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Silver: Bringing it Home

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Click here to watch 10 min video segment:
Grade 10 students participate in the "Drawing Room Hook" theatre activity. Students are following the Forum Theatre technique by creating a physical scene in the historic setting based on the description they have read. First they take on the physical stance of the individuals in the description, and then the interpreter approaches each person separately to ask how they think their character would feel in these circumstances. 
 
Entry Submission: Interpretation Canada Awards of Excellence
Entrant name:  Nancy Reynolds
Title of entry:  Bringing It Home: Class, Culture & the Great Depression
Organization: Spadina Museum:  Historic House & Gardens, Toronto
Category: Personalized Interpretation—School Group
 
Contains: Project description, Drawing Room Hook, Forum Theatre technique (one-page), script outline, and other hooks, (scroll down)

 

Project Description 

In 2010 Spadina Museum closed for eight months to undergo an extensive re- restoration project that rationalized the time-period the site represented to the 1920s and 30s. At that time a new interpretive plan and accompanying slate of original programs were developed to reflect the new time period. Bringing it Home was developed as part of this initiative in late 2010 and piloted in 2011. It is a school program which focuses on the experiences of individuals in Great Depression in Canada with a spotlight on Toronto. 
 
Where could help be found in 1930s Toronto? Government relief was inadequate, intentionally shameful and infrequent. Charities were overwhelmed. Bringing it Home explores the experience of the Great Depression from a variety of perspectives: a wealthy businessman who was bankrupted by the stock market crash; the poor who went door to door begging for food; a prairie farmer's wife; the wealthy, like Spadina's Albert Austin, who became a social safety net for the less fortunate; and the media. In our authentically restored environment, the program uses drama, film, music, and poetry to help students gain empathy for the personal turmoil that engulfed this country. Through differentiated instruction, participants engage with the voices of 1930s Toronto. 
 
Goals and Objectives
1. To meet the needs of teachers. It was necessary to make it worthwhile for teachers to take their students out of the classroom environment. Museum staff met with a number of High School teachers in the spring of 2010 to get their feedback on what would be most helpful in teaching the depression era to their students.
 
2. To create a sense of empathy in students for the experiences of those who lived through this time period. Two staff members attended a workshop called "Introduction to Forum Theatre" with Mixed Company Theatre. This is a UNESCO-recognized educational tool for exploring issues of social justice and social change. This technique was integrated into several components of the program to help create an immersive learning experience for students.
 
3. To communicate a variety of individual experiences/perspectives of the Great Depression. Staff researched the period and the family archives to find supports for a number of individual perspectives. We used oral histories from the time for a description of a party held by a man who lost everything in the stock market crash and to communicate the feelings of a man who was forced to go door to door asking for food. We used a letter from a prairie farm wife to Albert Austin and a poem written by a woman who experienced the Depression in Saskatchewan to illustrate the tension between central Canada and the west. More of Albert's correspondence was used for the section on people asking him for help.
 
4. To base the information in the students' community. All research and examples used were from this family specifically or were from or related to the Toronto experience.
 
5. To use a variety of different teaching methods to meet the variety of different learning styles of students. We use drama, poetry, film, music, letters and oral histories to convey information and provoke the emotions of the students. (Auditory, visual, kinetic learners all addressed.)
 
6. To connect this historic experience with students' current experiences. Throughout the program students are constantly asked to connect this back to their own experiences: with the homeless and disadvantaged, frustration with those in authority, the feeling of being at the mercy of conditions out of your control, and the feeling that people are pre-judging you. Etc. 
 
Intended Audience: Our intended audience are Grade 10 history students studying "Canadian History Since WWI" from the Province of Ontario curriculum. We have also had Grade 10 English teachers book this program who are teaching Canadian authors writing about the Depression. 
 
Key Message: Canadians in the Great Depression experienced a wide range of circumstances and perspectives, all of which can contribute to a richer understanding of the period. 
 
Site Mandate: Excerpt from Spadina Museum's Statement of Purpose: Spadina will collect, conserve, research, study, interpret, assemble and exhibit artifacts that  relate to the life and times of James and Susan Austin, their family and friends, and the site's  associated history of and connections to William Warren Baldwin and Phoebe Willcocks,  for  the instruction and enjoyment of the people of Toronto and environs, and visitors thereto.   Bringing It Home fulfills this mandate by using the restored house and artifacts to help communicate a specific period of time during the Austin family's occupation to the public. The authenticity of the restored space helps students to feel as if they have travelled back in time. Program materials including reproduced Austin family letters, oral histories, movies, music and poetry of the time help students to imagine the lives of the Austin family, their servants and friends during this difficult period of time. 
 
