Theatre has an extraordinary ability to bring communities together, to strengthen bonds, and teach compassion and empathy. Nicola Elson (M.F.A) and Julia Wasilewski’s (M.F.A) research will demonstrate this through their family-oriented theatre program, Hootenanny.

Hootenanny is an inclusive, free, outdoor, family theatre experience which seeks to create community through the shared experience of theatre. Every summer, Nicola, Julia, and a troop of hired students create original plays for audiences in Galt Gardens.

The location is no accident: every community has its contentious spaces, and Galt Gardens is often at the center of controversy in Lethbridge. Julia and Nicola see an opportunity for theatre to not only transform the reputation of Galt Gardens, but also to demonstrate the essential place of the arts in community development. “Our hope is that by creating and presenting a high quality, family-oriented play at Galt Gardens, we will offer evidence that live theatre for families should be a top priority in community building.”

Hootenanny is designed from the ground up to offer engaging and meaningful entertainment. While each production will change from year-to-year, they will explore themes of morality, conflict resolution, and equity with the goal of engaging the audience’s empathy. Productions are also designed to facilitate community-building through active audience participation and creating an environment where marginalized communities are welcomed and represented. Julia and Nicola plan to study the community’s reception of Hootenanny and demonstrate the positive impact theatre programs have on the community.

“We are passionate in our belief that live theatre, done well, can inspire an individual’s imagination and ability to empathize with others and to educate through an alternative learning style"

Julia and Nicola are both tenure track assistant professors in the Department of Drama in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Lethbridge.