The Big House – A Downtown Eastside Theatrical Feast

The Big House is a theatrical feast created for, with, and about the founding Coast Salish and immigrant communities of the Downtown Eastside: a thank you from Vancouver Moving Theatre to the neighbourhood in which it was founded. At a time when our founding communities have damaged and broken relationships to repair and new relationships to forge where none existed, the Downtown Eastside needs community more than ever.  A hurricane of accelerating change threatens to displace residents and divide groups into those that matter and those that don’t.  How do we live and work together in the Downtown Eastside in the shadow of Canada’s history of colonialism and the city’s history of development?

“Our future and the well-being of our children rests with the kinds of relationships we build today.” - Chief Robert Joseph, Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada

Developed in partnerships with over five Downtown Eastside organizations and Toronto’s Jumblies Theatre, The Big House is all about connection.  It is about coming together under one roof to share with each other through food, stories and art. We are preparing a feast, creating a theatrical event and breaking bread together.  As we build The Big House – sharing resources, culture and good, healthy food – creative things can happen, new connections form and relationships renew.

The Big House is a place for learning and teaching.” - Rosemary Georgeson (Coast Salish/Dene), Storytelling/Culinary artist

Big House DTES NH 2012, Hendrik toast, Tom Quirk photo CROPPED, IMG_0919 In the indigenous traditions of our neighbourhood’s founding communities, feasts are a time for nourishing relationships, marking important events, offering gifts and acknowledgements, sharing learning and teaching: a storehouse of memories for the future. The Big House is re-creating feasting in an urban context.   We will mark memories of our communities coming together; acknowledge land, waterways, and gathering places that keep our community strong; share cultural teachings around food and hospitality; mourn what has been displaced, lost or forgotten; listen to youth and elders, and honour the neighbourhood’s continuity, its wisdom. We are weaving together oral history and cultural teachings, poetry and song, drumming and design, theatre and dance with culinary art. Witnessing and creating shared memories, we celebrate who we are, acknowledge where we come from, what’s left behind, what’s preserved; we stand facing the future.
“As ancestors of tomorrow, we are caretakers, creators and witnesses to our communities and stories, who live on with new caretakers in each generation.” - Savannah Walling, Artistic Director, Vancouver Moving Theatre
In development since 2010, The Big House Project is evolving via a series of invitational theatrical feasts hosted by VMT in community partnerships:  City of Vancouver Dialogues Project, Oppenheimer Park, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, Vancouver Native Housing, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Jumblies Theatre (Toronto).  Some of these long-standing relationships date back ten years and more.  Oncoming community partners include the Aboriginal Front Door, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, Carnegie Community Centre and Downtown Centre for the Arts.  The Big House Project culminates May 10, 2015 in a closing feast at the historic Ukrainian Hall (venue tbc). Building on a residency concept and performative feast structure originated by Ruth Howard and Savannah Walling, the project team includes Ms Walling (Artistic Director), Terry Hunter (Producer), Renae Morriseau (Dramaturge), James Fagan Tait (Director), Rosemary Georgeson (Storytelling/Culinary artist), Ms. Howard (Design and Community engagement Consultant), Paula Jardine (Social Design consultant and Co-designer) and Candice Curlypaws (Co-designer), Beverly Dobrinsky (Music Director), Sarah May Redmond  (Facilitator - inter-activity and hospitality theatre), Mark Eugster (Lighting Designer), joined by participants and cultural presenters. Big House at DTES NH, closing prayer, Tom Quirk photo cropped

