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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Shaw Festival to use federal money to promote human connections
The Shaw Festival is hoping that a $15 million promise from the federal government comes to fruition to support its new All.Together.Now campaign. RICHARD WRIGHT
Humans. There are more of us than ever, yet it seems like we’re more disconnected than ever before.
The internet, automated answering machines, ATMs, self-serve gas stations, check-out lines and social media — they all help reduce old-fashioned, in-person connections.

That’s why the Shaw Festival wants to bring people back together, after the distancing nightmare of COVID-19 and the general sense of disconnectedness among us, and it may have the tool to do so — in-your-face communication.

Enter All.Together.Now — don’t forget the dots.

“If you think about it, it is three separate words but all connected in one phrase,” said executive director Tim Jennings.

After years of lobbying government for the funds to fully launch the campaign, the festival is as close as it’s been since before TikTok became a household name.

But there’s a catch: Jagmeet Singh and the NDP have to hold up their end of the deal and prop up the Liberal government’s 2024 budget.

As of now, a $15 million promise to the Shaw hinges on that green light.

“The budget has not been passed, but we are named in it,” Jennings said in an interview. “We are pretty excited about that. The $15 million in the 2024 federal budget is specifically for some capital projects.”

The biggest of those capital projects is All.Together.Now.

As Jennings details, it is a campaign that aims to create spaces and mindsets for in-person interactive communication, learning and fun.

The hope is to use the arts to deepen human connection and reduce social isolation.

“Lots of people are doing it in the sports world and we think there is room for the arts to do that as well,” he said.

The more specific question Jennings and his team asked themselves is: how can live arts increase empathy and reduce social isolation?

“We need to get people in rooms together and out of the silos such as social media,” he said. “How can we use art to help change that conversation and make people talk to each other again in ways that are respectful and helpful and move the conversation forward?”

Shaw wants to use the money to create classrooms and open spaces for things like artist-led yoga and exercise classes for seniors.

Other ideas include book clubs and gardening groups, but the festival is also thinking about creating artist and student housing.

Shaw works with Niagara-based students interested in the theatre/arts and where housing already-local students won’t figure into the plans, there is room to help theatre students from universities with whom the festival partners.

“Those students can now spend weeks here (with the proper housing) and we can train with them.”

Jennings said he understands many people — for reasons that could include age, ability, mobility, etc. — still favour online activities.

He said he feels the Shaw is ahead of the game when it comes to understanding how to deliver that and will continue to do so with or without the federal cash.

“(During the pandemic) we created these spaces to help people stay in physical shape and to connect with each other,” he said.

“From that, it created online forums and rooms where they also talked to each other. But now that we are out of that (social isolation) era and we don’t want to lose that ability to connect, so we still run them.”

He noted that some of the money for All.Together.Now will go toward the productions people see on stage, which will enhance performances for theatre lovers.

Afterall, he said, theatre is an interactive medium — in a way, its own form of social connection.

“We think that theatre is generally about stories on the stage where, in an empathetic way, you (the audience) are sort of stepping into the shoes of the various people on stage,” he said.

“You are trying to see what the story is through their eyes. And so, when we put a room full of people together who see that story — and if the stories are good — they are holding up both sides of the argument.”

That, he added, is the whole point: “We shouldn’t be preaching. We should be engaging.”

wright@niagaranow.com

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