LOLA LITA by Byron Abalos. Part of SummerWalks, starting at Factory Theatre Courtyard. August 8-9 and 15-16 at 1:30 and 3:30 pm. See listings.
Last year Summerworks added music and performance art to its roster. This year, with SummerWalks, the festival gives a human face to the people you pass on Queen West.[rssbreak]
In a trio of guided tours along the strip, you can learn something about the artists who moved into the area in the 60s and the loft apartments that became common (Dana Puddicombe's Love Letters To Queen West), or take a trip back to Upper Canada when those loyal to the new government received large plots of land (A Length Of Chain, hosted by Bruce Beaton and his daughter, Molly McGregor).
Or, if you follow Byron Abalos around the Bathurst/Adelaide/Richmond area, you can discover the history of his grandmother, Lola Lita ("lola" means grandmother), a little-known but vital figure in the neighbourhood.
"When I was invited to participate, I didn't think I had a strong story to tell," recalls Abalos.
A teacher, World War II survivor and nurturer of generations of kids besides her own, Lita is the hook for Abalos's history of the area from the 70s, when Lita moved here from the Philippines.
"I videotaped a few sessions with her remembering her past, and, in typical fashion, we sat around her kitchen table eating lunch," says Abalos, an actor and playwright who had a SummerWorks hit with another family-oriented piece, Remember Lolo.
"Of course, The Days Of Our Lives was on, and she sometimes interrupted my questions and turned up the volume to catch the soap opera's story."
The interviews occasionally covered delicate material about the family, stories that themselves had a soap-opera quality. But Lita didn't seem to have trouble answering her grandson's questions. Abalos thinks telling him her history offered Lita some release from the past.
"I ended up with a different tale than I thought I'd hear," admits Abalos. "Now I see her not as a grandmother but as a full person who's undergone so much in her life yet is still happy and strong, the cornerstone of our family."
The walk around the area - which includes Factory Theatre, where Lita has watched her grandson perform; St. Mary's Catholic Church across the street and its elementary school, where Lita taught; and the three nearby homes where she's lived - is Abalos's way of communicating Queen West's secret emotional richness.
"This is the journey that my lola took for three decades: church, work, to see me, home," he says. "It's something I took for granted, but now I look at the neighbourhood in a different light. I think people who come with me will see these streets and those who walk and live on them in a new way."