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Photo by Moyan Brenn on flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Ottawa Storytellers: Oatcakes and Heartaches

By Brian Carroll on December 8, 2016

Three local storytellers with 58 years of storytelling experience between them will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the contribution of Scottish immigrants in shaping Ottawa and Canada. They will intertwine sketches of these immigrants with folk tales from the regions of Scotland from which they emigrated: tales the immigrants heard as children and then told their children in the long nights in a new land.

All three tellers have a reputation for connecting with audiences with humour, surprise, beauty, love, and stories that tug at the heart.

Brian Carroll interviewed Kathie Kompass and Mary Wiggin of Ottawa Storytellers about the show Oat Cakes and Heartaches, and their partner in the show, Marta Singh. This interview has been edited for length.

Apt613: I should get you to introduce yourselves.

Kompass: I’ve been storytelling for 28 years. I got into this with the Girl Guides, and moved out into the rest of the world with storytelling in schools. I came to Ottawa and became involved with Ottawa Storytellers. There was lots of opportunity there.

Wiggin: That’s a tough act to follow.

Kompass: Mary Wiggin, Order of Ottawa.

Wiggin: I’ve been storytelling for about 15 years. I attended the Ottawa Storytellers Beginners workshop, where Kathie Kompass was one of the instructors. Over the years, I’ve been telling at Fourth Stage, in the Tea Party, at some conferences, in adult literacy programs, in schools, and now doing a lot of work with seniors.

Kompass: Our third partner is Marta Singh, who came to Canada from Argentina and was in the same storytelling workshop with Mary. She’s sailed off, telling with Two Women Productions, festivals here and there and everywhere in Canada.

What’s the show about?

Wiggin: Oat Cakes and Heartaches. Canada’s about to celebrate our 150th anniversary of Confederation. The Scots have played a tremendous role in developing Canada. We thought we might recognize that. We’re combining thumbnail sketches of Scots who came to Canada…

Kompass: …and did interesting things.

Wiggin: They helped to shape the country, in ways large and small.

We have done our best to come up with stories that originated in a similar part of Scotland to where these folks came from. They’re stories they may well have heard when they were growing up in Scotland and brought with them. Stories that might have helped them on that godawful journey across the Atlantic.

Kompass: The stories are folk tales. The things that people would hear at home.

Often your stories have a “I didn’t see that coming” quality to them. When the audience “gets it”, you both have this mischievous twinkle in you eyes. How did that develop?

Wiggin: I am particularly drawn to humourous stories. It’s easy to know, fairly early on, whether the audience is with you or not.

I think a good surprise now and then is just good for the soul. And for us in terms of building up to that point, without giving away what might be coming. So the twinkle comes from “Oh good! I just did it again.”

Kompass: I like stories that have mischief in it. Mischief often goes with humour. I really like the taste and feel of words in my mouth. You’re describing something. You’re setting it up, so you can have that little pop of the mischief, of the magic, when something unexpected happens.

Wiggin: It’s so delicious!

Tell me more about Marta Singh and her as a storyteller.

Kompass: Spanish is her first language. I’m always so bowled over with people who speak more than one language. The nuances of words, they don’t translate straight. No matter how fluent you are, you’ve got these two things going on in your head. I think that’s part of Marta’s gift.

Wiggin: She has the nuance of English strongly enough that there’s a lyricism to her telling. She’t poetic in her style and her body language.

Kompass: She tangoes through a story.

Wiggin: Yes! If there’s beauty or love or any of those things that tug at the heart, you’re hanging on her every word.

How did you come to pick the people you picked for the thumbnail sketches?

Kompass: I picked women because I wanted to make sure they weren’t forgotten.

Wiggin: I did storytelling for 24 visiting Scottish lady curlers. The person who hired me wanted local Ottawa stories. Part of that was trying to give them a flavour of what Scots did when they got here in terms of shaping Ottawa. I had done research on people like John MacTaggart who was the fellow tasked with surveying and laying out the Rideau Canal for Colonel By.

Marta is telling only one story, so she only needed one bio. I found a poet who came to Canada from the area that her story comes from.

Oat Cakes and Heartaches is playing at Academic Hall at the University of Ottawa. December 15th at 7:30PM. For more information see the Ottawa Storytellers website. Tickets are $20 (adults), $15 (seniors) and $12 (students) at the website or at the door.

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