Tracks: 7th Canadian Community Play & Arts Symposium

Tracks: 7th Canadian Community Play and Arts Symposium is a five-day community-engaged arts symposium with the purposes to: bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists who are creating with, for and about communities; explore the ways we can/will/do live together in the shadow of colonialism. Hosted by two BC communities, one urban (Vancouver) and one rural (Grindrod/Enderby BC), the symposium events will take place in Vancouver at both the Ukrainian Hall (tbc) in the Downtown Eastside, and at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre (Vancouver); and in Grindrod/Enderby (located just east of Salmon Arm, BC) at location(s) to be announced. The symposium is produced by Vancouver Moving Theatre with Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation/Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre (Vancouver/Coast Salish Territory); Runaway Moon Theatre, Grindrod/Enderby, BC (BC/Secwepemcul’ecw Territory); Jumblies Theatre, Toronto (National/Turtle Island). The 7th National Community Play and Arts Symposium is a forum for B.C. and Canadian artists to learn and discuss issues related to creating and producing community engaged projects that involve indigenous artists and artists of other cultural backgrounds working together in the wake of our colonial history. This focus is driven by a sense of urgency and awareness of developments and directions in both aboriginal and non-aboriginal relations, and in the field of community-engaged arts in BC/Canada. We are convening BC and Canadian artists who:
  1. Create original art, the content, form and presentation of which is developed with, for and about people and places engaged;
  2. Play with/allow artistic forms to mutate to suit aesthetic, social and community realities;
  3. Engage with and create inclusive community;
  4. Further collaborations, alliances and understanding between Indigenous and settler/ immigrant cultures in Canada.
Within this theme much rich dialogue comes into play:  questions of identity, of the impact of colonialism, of respect, of building a future together, of differences and similarities between Aboriginal and artists of other cultural backgrounds and practices, our values, frames of reference, and historical connection to land and place. These matters are vital for British Columbians/Canadians and artists of diverse backgrounds to grapple with. In the words of jil p. weaving, Arts and Culture Co-ordinator, City of Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation: “This symposium is absolutely necessary: we need this knowledge sharing and transfer opportunity. We cannot proceed as we have over the last 150 years. We must find new ways of living and working together.”  [caption id="attachment_1174" align="alignleft" width="720"]storyweaving-60-FINAL DANCE w EAGLE, Symposium, Colour M Montogomery photo cropped_1064 Storyweaving, 2012 (Vancouver Moving Theatre) / Mark Montgomery photo[/caption] There are many very successful and inspiring community engaged arts projects produced in BC and across Canada by indigenous and non-indigenous artists that enter into these issues and questions. We have much to learn from these collaborations:  What worked or didn’t work? What were the challenges? What was the process? What was learned? What was the impact on the artists, art practice, participants and the community?  What kind of art resulted?   What next steps were envisioned and taken? What are the new visions for a future BC/Canada that are being created? The objectives of the Symposium are to:
  • Address the social and cultural divide in our province and country;
  • Make a significant and high impact contribution to knowledge transfer about best practices in community engaged cross-cultural art in BC/Canada;
  • Provide opportunities for artists, organizers, thinkers and educators from BC/Canada to network;
  • Build the collegial community in community engaged practice; and create legacies for the future.
The Symposium opens – as is traditional for Canadian Community Play Symposiums – with delegates attending the performance of a major multi-year theatrical project: this symposium features The Big House, a Vancouver Moving Theatre community-engaged theatrical feast created for, with and about the indigenous and founding communities of the Downtown Eastside (May 10). The second day is composed of opportunities for broad and intense exchange from practitioners from across BC/Canada/Turtle Island (May 11).  The third day will launch the Train of Thought, a month long cross-Canada arts project exploring community-engaged arts and Canada’s colonial legacy, produced by Jumblies Theatre in association with VMT and thirteen other Canadian arts organizations (May 12-June 10, 2015).  Many delegates will travel the Train of Thought to Secwepemcul’ecw Territory/Grindrod/Enderby, where additional delegates will convene and the Symposium will continue for the final two days (May 14-15). ACTIVITIES TO BE UNDERTAKEN Symposium activities include welcoming and departure protocols, a theatrical performative feast (The Big House), presentations, panels and discussions in a variety of formats, hands-on workshops, informal meetings, social gatherings and opportunities to mingle. We are inviting artists in BC/Canadian community-engaged arts to share their artistic experience navigating cultural protocols, acknowledging conflicting histories and bridging past and present to create meaningful and inclusive art.  Each presenting team will include an Indigenous artist and an artist of another cultural background who collaborated on and/or produced a community-engaged project. Delegates will include experienced and emerging community artists; community play producers; arts managers and programmers; community members; funders; cultural thinkers; educators and academics interested in community engaged practice. Delegates and presenters will have an opportunity to share documentation of their practice and network with artists, thinkers and organizers from across the country.  We will draw inspiration from each other’s work; share regional and cultural perspectives; reflect on risky ventures into new social and artistic territory; compare experiences and challenges; and establish new connections locally, regionally and nationally. To broaden and deepen the impact, the symposium is connected to two thematically related initiatives: The Big House, a VMT community-engaged theatrical feast (May 8-10), 2015 created for, with and about the indigenous and founding communities of the Downtown Eastside; and Train of Thought, a month long cross-Canada community arts project (May 12- June 10, 2015) on VIA Rail with thirteen stops and engagements in Canadian cities and towns (produced by Jumblies Theatre with Vancouver Moving Theatre and multiple national partners). NATIONAL COMMUNITY PLAY SYMPOSIA BACKGROUND Canadian Community Play Symposia bring together artists from across Canada who work with, for and about their communities, and build relationships through art between diverse people and places. These critical and practical symposia are scheduled to coincide with the producing host’s large-scale community-engaged productions.  Activities include public events, round table discussions, informal meetings, in-depth professional conversations and practical workshops.  Since 2004 six such gatherings have taken place - all in Ontario with the exception of the fourth symposium produced by Vancouver Moving Theatre in Vancouver 2008. Each symposia has brought together, from across the country, experienced community play and community-engaged practitioners, emerging and interning artists, cultural programmers and funders, and local community members. Initially launched with a focus on the legacy of community plays, the symposia have broadened to include inter/multi-disciplinary community-engaged arts. The intention has always been to share practices in welcoming art that engages with and builds inclusive community.