Background Information Since purchasing the property in 1866, members of Toronto's prestigious Austin Family have made Spadina their home. During the dramatic century that followed, the magnificent mansion experienced multiple changes reflective of the tumultuous times - both in structure and in interior décor – embracing multiple stylistic movements, artistic philosophies and architectural trends. 
 
Spadina Museum has strived to reflect the diverse history of the house and its vibrant residents ever since the Austin Family made their initial donation to the city in 1982, which included the building, furniture, artwork and most of their personal belongings. Everything from the family's dynamic lives – from diaries to debutante dresses to wallpaper and written receipts – was considered a historical artifact and was used to inform the extensive restoration process. Over two years museum professionals worked to preserve, restore and uncover the sensational stories of the historic house and its inhabitants for presentation to the public in 1984. 
 
When Spadina Museum first opened its doors, the displayed collections and restored interior spaces represented a compilation of these expressive influences and several generations' worth of priceless family artifacts. The museum became a celebrated and critically lauded landmark whose importance is embraced today by history, culture and arts fans from Toronto and beyond. 
 
Today, the City of Toronto Cultural Services operates Spadina Museum which underwent a major restoration project in 2010 to reflect how the Austin family lived during the inter-war period. It is the only City of Toronto museum to represent this exciting time period. 
 
The 1920s and 1930s were exhilarating and turbulent times in Toronto. The museum has utilized a wealth of artifacts, family records and other documentation to support an authentic restoration and in depth interpretation of this tumultuous era that saw Toronto celebrate the birth of radio, tabloid journalism, dance marathons, the women's suffrage movement and more. It was a time when the city grappled with prohibition, increased immigration, public health, public welfare, an unstable world economy and the stock market crash. 
 
Spadina Museum's themed tours and exciting slate of education programs provide multiple points of access to the important issues of this period while connecting to what is happening in Toronto today. 
 
Interior features of the main house, such as decorative plaster in the principal rooms, handsome marble and slate fireplaces, ornate cast-iron radiator grilles and a unique Art Nouveau frieze in the billiard room, span several stylistic periods in the decorative arts. 
 
Visitors tour the beautiful, restored house with a guide and can stroll through the restored historic gardens on their own. The remaining six acres of Spadina gardens, which feature more than 300 varieties of plants in an original setting, were restored with the assistance of the Garden Club of Toronto. 
 
Best Practice: Bringing it Home is a program that can be repeated many times over without degrading the props or the setting thus demonstrating sustainable practices. 
 
Bringing it Home demonstrates excellence and best practice in heritage interpretation by relating the experiences of individuals during the Depression to the student's life today. For example, in one segment of the program the students discuss how the Austin family servants might feel when people come to the back door begging for food. They are asked to compare this to how they feel when they pass someone asking for money on the street today or when squeegee kids approach a car they are in. 
 
Students are given information about a variety of situations and then are asked to interpret the feelings of the individuals involved, and compare the motives and feelings of one set of individuals with another (eg. children, servants, adults, wealthy, poor, Torontonians, people who lived on the prairies). 
 
The program also uses a variety of methods to reach all different types of learners. There are opportunities to use drama, interpreting a variety of texts (letters, poems), watching a clip of a movie, listening to a piece of music, to help understand the time period. 
 
Team Members: Led by Museum Site Coordinator, Nancy Reynolds, Program Officer Doug Fyfe and part-time interpreters David Healey and Ann McDougall worked collaboratively to develop the program concept, outline and script. All team members met with teachers, brought ideas to the table, work shopped the various components, researched the period and the artifacts and documents in the collection to support the program and helped to put together the support material. 
 
Project Plan:
January to April 2010 -initial discussions on program -establish goals and objectives -begin initial research, assess resources -take initial outline to teachers and ask for feedback 
 
May to August 2010 -based on resources available and feedback from teachers begin to formulate a firmer outline of what the program will look like -two team members attend Forum Theatre training -begin first drafts of the outline/script 
 
September to December 2010 -finish final script -gather program materials -begin to market the program to teachers 
 
January to March 2011 -pilot the project 
 
April to June 2011 -analyze feedback from the pilot programs and make adjustments 
 
Budget: Staff time in development was more than $5,000. Forum Theatre Training with Mixed Company Theatre 2 staff X 52.50= $105.00 Program supports –photocopying, reproductions, laminating $500.00 
Total approximately $5,605. 
 
