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Growing backyard lecture provides informal space for showing and telling

Second season of the Fuller Terrace Show and Tell Me Lecture Series shows there is still room to grow

by Mary BurnetGeorgia Schurman

Co-organizer Ella Tetrault helps set up for the night's lecture.
Co-organizer Ella Tetrault helps set up for the night's lecture.
The audience gathers in the Fuller Terrace backyard.
The audience gathers in the Fuller Terrace backyard.

It’s Tuesday evening, and a steady stream of people head toward a small backyard in Halifax’s North End. The reason for the growing gathering is the Fuller Terrace Show and Tell Me Lecture Series, a free biweekly summer event that will finish for the season on Tuesday.

Ella Tetrault and Bethany Riordan-Butterworth started the lecture series last summer in their backyard. For the two previous years, the same backyard was the home of a lecture series called Fundamental Freedoms, which Tetrault and Riordan-Butterworth describe as a theoretical art talk, where the organizers invited professors to give academic lectures.

Tetrault, a student in a Master of Fine Arts in Public Practice, which refers to socially engaged art, and Riordan-Butterworth, a member of the Turnstile Pottery Co-op on Agricola, wanted to keep a lecture series going, but make it more informal. They hoped to attract their peers and other people in their community to come listen, rather than a “more theoretical audience.”

“There are a lot of people you would wave to and say hi to on the street, but it’s important to talk about things that are very hard, that are part of your life,” says Riordan-Butterworth. “To talk about where you come from and the trajectory of how you got there.”

With the series, they wanted to create a more personal space “for people to build a deeper understanding of each other,” says Tetrault.

The chairs fill up quickly and by the time the lectures begin it is standing room only. String lights line the yard and bags of popcorn start to circulate. The backyard has a very intimate feel, which Riordan-Butterworth likes to encourage.

Every lecture night, four people are each given fifteen minutes to present on a given topic – ranging from faith to love to Michael Jackson.  Anyone can apply to speak, and presenters can interpret the topic any way they choose.

The Green Lecture on June 22 could have been all about environmentalism, but the speakers took it in several diverse directions including a chronological history of green things in the world, an exploration of the emotions of anger and awe that drive a Halifax environmentalist to continue his work at the Ecology Action Centre, and a lecture on envy, money and the environment in the life of inventor Nikola Tesla.

Emily Davidson’s talk “Green means single and ready to mingle” was a critical reflection on her frosh week at NSCAD and the phenomenon of “stoplight parties,” which she was encouraged to attend during the week. At stoplight parties, people wear shirts of colours that denote their relationship status. Red means you are currently in a relationship or not interested in one, yellow means you are maybe open to a relationship, and green means single…and ready to mingle.

“Basically a stop light party asks you to wear your consent as a costume,” Davidson says. “This is incredibly messed up because it implies that you don't have to even talk to the person to find out if you can have sex with them. If you go to a stop light party wearing green you've already said yes.”

At the end of her fifteen minutes, Davidson called on the audience to talk more openly with each other about sex and consent. As a community, she said, we don’t do that very well.

“I could have this conversation with most of the people here individually, but it would be longer and involve more emotional energy,” she says. “I appreciate the opportunity to address friends and acquaintances with something important to me, at a time that I know people are listening.”

While having an audience made up largely of friends and peers is valuable in allowing for these kinds of intimate, important conversations, some speakers say they would also like to see a more diverse crowd come out to the events. 

Mark Butler, who works at the Ecology Action Centre and presented during The Green Lecture, says his friends living on Fuller Terrace were only vaguely aware of the event.

“A lot of people seem to know each other here, but it would be really interesting too if you could bring together neighbours who don’t usually talk and who have different lives and ages and professions.”

Caleb Latreille, a DJ and childcare worker who lives in the North End, has been invited to speak at the last lecture of the summer on Michael Jackson, but says he has not attended the series so far because he doesn’t see it as an event that is inclusive of all the people who live in the surrounding neighbourhood.

“What I would be more interested in seeing is having, at least in this case, upper-class educated white folks recognize the need for limits and barriers on our ability to organize wherever we want.”

He says he finds the selection of Michael Jackson as a topic problematic.

“The whole idea that post-academics are putting on a lecture and saying Michael Jackson can be a point of conversation for us – there’s a particular class, race, heteronormative gaze that’s going on there. The whole idea that Michael Jackson exists for us to talk about, criticize, demonize, idolize, and have him always be this ‘other’ is extremely problematic.”

Latreille says that if he presents, he will question the selection of Michael Jackson as a topic to be discussed among an audience that is mostly young, white, and university educated.

Tetrault says that she and Riordan-Butterworth have been trying to make the series welcoming to a broader demographic. Last summer, the two organizers invited their next door neighbours to speak and one neighbour spoke during the pet stories lecture.

“We’ve been talking about expanding the accessibility of the lectures to all of the North End. It’s an intentional effort. Last year it was a more condensed section of the North End – we knew everyone in the audience. Now I look out and I don’t know all the faces. We don’t know everyone who’s submitted to present.”

In order to open up the event to more people, Tetrault says she and Riordan-Butterworth would like to be able to get funding that would allow them to do more outreach.

“We’ll try to have a presence at places we can’t be right now to advertise the lectures,” Tetrault says. “We both work and don’t have a lot of time. It would be nice to have more time to do more outreach. But the lectures are also evolving naturally.”

The final lecture of the summer is Michael Jackson on August 17. The lectures begin at 9pm in the backyard of 2664 Fuller Terrace and are free. Arrive early to get a seat.

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Topics: Arts
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