickland, introducing the open rehearsal of The Make Believer Project Wednesday night.
What makes this performance important? Executive Director of Stardale, Helen McPhaden: "People need to be woken up to the reality of what's going on in the lives of young, Indigenous girls. People think they get all this money and life is somehow easy, and that's not always the case. Here we have vulnerable girls telling the truth as they know it. They wrote this. It wasn't scripted for them. It's their words. That's powerful."
The open rehearsal was still clearly "art mid-creation" as director Helen Young was actively giving shape and direction to some of the pieces. Further rehearsals this week will help hone the show for the first public performance May 23 at C-space at Kind Edward as part of the Stardale partnership with Contemporary Calgary on 7:00pm with a reception to start, 1721-29 Ave SW.
The experimental video the girls shot with help from Indigenous artist Jessie Short is an evocative, short piece of work that delighted the girls, having seen the completed video for the first time Wednesday as well. It will accompany the public performances of The Make Believer Project.
As one of the audience members at the open rehearsal said, "You should be so proud. You're finding your voices and not keeping the secret any longer, and that's power. Because truth is how you break the cycle... And here, you turned something dark into something beautiful."
Then Urban Stories Theatre will host additional performances June 6, 7, 8 & 9 at 7:30pm at the Knox United Church in downtown Calgary. On the evening of June 7, the University of Calgary will be hosting a reception which begins at 6:00 PM. The Make Believer Project is also confirmed to present at the Globe Theatre on Saturday June 16th in conjunction with Changing the Face of Addictions Society, from 3:00-5:00pm. Following the performance, the Society will be showing a film on opioids and hosting a discussion about addictions. On June 21 Stardale will be performing in commemoration of National Indigenous Peoples Day. This will take place at the new South Campus Hospital at 2:00 in the afternoon. There will be a Q & A to follow with a ceremony.
May 4, 2018
Carrie Gour for Stardale Women's Group
Happy energy and nerves were the rule this week, while the Stardale girls ran through their first full rehearsal. As renowned playwright and writer Eugene Stickland said of the evening: "It's like we always say in the theatre: 'Sure wish we had another month!'"
Director Helen Young took the role of "friendly General," providing necessary leadership and creating order out of the 39 short pieces that make up The Make Believer Project, writing that came straight from the girls' own journals.
The performance starts with a beautiful piece played on the piano by a Stardale girl who's never had a lesson! With a deep desire to make music, she taught herself to play via YouTube. Her hands make the prettiest melodies, pulled entirely from her head. Embodying the heart of The Make Believer Project, this young woman believed she could - and she did!
The spoken word pieces will continue to be edited and reshaped by Eugene in time for the open rehearsal next week, on Wednesday, May 9, from 6:30-8:00pm at the Rehabilitation Society in Bridgeland (#7 - 11st NE. with plenty of free parking in the area). It's during this performance that the girls will also see and experience their video art piece for the first time too, so as artists they're fuelled by excitement on more than one front!
The show is free to the public. It's currently booked at C-space at King Edward in partnership with Contemporary Calgary, 1721- 29 Ave SW on May 23; 7:00 PM, with a reception to start. Then Urban Stories Theatre will host performances June 6, 7, 8 & 9 at 7:30pm at the Knox United Church in downtown Calgary. The Make Believer Project is also confirmed to present at the Globe Theatre on Saturday June 16th in conjunction with Changing the Face of Addictions Society, from 3:00-5:00pm. Following the performance, the Society will be showing a film on opioids and hosting a discussion about addictions.
April 27, 2018
Carrie Gour for Stardale Women's Group
The script for Stardale's The Make Believer Project is finished!
While it will continue to be honed over the coming weeks, as of now the performance is comprised of 39 spoken word pieces in total, taken from the girl's journals. Playwright Eugene Stickland has created an assembly of evocative pieces, some just a fragment at a single line placed against longer, more poetic compositions. It's a combination of insightful observation and stark, artful confession, punctuated with chanted lists and statements of fact. Acted as a mix of individual "solos" and group "chorus" bits, the girls are learning how speak "in a stage voice" and to anchor themselves to a microphone. As Director Helen Young told them, "Talk into the top of it so we can hear you. It's not a lollipop!"