Thanks to our funding partners! The 7th Canadian Community Play and Arts Symposium is made possible with the generous support of our funding partners: City of Vancouver, and the BC Arts Council: Arts Based Community Development Program. Thank you!

Train of Thought

May 12 - June 10, 2015

Create, Discuss, Travel, Feast, Learn, Change Tracks

totTrain of Thought is an evolving community arts journey from west to east coast, with on-board activities and at least 15 stops along the way. At each stop, a travelling company will get off and stay until the next train comes through. Local arts organizations and communities will host interactive events, and add to cumulative creative tasks. Additional travellers will hop aboard in overlapping and growing numbers, with conversations, art-making and special guests en route. Train of Thought was hatched by a group of Canadian community play producers who wanted to share practices and projects. As the idea percolated, we asked ourselves what theme merited such a huge cross-country undertaking. The answer we came to is: collaborations and alliances between First Nations and settler/immigrant artists and communities. We believe this is the most challenging and urgent matter that all of us are grappling with and learning about, as community-engaged art-makers from our different regional and cultural perspectives. Train of Thought will take an intentionally counter-colonial route to collect and share stories, buried histories and imagined landscapes of the land where we live: as it might have been, as it is, as it could be: drawing on perception, memory, history and imagination; merging whimsy and serious intent, bringing together artists and community members, the land’s first people and all those who have found refuge here over the years and generations. Train of Thought will ask many questions and perhaps find some answers: What's not on the map? What other forms of mapping are there? How can we see the places where we live through new eyes? What protocols are there of arrival, gathering and departure for the territories we pass through? What other place names are there to learn and imagine? What stories are important to pass across the country? How can we both grieve and celebrate together in the shadow of colonialism? How can community-engaged arts help us enter into these questions? Train of Thought is less about trains than about the relationships and discoveries that the journey will enable. When the train can't take us where we want to go, we'll defect for a while to buses and cars, and rejoin the VIA train route when we can. Train of Thought is an imperfect and incomplete adventure - part of a longer and unending imperative to learn, connect and help to change tracks. Train of Thought will be launched in Vancouver by VMT’s The Big House and the 7th Canadian Community Play and Arts Symposium. The train will have its send-off at 8:30 pm on Tuesday May 12, 2015. Victoria BC is also hosting a Train of Thought Prelude May 6-7, 2015. For more on the Victoria event, contact Will Weigler at train_map Draft itinerary (to be adapted and likely expanded, especially from Ontario on):
Vancouver- National Community Arts Symposium May 10-12, 2015
Depart Vancouver May 12
Enderby B.C. May 13-15
Edmonton, Alberta May 16-18
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan May 19-20
Winnipeg, Manitoba May 22-24
Sioux Lookout, Ontario May 25-26
Northern Ontario May 27-31
Toronto, Ontario June 1- 4
Ottawa, Ontario June 5
Kingston, Ontario June 6
Montréal, Québec June 6-7
Moncton, New Brunswick partner(s) to be confirmed): June 8?
Halifax, Nova Scotia - Finale June 10
Train of Thought is produced by Toronto's Jumblies Theatre with partners all across Canada. Vancouver Moving Theatre, Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation and the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre are the main Vancouver partners. For details on Train of Thought events across the country visit

