Dramatically Different
An Interview with Amanda West Lewis - theHumm July 2020

Dramatically Different
An Interview with Amanda West Lewis - theHumm July 2020

Amanda West Lewis is an actor, author, and founder of The Ottawa Children’s Theatre (OCT). We contacted her to find out how the OCT is rising to the challenge of providing creative instruction to kids during this time of social distancing.

theHumm: You live in Brooke Valley but have been active in the Ottawa youth theatre scene for many years now. Are you finally getting to work from home? If so, what have you enjoyed about it, and what are you missing?

Amanda West Lewis: I’ve been lucky to have had Brooke Valley as my base for the last thirty years. But I’ve also lived in Ottawa off and on, which has allowed me to be part of the vibrant arts community in that city. For the past six years running The Ottawa Children’s Theatre, I’ve worked from home during the week then gone to Ottawa to work in the studios with the kids on the weekends. It’s really been the best of all possible worlds.

Now, with isolation, my schedule is basically the same, except that everything happens from my Brooke studio. I’m not travelling anywhere. I love that I’ve lowered my environmental footprint and that I have a bit more time to get into my garden.

But I do miss being in the same physical space with people — I miss the spontaneity and energy that is generated by the live space. Before COVID, we had twenty-seven classes happening every weekend. The studios buzzed with energy! I loved seeing what all of the different groups were doing. There is nothing more inspiring than watching kids create and share their stories! But now that the courses are taking place on virtually platforms, I don’t get a chance to pop in and watch what others are doing. I’m excited by the classes I am teaching, but there is that sad moment when I hit the “end meeting for all” button, and everyone disappears.

I also miss talking to parents. We were very much an extended family, all dedicated to giving the children and youth the best experience we could. I miss those personal interactions.

You and your instructors have been busy pivoting from live classes to “LIVE Online” classes. What can people expect from this new format?

I’m working with the same core team of dedicated instructors that I’ve worked with for many years. We’ve developed a really strong curriculum that is both fun and teaches specific skills. None of that has changed. Converting to online has meant we’ve made the class sizes smaller so that we can focus on each child as an individual. We’re making sure to take time to listen to each child’s needs.

We’re running Musical Theatre, Drama, Acting, Improvisation and Writing camps this summer. We’ve designed the camps to be really interactive. There is a lot of physical and vocal activity. There is a lot of ensemble and shared work. Even the breaks keep kids occupied — we’ve designed off-screen breaks where campers do theatre crafts. No one is just sitting and watching.

How has the technology been treating you? Have there been unexpected benefits, or major challenges you and your team have had to overcome?

The great advantage of teaching drama from home has been how personal it is. I have weekly Zoom meetings with my instructors, and it’s made us really close. We are sharing all of the joys and frustrations of our lives in isolation, as well as brainstorming how to teach drama online. It’s pushed us to be really creative problem-solvers. Also, the virtual medium is more intimate — we’re talking to each other from our homes, with our art on the walls, our books on our bookshelves, and our pets, children, and partners in the background.

Some of this immediacy carries over to our relationships with students. You need to be attentive at all times when you are teaching online. There isn’t a moment of downtime. So the classes take on a different kind of bonding.

But the really exciting and unexpected benefit is that not only can our students come from all over the world — we have students from Europe and across North America — but our instructors aren’t tied to a location. I have some fabulous actors, writers and composers from New York City teaching for us this summer! They are inspiring all of us with their talent, passion and commitment.

The technological challenge in Lanark County, however, is bandwidth. I get my internet via a satellite and as those of us who live in the country know, it isn’t exactly a consistent signal. I cross my fingers every day that there won’t be a storm while I’m teaching. I’ve also had to make a decision to buy a new computer. I’ve been working on a ten-year old laptop which was fine for admin but not the best for online teaching!

Why is it important to try and keep young people engaged in artistic activities and pursuits even when we can’t physically get together?

Oh, my goodness, where do I start? Drama is all about communication. We work with language and gesture. We work with our voices, bodies and minds to tell our stories. Is there anything more important for young people than the ability to communicate their ideas, fears, hopes and dreams? Especially now, when their voices are diminished because of isolation, young people need the opportunity to be seen by someone who isn’t a parent or teacher. Someone who can hear them and give them tools to express themselves. Someone who can help them to keep their heart and mind open.