The evening was essentially a "plugged in" read-through of all the material. As director, Helen will order the pieces into a cohesive narrative and work with the girls on designing physical movement to accompany the stories.
Meanwhile, the videographers in the group continued to work with video artist Jessie Short and her collaborator, artist Noel Begin. A traditional sculptor by education, today Noel considers video his sculpting medium of choice. It's this perspective that's been instrumental in helping the girls "see the world in a different way," as he says, looking at themselves through a literal "new lens." It's interesting that the girls' favourite piece of gear to do this with is a handicam from the 1980's - so much so, Noel brought in an additional handicam for them to use this week! The beautiful weather also meant lots of outdoor shooting, which was fun.
In the coming week Noel and Jessie will do a rough picture and sound assembly of all the footage shot and recorded by the girls, with the aim of having something more refined in time for the first, full rehearsal in early May.
April 20, 2018
Carrie Gour for Stardale Women's Group
Stardale's The Make Believer Project started to take physical shape this week.
Playwright Eugene Stickland has begun gathering, unraveling and knitting together some of the writing from the girls' notebooks. The result is a series of profoundly moving, unfiltered and starkly authentic spoken word pieces. Short vignettes punctuated by longer, more poetic stories, in contrast to a more linear, traditional "play," this approach allows audiences insight into the girls' lived experiences and internal lives without the emotional risk of exposing themselves, full-on.
In true, creative, workshop style, Director Helen Young led the "performers" in the group through a few table-reads of the script so far. This allowed the girls to get a feel for the content and rhythm of the micro-stories contained within the larger theme (of life-dreams and what can get in the way of those dreams). Different segments have emerged: "Author of Her Own Life," "Astronaut" and "So I Come to Addiction" are all starting points.
Staging has also begun. As Helen says "Directing is more about working with trained actors. This process is more about placing and moving the girls - like forming them in a series of frozen pictures that help physicalize the stories being read." Helen imagines the staging being "immersive" - coming out, forward into the crowd - versus actors being "birds on a wire" on a narrow stage. This process will continue to evolve as more writing comes together and as the girls bring their own creativity and imagination to the stage in a literal way.
Meanwhile, under the guidance of video-artist Jessie Short, the "videographers" in the group worked with the media equipment, filming the evocative images that will be the foundation of the art piece that will accompany the performance.
April 13, 2018
Carrie Gour for Stardale Women's Group
The ongoing evolution of Stardale's The Make Believer Project continued this week with the start of the video-art that will play alongside the performance piece. Led by multi-media Indigenous artist Jessie Short on behalf of Contemporary Calgary, the girls of Stardale familiarized themselves with the new-to-them concept of video-art generally as well as getting hands-on time with a variety of audio and video equipment.
In the summer of 2017, Contemporary Calgary's senior curator Lisa Baldissera was part of a painting contest sponsored by Stardale. Lisa was impressed by the young women's creative output and sought another opportunity to work together. The collaboration on The Make Believer Project is the result.
"Indigenous artists have been left out of much of the cultural narrative," says Charlotte Le Gallais, Contemporary Calgary's Public Programs Coordinator and Curatorial Assistant. "[With this project] we want to promote Indigenous voices as well as inspire young people to get into art, and to have them experience that 'art' can mean more than just painting."
Contemporary Calgary and Stardale are aligned in their belief in the power of art to transform lives. With Jessie's guidance, the chance to create video-art offers the girls a novel, creative outlet to tell their stories in a much different, less literal way.
As the girls imagine possible futures for themselves, they're being asked to consider what the concept "scholarship," for example, might look or feel like through the lens of a 1997-era handicam (among other fun cameras on offer). Successful video art is more gestural and unstructured in its approach than is typical in play-writing or drama, making the piece the girls eventually create an exciting partner to the 20-minute Make Believer Project performance.
The girls will film and record images themselves; Jessie, under their direction, will edit the footage.
In the end, the piece will continue to live independently of the performance, displayed by Contemporary Calgary as a way to keep the Stardale girls' story alive. In addition, each artist will get a copy of the piece they create.
