In 2008, Lisa Marie DiLiberto had an idea: to make a theatre production celebrating Canadian main streets and downtowns. This came to her while touring across Canada, but she decided to make the new production about the neighbourhood she was then living in: Parkdale.
Among the team that she brought together was Charles Ketchabaw, a theatre technician with a background in radio. The production they made, The Tale of a Town, gathered oral histories from people living in Parkdale and presented them in a storefront theatre, using live actors and recorded media.
Nearly a decade, 124 towns, 3,259 interviews, 157 performances, one marriage and two kids later, DiLiberto and Ketchabaw are bringing The Tale of a Town — Canada to Theatre Passe Muraille next week, as part of a nationwide tour.
To say the The Tale of a Town struck a nerve with Canadians is clearly an understatement. After making a number of Tales around Ontario, in 2014 the pair turned it into a national project and have since made shows about and for every province and territory in the country. They’ve raised over half a million dollars in government and foundation support and employed 119 artists along the way.
The Tale of a Town — Canada is a sort of live highlights reel, which DiLiberto and Ketchabaw perform along with a local choir, live band and special invited guests from the community. Some of the narration involves what they call Tiny Towns: miniature mock-ups of the downtowns they’ve visited, projected onto a screen using live video to illustrate the stories being narrated.
DiLiberto says the impetus for the first show was to capture the spirit of a Toronto community that seemed in danger of disappearing; she’d seen globalized retail outlets come into her native Ancaster and erode its downtown.
“Parkdale is such an amazing neighbourhood. And then we thought, ‘Wow, what would happen if big box stores invaded Parkdale?’ . . . We decided we’d celebrate the stories and the places around us.”
In some of the communities they visited, participants brought history books or tried to explain what was commemorated on plaques, but DiLiberto says this is not the focus: “We’re actually interested in what you can remember in your own lifetime, personal stories about the way it used to be, here, in your downtown, where you grew up.”