Do you think that both children and adults will continue to perform (and watch others perform) while we are not allowed to gather in person?

I think that stories are more important than ever. I think we will always need to watch and listen to other people’s stories. Through story, we come to understand who we are. Story gives us a way to put the puzzle pieces of life into some kind of coherent whole. And I think that people will always need to share their stories, as they have done since the beginning of human times. We became a story telling species the moment we created language, the moment that we understood the concept of time, of birth and of death. I don’t think that isolation will stop that. In fact, I think the need has been exponentially increased.

What are you personally most concerned about at this time?

I’m concerned about the children who have fallen through the cracks. There are countless children who have no access to computers, let alone the kinds of opportunities I am talking about. When we were on-site, I was able to give scholarships and bursaries to kids in need. But now? Who is looking after those children? Who is enriching their lives? There are so many children whose isolation is a nightmare. They are falling behind socially and academically. It is taking a terrible toll on their formative years.

There is a huge disparity between people in terms of how they are able to navigate the pandemic. This inequality in society will, I think, become even more apparent as we transition to the next phase, whatever that phase is.

What are you optimistic about in terms of what happens to the arts during and after the pandemic?

As I’ve said, I think the arts are necessary to give people the skills to understand and appreciate the world around them. I’m incredibly moved by what artists are doing online right now — the kinds of things that are being shared are powerful testaments to the resilience and empathy of human beings.

We are going to have huge challenges coming out of the pandemic. We won’t be going back to the way things used to be. COVID and the deep inequalities of our society require us to make major changes. Re-imagining our lives is not going to be easy. But I think that the arts will give us a voice to build that new world.


Take a Quick Survey for The Hub! - theHumm July 2020

Almonte Community Coordinators (also known as The Hub) is conducting a survey of local needs and experiences related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey is short (ten questions). Results will be shared with the public (once anything that could identify individuals has been removed) and will be used by community groups to help them know how to help.

Anyone over the age of 13 living in or around Mississippi Mills is welcome to complete this survey. We would like to hear from as many residents as possible so we know how you’re doing and where to focus our efforts to support the communit......


Barbora Balaban — Firmly Grounded, with Dirty Hands - theHumm July 2020

By Sally Hansen

Art… and Soul

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Balaban loves to have dirty hands. On her website she writes: “In my mind dirty hands means challenge, relaxation, creativity, ins......


Virtual Celtfest: July 4 & 5 - theHumm July 2020

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The lineu......


Have a PerfectPICNIC in Smiths Falls
Support Local Restaurants, Enjoy the Outdoors!
- theHumm July 2020

Picture this: it’s a warm summer evening, the sun is filtering through shady trees, and the gentle sound of nearby water provides the perfect backdrop to a delicious picnic prepared for you by top-notch local restaurants. And when you open your picnic box you find free gifts! If this sounds appealing to you, then Smiths Falls is the place to be this summer.

The Town of Smiths Falls, in partnership with participating restaurants, is pleased to announce the lau......


Bloomfest Garden Art
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- theHumm July 2020

By Suzanne Patry

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The display gardens and daylily field are a great venue to showcase garden art! Beginning on July 21 the work of twelve artists will be installed, and it will remain in place until August 3. The gardens are extensive and the......


Beautiful Music Together: an interview with Jenny Whiteley and Joey Wright - theHumm July 2020

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theHumm: Do you h......


AGH Invites You to an Evening Gala at Home! - theHumm July 2020

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As we look at 2020, three of our four signature events have had to be postponed until 2021. This challenge presents us with an exciting opportunity to develop some fresh ideas and create some new fundraising events that will continue to support patient and resident care at the hospital and manor.



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Directional signage: A portion of the boardwalk will be one-way.

Face masks: Given the narrow boardwalk, a physical distancing space of six feet cannot always be maintained and therefore it......


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Waterway Photo Tour
MVFN Celebrates National Canoe Day
- theHumm July 2020

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After July 4, everyone is invited to visit ...more

Loving Local Food
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- theHumm July 2020

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Art Keeps On Keeping On in the Valley! - theHumm July 2020

By Miss Cellaneous

Weaving is Unlimited!

Cheryl Straby of Strévé Design Studio Boutique and Gallery is pleased to announce a summer exhibition of handweaving by Weavers Unlimited, opening June 29.