On the performance side, acclaimed playwright, teacher and mentor Eugene Strickland is acting as "master weaver" of the girls' multiple story threads and emotions in The Make Believer Project. He's excited that staging and story structure is beginning to emerge. Director Helen Young from Urban Stories Theatre will continue to work closely with Eugene in these weeks leading up to rehearsal and performance proper.
Aboriginal Financial Literacy program sponsored by TD
Helen McPhaden, Executive Director of Stardale, and Kaylee Davidson, winner of the Galaxy 200 Tablet
Stardale girls attending their Saturday afternoon classes on Financial Literacy
Stardale offered a uniquely designed program on Saturday afternoon to a group of Aboriginal girls. The program incorporated culturally appropriate literature such as wampum, harvesting, hunting and potlatch. The girls conducted research, prepared short skit/improv, held sharing circles on finance and held a scavenger hunt in the community. Throughout the six weeks, the girls were graded on their attitude, consistency with learning the materials, and participation. The winner received a Samsung Galaxy 200 tablet.
The culmination of the program was a visit to a local TD bank, whereby one of the volunteers for Stardale is the manager.
Stardale would like to thank TD for all their assistance and support.
Stardale girls in a spring showcase of local fashion and urban girl's fun (Spring 2012)
Click on the photo below to start the slideshow.
Stardale Women's Group Inc. has since 1998 been offering programing for Aboriginal females.
On Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 12 noon, the throng came together at the lobby of the TransCanada Tower to enjoy the Stardale girls in a spring showcase of local fashion and urban girl's fun.
The showcase feature fashions by Mealan, an experience in clothing. From fresh and eclectic clothing to the perfectly thought out change rooms, no detail is left behind. Since opening in 2009, Mealan has been committed to presenting fashionable women with original choices to fill their ever-growing wardrobes.
To complement the designs, we bring you Zsa Zsa's, Calgary's premium hat store. Find Spring's hottest trends and pieces of timeless beauty, from super casual to ultra-chic! There is a hat for everyone.
DelMar College will be providing the hairstyles and make up.
Please remember to bring your business cards for there will be draws for 2 door prizes from Mealan's.
This includes: 1 hour styling consultation, $100 gift card for Mealan, a $50 gift certificate from Zsa Zsa's.
Stardale given the opportunity to work with Cory Hicks
Click on the photo to view the slideshow!
Stardale had the great fortune to be given the opportunity to work with Cory Hicks, of Cory Hicks Photography. Cory was brought into our circle through Syreeta Molsberry - acting coach for the Stardale girls program & operations manager of Jubilations Dinner theater. Cory is a friend and contact of Syreeta.
What did Cory teach? Well, he began by setting up his equipment in our classroom. The lighting and backdrops created the scene for the photo shoot. The girls were cautiously checking out the equipment. Lighting the way with gentle coxing, Cory had the girls pose and act to the camera. At first most of the girls were apprehensive, however, Cory guided the process. Syreeta and Kim the acting instructors helped support the girls through examples and play. After a while things began to gel and a new dimension to the girls learning on how to perform in front of a professional fashion photographer evolved. Cory was able to capture the transformation. Soon, the girls were bouncing back and forth in front of the camera. The lens was clicking away not missing a moment of action. Click on the thumbnail photo above to watch the slideshow.
We are privileged that Cory devoted his time and energy to empowering the girls through his skills as a fashion photographer.
Stardale's Youth Programming
An effective primary prevention against youth suicide is to reduce the known risks, which can often be achieved through programs that enhance adolescent life skills and better prepare them for a more productive future. Primary protective factors identified as protecting adolescents from becoming suicidal can be personal, social, or cultural, and the research suggests that multiple protective factors can increase resilience and significantly decrease the risk of suicide.
Stardale has embedded within this program richness with literacy and the arts. The activities circumvent harmful situations that the girls may be enduring and engage them in positive storey telling methods.
Eugene Stickland, who is an author, play writer, director, poet, and instructor (www.eugenestickland.com) co-created (in conjunction with the Aboriginal girls) a performance piece on the emerging theme and dominant health concern of suicide. We are giving a "voice" to their situations. The scripts have been conducive to outreaching for various community settings and audiences from front line worker, government, schools, reserves, etc.