Video: Our 10-minute, unedited video can be viewed at http://youtu.be/zXpI4tsFN1U 

This clip shows a school group in the Drawing Room participating in the "Drawing Room Hook" section of the Bringing it Home program. Judges can read the excerpt of an oral history interview that the students read (scroll down). 
 
In this section of the program students are following the Forum Theatre technique by creating a physical scene in the historic setting based on the description they have read. First they take on the physical stance of the individuals in the description and then the interpreter approaches each person separately to ask how they think their character would feel in these circumstances. 
 
The oral history story they are actualizing describes a lavish party that a visitor attended here in Toronto in the 1930s. After the party, the visitor's sister tells her that the man that was hosting the party loss everything in the stock market crash and that sometimes his children go hungry. 

 

Drawing Room Hook

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Forum Theatre Basics

Forum Theatre is a technique that uses drama to explore a range of situations. The goal is NOT to create a piece of polished, finished drama. Rather, think of image theatre as a discussion using physical action instead of words. Using our bodies can spark a wider range of ideas than speech alone, and can build empathy in a direct, tangible way. Here's how you do it:
 
1. Before you begin, make it clear that forum theatre is a kind of discussion that uses physicality. The drama elements are secondary. Groups can sometimes feel intimidated when they're asked to 'act', so aim to keep things as comfortable and safe as possible.
 
2. Present the document for discussion to the group, ideally by having someone read it out loud.
 
3. Ask "what's being described here?" Listen to a few answers.
 
4. Get more specific. Ask "if we had to make a picture out of this, what would it look like? Where would it be? Who would be there?"
 
5. When someone volunteers an answer, ask them to show the group. Have them place other group members in the scene they're creating, instructing them on how and where to stand. The participants should hold their positions, like a frozen picture.
 
6. Have the group look at the image that's been created. Would they add anything or change anything? If someone has an idea, have them add themselves to the scene, or replace the person that they'd like to change.
 
7. Look at the individuals in the scene. Ask them what their character is thinking. How do we know? Is there anything the participant can adjust to make those thoughts or feelings more clear to the audience?
 
8. Are there any other options for what the characters might be thinking and feeling? If so, how would they change the scene? Have participants try out their answers.
 

Library Hook

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Script Outline: Bringing it Home: Voices from Canada's Great Depression 

2hr program  
 
10 minutes Intro with whole group in meeting room
10 minutes The first 10 minutes of every group's first stop will be an introduction or "prompt" to Image Theatre
25 minutes Complete activities for first stop
25 minutes Second stop 
25 minutes Third stop
25 minutes Fourth stop 
 
Introduction 
Welcome to the museum.  The rooms that we will see upstairs have been restored to represent the 1920s 
and 30s in Toronto.  One family occupied this house from 1866 until 1982.  When they left the house to  
the city to become a museum, they left all the contents.  Everything that you will see upstairs belonged to  
this family and as much as we can is where the family had it.  Wall papers, paints and fabrics have been  
reproduced based on what we know was there.  This is the closest you are likely to get to travelling in  
time. [Emphasize authenticity—important for this age group.]  
 
In order to preserve this amazing resource we have a few rules—no gum, no pens etc.   
 -we are going to be exploring the Depression era in Toronto 
 
Film clip of "My Man Godfry"
-film that was popular at time (came out in 1936) and brings up issues 
-who are characters in clip?  What are they doing?   
-"Forgotten Man"  --originally this term was applied to working people who supported the system 
through their taxes;  in the 1930s Franklin D. Roosevelt (Pres. of US) co-opted this term.  He said  
that the Forgotten Man was not the taxpayer but the honest man who, through no fault of his own,  
could not make a living.  
 
-Why come to the house of rich people to discuss the Depression?   
  -rich are the only safety net 
  -who records the voices of the poor?  
 
Drawing Room 
Prompt—If this is your first Stop:
20 min. Intro to Forum Theatre 
Party description –this is an historical account of someone who was visiting Toronto in 
the 1930s.  This party did not happen here at Spadina (the Austins invested very 
conservatively and did very well during the depression), however the Austins would 
have known people who had lost everything and might easily have been invited to a 
party like described here.   
 
