Sunday, 24 March 2013

Under One Tent: The PARC Night Market

It’s late Monday morning and I’m sauntering across Queen Street West in the heart of Parkdale, attempting to shake off a post-St.Patty’s hangover. Coffee in hand, I make my way into the familiarity of the main floor of the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre – usually the beating heart of street life in these parts, but not today. Today there’s an eerie absence of hubbub, a vacancy where life normally presents itself in ordered chaos.

I climb the wooden staircase to the second floor to the tune of a thousand creaks as the worn wooden floor absorbs my weight and I make my way into the ‘Healing Room’, where behind closed doors I hear the hum of hungry sewing machines and the quiet tattering of voices. Through mounds of cloth, waves electricity permeate the door and glide through my body. I smile and turn the knob: this is it. Production week.

Alice - a production team favourite - and her puppet
Fast forward five days and although most of my week has been ‘business as usual’ I find myself anxiously anticipating its end. Stepping off the Landsdowne bus on Friday afternoon I am, unlike my past weary half-drunk self, excitedly rushing across the street and back to 1499 Queen West where I run into Michael Burtt, Director of Making Room Community Arts and the ringleader for the evening. Michael has had no problem taking me under his wing over the past seven months, integrating me into his program and consequently exposing me to a world far beyond the sidewalk life of Parkdale. Though everyone is in a caffeine fueled turbo charge, Michael seems to have met his own personal apex of pre-event frantic as he quickly delegates set up procedures and I, now completely high off of the shared craze, quickly go to work preparing the drop-in centre for a spectacle like no other: the PARC Night Market.

What comes to mind when you think of a night market? Abundance of tasty culinary delights? Eccentric figures selling you clothes and jewellery? The feel of a busy evening market is its own euphoric sensation: smells, sights and sounds blend into one and you are locked in a transcendent space where magic becomes life. Aiding in the transformation of PARC space into a night market didn’t taint this experience for me; only heightened my awareness of what it really was. 

The incredible musical photo boxes.
And so, by 7pm sharp, we had successfully transformed PARC space into something out of a whimsically drawn picture book or ancient tale of gypsy dance and carnival characters. We were complete with a memory canning station, live band, fortune booth, embroidery table, clay puppets, hand-crafted jewellery, painted canvasses, and – the project I had the most impact on – the creation of kaleidoscope picture boxes complete with a victrola-esque music pipe. The ceiling was decorated in rags and lanterns. In the middle sat our canoe – built in a previous PARC lifetime and a vessel for memories.

Over 200 community members and PARC staff participated in the Night Market, crowding the spaces in between exhibits and moving to the rhythm of the live music. At the end of the night and after striking (production language for 'cleaning up the giant mess we just made'), five staff remained in a bar across the street – some still in costume – staring into our beers with permanent smiles etched across tired faces. PARC – Sand in Water – had finally culminated, but in the most appropriate way possible. From across the table, Michael breaks the silence: ‘what do you think we’ll do next year?’

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