The Art of Hospitality: 3rd Downtown Eastside Artfare Institute

Vancouver Moving Theatre and Jumblies Theatre in partnership with Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden present

The Art of Hospitality: 3rd Downtown Eastside Artfare Institute

A volunteer work-learn opportunity and mini-practicum in art that engages with and celebrates community

        Photo: MABELLEarts Midwinter Parade 2013, by Katherine Fleitas

This workshop will explore artful hospitality and develop skills in art making that is welcoming, inclusive and able to bring people together across differences, facilitated by some of Canada’s leading community artists, including Ruth Howard (Jumblies Theatre, Toronto), Savannah Walling (Vancouver Moving Theatre) and Leah Houston (MABELLEarts, Toronto). Introductory sessions, a mini-practicum with an active community arts project, hands-on activities, discussions, take-home resources, and a culminating event that weaves together feasting, conversation, storytelling, music and cultural sharing from Coast Salish, Chinese, and Ukrainian traditions. DATES:  April 7-15, 2013 April 7, 8, 9 – 10:30-12:30 pm - Group sessions; 1:30-4:30 pm - Work according to individual plans April 11, 12 – 10:30-4:30 pm - Work according to individual plans April 12 – 1:30-4:30 pm- Work according to individual plans; 6:30-10:00 pm – Rehearsal April 13 – 10:30-6:00 pm - Final Preparation, Performative Feast, Wrap-up April 15 – 10:30-12:30 pm – Closing reflections and evaluation WHO’S IT FOR?
  • People interested in and/or with experience in art that engages community;
  • People with flexibility and reliability who enjoy working creatively with diverse people;
  • People with arts-related background (experience  &/or training) to contribute to the creation of our performative feast (e.g. visual arts, design, music, performance, calligraphy, culinary arts);
  • People who can apply what they learn and share it with others through their work.
  • Participate fully from April 7-15 (days off April 10 & 14), including core group sessions, individually-tailored work plans and schedules, final rehearsals, culminating performative feast and closing gathering;
  • contribute in a spirit of collaboration, cooperation, and respect for community needs;
  • notify project coordinator in advance of any scheduling conflicts and changes and to work out a solution.
  • Deepen your community arts skills and experience;
  • Meet and network with like-minded creative people locally and from across the country;
  • Be part of an ambitious and innovative multi-year Vancouver project with Toronto partners;
  • Jumblies’ training workshops are recognized nationally as credentials by arts employers and academic institutions;
  • It will be lots of fun!
LOCATIONS: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (578 Carrall St.) and Ukrainian Hall (805 E. Pender St.). FEE: There is no cost involved.  This is a work-learn volunteer experience and exchange. MEALS: A community feast on April 13; coffee/tea; otherwise bring your own. CERTIFICATION:  Those completing the intensive will receive a certificate form Vancouver Moving Theatre and Jumblies Theatre APPLICATION PROCESS: Limited to eight participants, selected partly based on experience and potential to benefit, with a view to creating a compatible and diverse group, including Downtown Eastside community members. Click here to download an application (Word doc) or email Leah Houston at to request a form. Application Deadline March 20, 2013, midnight. Email completed application to both and See details in application form about mailing the application. Applications arriving by March 20 will be assessed and space confirmed by March 28.  Late applications will be processed only if there is space. Please visit and for information about our other activities.