2016 is the Year of Music in Calgary and Stardale is fully embracing this concept. Suzanne de Bussac, a well known song writer and entertainer in the music field, has been contracted to lead the project. www.suzannedebussac.com
(Photos taken by Dick Averns)
Listen: "Blasting Away" (Demo)
Commemoration Ceremony for the Elbow River Healing Lodge
"Blasting Away" is about escapism, penned by de Bussac and taken from her vast catalogue of unrecorded material. "Escapism is a subject that the girls and I can connect on despite our age, cultural and situation differences," de Bussac notes, adding that, "we all have coping mechanisms and habits, but I think every human being has their own personal version of what escaping might mean to them." The girls were invited to contribute to lyrics and musical harmonies, tones, and textures. Since a lot of Stardale's work is in the area of prevention and harm reduction, the song was a perfect fit. The ideas got translated each week in Arran Fisher's recording studio, with arrangements being written and instruments being recorded by both de Bussac and Fisher. The girls, now nicknamed "Starbirds," were recorded on location during their third session, and the project climaxed with a final mix of song at the fourth and fifth sessions.
"Sunrise - Urban Gardening" project sponsored by Walmart's Evergreen Grants program
Stardale held a spring garden kickoff on May 11, 2013, at the old Haultain school site in collaboration with the Parks Foundation of Calgary. What a perfect day for everyone who was involved!
There was great food served, with the barbecue grill in constant use. The weather co-operated too. It was plus 31 degrees Celsius.
We wanted to make summer count through learning, working with nature, and giving back to the community to create a lovely, inviting outdoor space for neighbourhood residents and others to admire. The efforts of the girls, staff, and volunteers from May to September were unsurpassed! It was a great growing season!
In order to have a productive garden, there needed to be a layout for the plants, soil preparation (mulching/composting), and of course the planting of the seeds. As flowers, fruits, and vegetables began to grow, there was an erecting of cloches, covers, and trellises. Throughout the entire summer, the girls nurtured their little plants. It was a joy to see! Gardening in our city could not have proven to be a better success for all who were involved.
Helen McPhaden, Executive Director of Stardale, receives a cheque from the Rotary Club of Calgary downtown for Calgary Aboriginal Girls programming strategies. www.rotaryclubofcalgary.org
Alana DeLong, MLA from Calgary Bow Constituency and Helen McPhaden, Executive Director of the Stardale Women's Group. The presentation was for provincial funding under the Community Initiatives Program, a project-based grant.
Alana DeLong, MLA from Calgary Bow Constituency, presented Helen McPhaden, Executive Director of the Stardale Women's Group, with a cheque on behalf of the Alberta Community Initiatives Program. Alana has been a staunch supporter of Stardale. She is a busy lady so it is nice to see her for a visit from time to time.
Stardale has the support of volunteers who give of their time to our programs. One particular volunteer is Katie Chidley. Katie has donated many hours which in turn were matched dollar per dollar by her employer Cenovus Energy. We thank you Katie for your dedication and we value the difference that you have made to all of our lives.
World Hoop Day Fundraiser
Helen McPhaden (Executive Director of Stardale), 2 of the girls in the girls program, Tammy Johnston (Volunteer with Stardale)
Helen McPhaden (Executive Director of Stardale), 2 of the girls in the girls program, Tammy Johnston (Volunteer with Stardale), Kelly James (Instructor/Performer - Hoop Di Doo) and Sharon Falconer(Professional entertainer)
The World Hoop Day Fundraiser was a great success, with $550 raised for the Stardale Women's Group. I have personally worked with the Stardale Women's Group, so I am very happy to be able to give back to the girls. I believe the vision of World Hoop Day ties very well to Stardale's Motto of 'Breaking the Cycles by Creating the Circles'. World Hoop Day is about spreading joy and peace worldwide, especially to those who are under-privileged. Hula hoop dancing is an activity that inspires and promotes self-awareness. The hoop is a tangible symbol that is understood by all. I am so grateful to be able to contribute to the Stardale program through hoops and hoop dancing!