Have a student read the description 
-have them break down the description (what is going on in the passage?) 
-if they were going to create a photo of this scene who would be in it? 
-this prompt is very flexible; the whole group can be involved if you want. 
-start setting up the scene as they describe it; get people to stand in as the different 
"characters". 
Start asking them-how do you feel as a guest? 
-how do you feel as a child in this family? 
-how do the hosts/parent s feel -ask students why would family do this?
-networking; keeping up contacts; success breeds success-no one wants to do business with a loser
 
Drawing Room Regular Stop-25 minutes 
  -if this was not your first stop do a 10 min. version of the prompt (italics above) 
  -15 min. discussion of status—what is it?  How important is it? 
  -show them a set of random photos of people from this time 
   -can they arrange them according to status (highest to lowest) ?
   -status is subjective—can they agree?  What criteria do they use?   
      
Kitchen 
Prompt If this is your first Stop, 10 min.  
Jim Woodger coming through fence and stopped by police. (Ipod voice recording of Jim) 
  -can students tell you what is happening in the story told by Jim? 
  -if you were going to do a picture of this story who would be in it? 
  (no right or wrong answers; they can do Jim and policeman, Jim and judge, whatever) 
  -set up the scene as they describe it and get students to stand in for the different  
  characters
  -how do the different characters in this scene feel? Would the rest of the students agree?
  Would they suggest changes to the scene?   
 
Kitchen Regular Stop-25 minutes 
(Suggested time line:  3 to 5 min introduction; 5 to 7 minutes for groups to work on scene; 3 
groups X 5 min. discussion of each scene) 
 
-Read Lost Years description of man who goes door to door offering to do work for food 
-discuss phenomenon of people so desperate they have to go door to door begging 
 
Albert letter book, Dec. 17, 1930 
"…you should give thanks…We have thousands of idle people and they have to be fed daily, and beds found for them. How would you like to have poor people coming to your door every little while for something to eat, with such sad stories of sickness and hungry children…Some people  down here are turning over their big warehouses to house the hundreds out of employment, and  many men are sleeping in the brick kilns to keep warm at night. We hope that such unfortunates will not make raids on the stores of food. It seems as if the whole world were upset, I think mostly caused by the war…" 
  

Divide the group into three subgroups or four subgroups  -each group is given a set of "characters" and are asked to develop a "photo" of these characters  interacting at Spadina. One group remains in the kitchen; one group goes to the icebox room and  the third group can go into the scullery to set up their scene.  When they come back, each group will show the rest of the class their scene.
-how do the  hosts/parent  s feel    -ask  students why would family  do this?    -networking;  keeping up contacts;  success breeds success-no  one wants to do     business  with a loser  Prompt If this is your first Stop, 10 min.   Jim Woodger coming through fence and stopped by police. (Ipod voice recording  of Jim)   -can students tell you what is happening in the story told by Jim?   -if you were going to do a picture of this story who would be in it   (no right or wrong answers; they can do Jim and policeman, Jim and judge,  whatever)   -set up the scene as they describe it and get students to stand in for the different  characters.    -how do the different characters in this scene feel? Would the rest of the  students agree?      Would they suggest changes to the scene?   
 
-ask them first to tell everyone where they are and what is inside and outside if appropriate, then they can freeze in their scene, in character
-ask the rest of the class what they think is going on; what are clues to the relationships between the people in the scene? How do these people feel?
-ask group in scene how close the class got to what they intended 
 
 -who answers the door here?
-why go to the back door and not the front?
-what reaction do you expect?
-how do you ask?  How do you look as you ask? (get them to physically get into role)
-is the cook afraid of you? 
 
- Contemporize : compare this to passing someone on the street asking for money
-if you get a good response do you keep coming back here?  Do you tell others that this is a good  place to come?  What are the potential consequences of sharing information?
-who is more likely to give?  Someone "poor " or someone rich?   
 

Library 
Prompt-If this is your first Stop, 10 min.
Mrs. McLean letter in Library-this is from a letter in the Austin Family collection.  It was   written by a Prairie farm wife in response to a speech by then bank president Albert   Austin, that was published in the paper.
 -what is being described in this letter?  -does the woman from the prairies believe that Albert understands her situation?  -how different was the depression for those in Toronto and those in the prairies?  -how could you make a picture of this?  Who would be in it?  How do they feel?  Why? 
 
Library Regular Stop-25 minutes 
-10 minutes "Brother Can You Spare a Dime"; Bing Crosbie
-this was a huge hit in 1931
-Bing is one of the first big super stars has anyone heard of him before? Probably his most famous song  is "White Christmas".  This song was from early in his career.  He was young and had a "bad boy" image. 
-pass around the lyrics to the song and ask students to listen for the story of the song
-what's it about?    -soldier, farmer, building/construction    
-now he is forgotten; no one even remembers his name
-do they remember the reference to the "Forgotten Man" from the film? 

 

Bedroom 
-15 min in Mary's Bedroom (part two of this stop)
-poetry was another way people expressed their feelings about this difficult time
-we are going to look at a poem from the time which shows a prairie women's feelings about the  Depression.  Mary Austin knew the author of this poem.
-Poem by Anne Marriott written in 1937 about the prairie experience entitled "The Wind our Enemy" , the poem is quite long so we are only going to read a few stanza's from it
-divide the group into three and have students read the 3 stanza's and paraphrase them

-then have them come back to the larger group, read out their stanza and tell the rest of the class what it means to them:

 

Wind 

  filling the dry mouth with bitter dust 

  whipping the shoulders worry-bowed too soon, 

  soiling the water pail, and in grim prophecy 

  greying the hair. 

   

 

  'Maybe we're not as badly off as some—' 

  'Maybe there'll be a war and we'll get paid to fight—' 

  'Maybe—' 

  'See if Eddie Cantor's on to-night!' 

 

  People grew bored 

  Well-fed in the east and west 

  By stale, drought-area tales, 

  Bored by relief whinings, 

  Preferred their own troubles, 

  So those who still had stayed 

  On the scorched prairie 

  Found even sympathy 

  Seeming to fail them 

  Like their own rainfall. 

 

-what feelings does it evoke?
-what images does she use?
-how is what is happening on the prairies different from other parts of the country?
-who is responsible for this mess?  
 

Billiard Room
Prompt-If this is your first Stop, 10 min.
-this is a letter from the Austin family collection from a woman named Lily Hardy to Albert Austin
-read letter  -why would someone care about whether or not she licked the stamps? (contagion)
-how would this make Lily feel (are people afraid of her?)    -how do they think Albert would respond?
-tell them Albert's actual response (helped her, gave her coat, jam from garden, talked to her  doctor on her behalf, series of correspondence goes for 10 yrs until her death)
-are they surprised?  Is it different from what they guessed?  Why/how? (Bertie?)
-how would we show this as a still photo/painting?  Who would be in it?
-have them create the scene with students taking on characters (Lily, Albert, Doctor, Nurses, husband—whatever they come up with)
-how do the characters in the scene feel?  How do they show their feelings?
 
Billiard Room Regular Stop-25 minutes
-(If this isn't your first stop, read the letter from Lily Hardy)
Why is Lily Hardy writing to Albert to ask for stuff anyway?
No social safety net—very little government assistance and what there is, is purposefully set up in a way to humiliate those who were asking/applying.  Fear that people would become dependent on hand outs.
-"Direct relief was administered by the municipalities and was designed around the principle of less  eligibility, a rate of support intended to be meagre and humiliating in order to preserve the work  ethic…Relief policy…was targeted at male workers and gave preference to married men."                                                                                               Respectable Citizens, pg 5.
-Albert gets asked for help all the time; (wealthy, high profile, bank president) 
 
-Contemporize:  do you and your family get asked to "donate" to various charities? (buy chocolates,  sponsor people in marathons and walks?) do the asks come in the mail? By phone? By people you  know?  What difference does it make?  How do you decide who to give to? Can you afford to give to  everyone?  
 
-Divide group into four; one subgroup is Albert; the other three groups are people who need help
-give each group a pencil, paper and a clipboard to write on
-Albert group has $100 and will need to come up with criteria for how they will deal with "asks",  who gets the money? How do they decide?
-other three groups will be given "need"—what they are asking for?  -they have to come up with a letter that they think will win Albert over
-"Needy" groups each present their letter to Albert
-Albert group must decide which of the groups (if any) meet their criteria –will they divide the  money?  Give it all to one group?  Not give any?
-no right or wrong answers
-how would you feel if you were very wealthy during this time of high unemployment and hardship for so many people?
-in reality it was up to the whim of the wealthy to give or not as they chose.
-During WWI the federal govt. established the "Family Allowance". It was originally established for  the wives and families of soldiers who were badly injured or killed during the war. The Members of  Parliament decided after the war to continue to keep the administration of this "Allowance" with an arms-length panel or board.
This panel was free to decide who got the allowance and who didn't and how  much they got based on a set of arbitrary and morally based decisions. If the fund came under the purview of the government, Members would be held to account for how these decisions were made.
-it was considered perfectly ok to make decisions based on your moral code
-"bad" and lazy people deserve what they get
-how do the students feel about this?  Is it ok?
 END
 

Kitchen Hook

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Billiard Room Hook

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END.