Upcoming for 2013

Vancouver Moving Theatre is currently working on five community engaged projects: THE BIG HOUSE is a theatrical performative feast that  celebrates  the neighbourhood’s founding cultures,  weaving together music, story sharing,  hands-on art-making and feasting traditions of Vancouver’s  Downtown Eastside. This spring April 2013 we will offer workshops on “The Art of Hospitality” and try out two work-in-progress prototypes of The Big House in partnerships with the folks at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House. Co-produced in association with Toronto’s Jumblies Theatre, the project brings together producer Terry Hunter, artistic director Savannah Walling, designer Ruth Howard, musician Beverly Dobrinsky and culinary artist Rosemary Georgeson.  The premiere of the production/event will be held in May 2014 at a yet to be determined location in the Downtown Eastside. [caption id="attachment_878" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Theatrical-performative feast, Arts for All Institute: Oppen-Arts, Oppenheimer Park, November 2010. Photo courtesy Keith Martin."][/caption] BREAD AND SALT is a music, dance and oral history tribute to the historic and current Ukrainian Canadian community of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. A collaboration between Vancouver Moving Theatre, Beverly Dobrinsky (singer, composer and musical director) and the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, Bread and Salt will take place at the Ukrainian Hall (805 East Pender Street) during the 2013 Heart of the City Festival in an event commemorating the 85th anniversary of Vancouver’s Association of United Ukrainian Canadians. TRAIN OF THOUGHT: Vancouver Moving Theatre is pleased to be joining the coast-to-coast creative multi-community journey: Train of Thought, produced by Jumblies Theatre and cross-country partners including Vancouver Moving Theatre.  Timed to coincide with The Big House, the innovative networking project will link and develop community arts initiatives through an evolving dialogic journey across Canada by train with at least eight stops along the way,  connecting with fellow Canadian community artists engaged on projects for, about and celebrating their communities. The train leaves in May 2014 right after the final presentation of The Big House! THE V6A PROJECT is a community arts legacy project: a celebratory history and resource of community engaged theatre and music productions and projects created with, for about the Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside from 2002 to 2012 by Vancouver Moving Theatre, the Carnegie Community Centre, DGB Productions, Savage God, Theatre in the Raw and in partnerships with Enderby, B.C.’s Runaway Moon Theatre and Toronto’s Jumblies Theatre. The resource features a 180 page book, a slide show, a website and a visual display.  Please visit to view the nine productions featured in the resource package.  Our new book - From the Heart of a City: Community Engaged Theatre Productions from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside 2002-2012 - will be ready for distribution soon. As of the writing of this post, the visual display is on display at the Carnegie Community Centre gallery on the third floor. Call 604-665-2220 and ask for the Carnegie administration office to see if the display is still up. BAH! HUMBUG!:  Victorian England meets Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in a bittersweet twist on the cherished classic that celebrates the transformative power of human redemption.  Commissioned and co-produced by SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs in partnership with Vancouver Moving Theatre, the East End adaptation of the Charles Dickens holiday favorite, “A Christmas Carol”, benefits the Downtown Eastside Heart of the Festival and community arts in the Downtown Eastside.  (December 2013, Fei & Milton Wong Theatre). We hope to see you at one of these events and/or our anniversary celebrations. As always, Terry Hunter Executive Director 11 February 2013  