Founded on a shared passion for handweaving, Weavers Unlimited is a collective of dedicated artisans who strive to explore the intricacies of handweaving and develop new approaches to creating woven fabric. The group has gathered since 2003 to share their interest in mastering traditiona......


Ramsay Creek: New Kids on the Block - theHumm July 2020

By David Hinks

As someone who lives in Almonte and drives to Carleton Place frequently, I was fascinated to see a new, rather large greenhouse develop from the ground up last fall along Ramsay Concession 7A. As someone who prefers not to travel 110 km/hr on the highway, Concession 7A is a wonderful rural road with lots of opportunities to check out the latest bird arrivals (please don’t tell anyone about it!).

Not surprisingly, the business that was unfolding there is not part of a global multi-nat......


Summer of Quarantine Family Fun List
50 family-friendly activities in the Ottawa Valley
- theHumm July 2020

By Sarah Kerr

Dear folks with kids: Welcome to the “summerofquarantine” Family Fun List! At first glance, the summer seems pretty daunting with little ones when everywhere you turn your go-to fairs and festivals have been cancelled. No summer vacations outside the province, no Ferris wheels, no concerts in the park. It is going to take a bit of time to rework your family summer traditions, but I hope to help you realize that there is still so much fun to be had.

So take this list and sit down with your family ......


Dandelion (Or, A Wave of Brilliant Resistance) - theHumm July 2020

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I believe wholeheartedly that plants have much wisdom and medicine to offer us if we spend a bit of time with them observing a......


Nature Fosters Creativity
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- theHumm July 2020

By John Pigeau

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Dylan Thomas, for instance, wrote poems and stories in a small wooden boathouse in Laugharne, Wales. The place was tiny but serene, and overlooked the River Taf. Virginia Woolf wrote in a shed hidden away in the garden at Monk’s House in Sussex, England. Sparsely f......


Libraries are Lifting Spirits - theHumm July 2020

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The challenges of working in a public library in these times! It has been perplexing, stressful, amazing and heartwarming, all mixed in together. Speaking with colleagues in other smaller libraries, we have been overwhelmed with telephone calls, social media messages, emails and even frantic waves on the street. People asking when we are re-opening, if curbside is available, saying how wonderful it has been to watch a virtual story time, participate in a Zoom program, or how fantastic that library staff can pick books for them. While we have had to step up our game and figure out how to c......


For the Love of Pets - theHumm July 2020

By Glenda Jones

When I was twelve my father and I conspired to get a puppy, a spaniel we could name Mickie, like the one my grandparents had when my Dad was courting my Mom. My Mom was adamantly opposed, saying it would become HER dog, and she didn’t want one. She knew full well that regardless of our whining and total commitment, she would become the owner of the dog. She opined that spaniels smelled of “wet dog” all the time, that she’d be the one walking it, cleaning up the messes, feeding it… and having a......


Making Music at the Perth Manor - theHumm July 2020

Gordon and Linda Craig — owners of the Perth Manor Boutique Hotel — are bringing a very special musical opportunity to the Town of Perth this summer. We spoke to them about how they are finding ways to safely incorporate music instruction into their summer plans.

theHumm: First of all, how have you and the Manor been faring since COVID hit? Have there been any noticeable changes since this part of Ontario moved to Stage Two?

Linda and Gordon: March had started off quite stron......


Dramatically Different
An Interview with Amanda West Lewis
- theHumm July 2020

Amanda West Lewis is an actor, author, and founder of The Ottawa Children’s Theatre (OCT). We contacted her to find out how the OCT is rising to the challenge of providing creative instruction to kids during this time of social distancing.

theHumm: You live in Brooke Valley but have been active in the Ottawa youth theatre scene for many years now. Are you finally getting to work from home? If so, what have you enjoyed about it, and what are you missing?

Amanda West Lewis: I’v......


Perth Studio Theatreis Waiting in the Wings - theHumm July 2020

By Jane Stott

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To Mask or Not…
Why is it Even a Question?
- theHumm July 2020

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I have been a diligent adherent to the rules these past many weeks (now m......


Radiothon Supports Local Land Trust - theHumm July 2020

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The Mississippi M......


The Hero and Hippopotamus - theHumm July 2020

By Sebastian Weetabix

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CFUW Perth Education Awards
- theHumm July 2020

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- theHumm July 2020

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