When's the last time you saw a show performed by nearly 100 people? Jumblies Theatre impressively pulls that feat off with Bridge Of One Hair, presented as part of Harbourfront Centre's New World Stage.
The company's known for its work within local communities, and this time artistic director Ruth Howard and her talented team have gone into the Dundas-Islington area to collaborate with residents, helping them tell their stories, deal in a dramatic way with their concerns and honour the area's history.
The result is community theatre in several senses. Sure, there are a few theatre professionals in the cast and behind the scenes, but the majority of actors aren't trained performers. It's not the kind of show you'd see at a regular theatrical venue, but you won‚t find a more dedicated, spirited group of people performing anywhere in the city.
Literally hundreds of people have helped shape the piece - which is truly their piece - during its several years of gestation.
Howard's script begins with a fairy tale about a courageous girl who confronts a cruel giant and flees across the bridge of one hair. Woven through the narrative is the biography of local resident Hawa Jibril, a Somali oral poet whose life in Somalia was filled with dangers parallel to those faced by the fairy-tale character. Jibril's poems (recited by Faduma Nkruma) as well as her story are integral to the multimedia action, cleverly staged in the round. And Howard's use of a poem by native writer Duke Redbird, spoken by Sid Bobb, pulls in another historical element, with a nod to the Mississaugua band that used to live by Mimico Creek.
There's lots of striking elements in the hour-long show, from the papier-mache teapots and cups to the use of clown figures and shadow puppets, some rousing drumming and dancing and a shared ritual near the work's end. It's not always easy to understand the text, especially in the sung sections (though Alice Ping Yee Ho's score, heavy on percussion and strings, is nicely varied), so it's a good idea to read the program before the show to sort out the story's various elements.
But the community spirit is impressive, involving and ultimately - for both actors and audience - empowering.
Bridge Of One Hair runs through Sunday (April 29) at Harbourfront's Brigantine Room. See the theatre listings page for details.