Reflections on a Cross-country Collaboration in Community Arts Training

Originally published in Vol. 7.3 (March 2010) Download a PDF version of this article  By Savannah Walling and Ruth Howard In November 2009, Vancouver Moving Theatre and Toronto’s Jumblies Theatre joined hands across Canada to present the Downtown Eastside Arts4All Institute—six days of learning, idea-sharing, films, panels, art-making, mutual support, and inspiration. Produced for the first time in western Canada, and specially tailored for the Downtown Eastside community, the institute provided an in-depth introduction to principles and practices of art that engage with and build community. Host director Savannah Walling and lead artist and facilitator Ruth Howard joined forces to adapt an intensive course developed by Jumblies in Toronto over the past three years as part of the Jumblies Studio. The name 4All springs from a close relationship between this initiative and Jumblies Offshoot project, Arts4All, at Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre. Joining Savannah and Ruth as facilitators were Canadian community play movers Terry Hunter (VMT), Varrick Grimes (Toronto/Newfoundland ), Keith McNair (Jumblies), Cathy Stubington (Runaway Moon Theatre, BC), and Lina de Guevera (Puente Theatre, BC). Panels on forming community partnerships and making room for diversity reflected a spectrum of community-engaged arts as practiced by Judy Marcuse (ICASC), Rosemary Georgeson (urban ink), Bruce Ray (gallery gachet), jil p. weaving (Vancouver Parks Board), and others. Coordinator Susan Gordon organized nourishing lunches. Community partners included Carnegie Community Centre, Community Arts Council of Vancouver, DTES Heart of the City Festival, UBC’s Humanities 101, Ukrainian Hall, and Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. Reflecting most community art projects, the twenty-one participants represented a diversity of backgrounds, skills, interests, and purposes. Most were local, but some arrived from other neighbourhoods, from Victoria, from Kamloops. All shared an interest in gaining skills and in processes that engage with community. Participants included veterans in the field wanting to revisit basics, challenge skill-set weaknesses, learn from and share with peers; professional and emerging artists wanting to engage more effectively with communities and learn how this differs from mainstream arts presentations; and others who’ve participated in a variety of arts-related community activities wanting to learn how to go about becoming professionals in the field. Some wanted to put Downtown Eastside-created projects onto the road to share with friends and relatives, to shed light on realities of city life, and to inspire other communities to put on their own plays. Most had big or small projects in mind and were ready for tips and tools on project start-ups; on facilitation, communication, conflict-resolution, delegation; on preparing (and maintaining) budgets, business plans, and funding proposals; on forming partnerships; on assembling collaborative creative relationships; and on documentation, evaluation, and legacies. Big questions were addressed. What do artists need to know to work successfully with community members on arts projects? How do we create projects accessible to diverse levels of experience, age, cultural and social backgrounds, and openness? How do we ensure that community-engaged artists focus on a community’s real issues and understand that when we risk opening up old wounds with tough themes, we must ensure that these communities and individuals will be okay after we leave? The energy and enthusiasm during the institute were contagious. Collaborations were great fun. Participants appreciated the diversity and willingness of people to be themselves, the respect and humour displayed throughout, and the shared wealth of resources and breadth of life and artistic experience. Everyone learned.   BIOS Savannah Walling is Artistic Director of Vancouver Moving Theatre, and interdisciplinary company producing community-engaged art and the DTES Heart of the City Festival. Ruth Howard is a theatre designer and creator and founding Artisitic Director of Jumblies Theatre, a company that makes art with, for, and about people and places of Toronto. Contact: