ANTIGONISH: The phrase, never judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes is the essence of the Shoe Project.
The Shoe Project Antigonish marks the first time the project has been offered in a small, rural community. The project is a writing and performance workshop for immigrant women who tell the stories of their arrival to Canada, through a pair of shoes.
Initiated by novelist Katherine Govier, the Shoe Project began as a way to assist immigrant women in telling their stories. It started with Govier facilitating a 10-week writing workshops, followed by a drama specialist organizing and leading the women in a performance at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.
Throughout the fall of 2018, the courageous group of women were led through a series of advanced writing workshops by Anne Simpson, which was followed by voice coaching with Antigonish native, Laura Teasdale. The project culminated with two performances at the Bauer Theatre on February 8 and 9.
“This project is a powerful symbol of what community theatre is all about, and it’s also a wonderful chance to celebrate and embrace our rich diversity,” said Andrea Boyd, artistic director for Theatre Antigonish. “When Anne brought this project to our attention, I thought it was a brilliant idea for Antigonish, because it brings people together from different, diverse backgrounds and gives us a little insight as to what their stories actually are of arriving here.”
Boyd who is relatively new to Antigonish herself, said it’s fantastic and surprising they could even do this here, having different women from around the world, willing to tell their story.
The Antigonish group was composed of eight women, ranging in ages from 25 – 75, and hailed from India, South Korea, Germany, Spain, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the Netherlands.
Project participants told their stories about how they arrived in Canada – from different backgrounds and cultures from all over the world – each a unique journey, but all to make a life for themselves in a new country.
“It’s very empowering to stand on a stage and tell your story and be heard and respected,” Boyd said. “I think anything that gives us insight on other people’s lives and stories help us grow [to] become more compassionate and open.”
Their immigration is a central theme, and each chose a pair of shoes as a jumping off point in their writing, but that is where the similarities end. The wooden clogs, Birkenstocks, and an old pair of Chuck Taylors represent more than just a pair of shoes, they represent someone’s journey.
After immigrating to Montreal in 1971, Renée Romero Brown tried to use her experience and land a job in the education field as a teacher but quickly realized that was nearly impossible.
“Anywhere I went, the first question they asked was ‘do you have any Canadian experience?’” Romero Brown advised. “I must have looked extremely puzzled, because I had just arrived to Canada.”
The business world was much more accommodating for her. Romero Brown became a private secretary for a sales executive, who became her career-long mentor. He almost immediately assigned her with marketing and sales tasks, and after more training, she was promoted and transferred to Toronto.
“My first foray on my own was a product manager and the plan was for me to make presentations to introduce a new line of products to broker companies in four major cities in Canada,” she said. “I remember being nervous… actually terrified.”
Foremost in her mind she needed to look the upmost professional – she needed a new wardrobe, suits and blazers, accessories and a new pair of shoes. Each presentation became easier, she became more comfortable with herself and she never looked back.
Relying on what she called her ‘killer shoes,’ a classic black pump made of the finest leather, Romero Brown was able to continuously advance in her profession – she was promoted to account manager, selling to major corporations in four continents across the globe.
The success she experienced in the progression of her career, she credits to her loving husband David who has always been encouraging.
“He provided me with mathematical calculations and technical data to enhance my sales pitches and opened my eyes to the technical aspects to the products I was selling.”
Romero Brown spent 25-years working for a company she loved and decided to go out on her own terms, at the top of her career. She retired with her husband of 45 years to the Sylvan Lake side community of Lochaber.
The Shoe Project allows the women to write their shoe memoirs while being mentored by Canadian writers and voice coaches, giving participants a voice which helps them be heard in their communities and in the Canadian mainstream.
Other participants included: Willie Duykers, Jyotsna Jain, Soo Kyeong Lee, Karen Bissonette, Almudena Garcia-Garcia, Yen Ngoc Nguyen, and Anu Joshi. Dancer and choreographer Liliona Quarmyne told her story of immigration from Ghana through interpretive dance.
Locally sponsored by Arts Health Antigonish, in partnership with Theatre Antigonish and Antigonish County Adult Learning Association, the Shoe Project Antigonish is funded through the national Shoe Project and Nova Scotia’s Culture Innovation Fund.