H’art Centre marks 25th anniversary with opera-inspired show ‘Happy’

H’art artists rehearsing their show Happy with John G on drums. Photo by Julie Ann Wolfe-May.

On Saturday, Apr. 20, 2024, H’art Centre will be presenting their show Happy at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at 6:00 p.m. This performance is marking H’art Centre’s 25th anniversary. This show has been a long time in the making, as their last show was in 2018, and they’ve been preparing for this show since September 2023.

H’art Centre is an award-winning not-for-profit that provides arts programming for adults with disabilities and those facing barriers, as well as opportunities to collaborate with trained community artists. H’art has also expanded to make space for seniors with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The idea for Happy began with the founder of H’art, Katherine Porter, who has been working with H’art artists for the past 25 years. Porter interviewed H’art artists, some of whom she has been working with since the beginning of the centre’s journey, about what makes them happy. These personal stories were structured into storylines and featured pieces by H’art artists and independent artists to create Happy. It was a very rewarding artistic process says Camille Spencer, Director and Choreographer of Happy.

“The artistic process is always a slow going process, especially with this community. You definitely need more time and energy put into the rehearsals and to repetition. It has been continual repetition and development, starting in September 2023,” says Spencer.

“The script and the stories were written down by the participants, and then they were given to Barbara MacDougall, who is our featured composer… It’s a process of discovering what [H’art artists’] strengths are and focusing on that.”

The original idea was for Happy to be opera-esque. Spencer mentions that the show has diversified through the development process, but is still opera-inspired.

“Getting an insight on the lives and the daily struggles that people with disabilities face is one of the things that we want to showcase, as well as the innate joy that this community has,” Spencer expresses.

“I really would like the audience to leave with an insight in how individuals with alternative lifestyles, or limitations, or disabilities may live and what they experience… It’s an exploration of emotions, and of how we can connect with each other.”

Camille Spencer, who is a dance artist with 15 years of teaching experience, has been working with H’art Centre as a community artist for the past three years. Spencer has taken part in H’art Centre’s MixAbilities training program, which trains artists and educators to become inclusive arts facilitators.

“That training is providing a basis on which us artists can bring in our craft, and then work with this community in a collaborative way, and know how we can best benefit them… I think that’s been my favourite part: discovering what their skill sets are. I’m a firm believer that as a dancer, anyone and everyone has the ability to create movement and express through their bodies, and therefore being able to bring that aspect out of somebody is very enjoyable.” Spencer expresses.

H’art’s marketing manager, Tracy Ryan, who has over 15 years of experience in the not-for-profit sector, explains what makes this program so special.

“We offer [it] to volunteers, field placement students, community artists, community groups, and we offer it several times a year. We do a call to the community for artists who are interested in learning more about inclusive arts techniques from our experience. They should watch our website or social media to see when that’s offered again because it is open and free to community artists,” says Ryan.

“It is a training unlike any other that you would receive in traditional training circumstances. Even Queen’s and St. Lawrence send their students to H’art because they do not have that training.”

Happy has been made in association with DAN School of Drama and Music and Watershed Festival, which is a first for H’art, and an exciting collaboration for the Kingston community.

The show is accessible for everyone, including those who are deaf, blind, and those who have mobility or accessibility needs, or other sensitivities. Visit the H’art Centre website to get tickets to Happy and learn more about all the H’art Centre has to offer.

One thought on “H’art Centre marks 25th anniversary with opera-inspired show ‘Happy’

  • H’art Centre members have a lot of “zing” in everything they do. My neighbour will be performing that night. (:

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