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Photo: Karen Bailey

Theatre Review: Raising Stanley / Life With Tulia at the GCTC—until 08.05.18

By Apartment613 on July 28, 2018



Post by Alejandra Vargas García. Alejandra is a proud Mexican, now living in Ottawa. Her passions are women’s rights and the arts. Connect with her @Ale_V_G.

From a young age, Kim Kilpatrick decided that she wanted to travel independently through the world. Being blind, and remembering her fondness for a childhood dog, she decided to embark on a lifelong journey of trust and companionship with guide dogs.

As the solo storyteller in this production, Kim shares some of her real life stories of joy, friendship, struggle and loss with the four guide dogs she has had throughout her life: Gwenny, Margaret, Gia and Tulia. Tulia, Kim’s current guide dog, accompanied her on stage. Snoring at times, Tulia displayed a level of discipline that, as a dog owner, marvelled me throughout the play. If you have often wondered what daily life must be like for blind people and their guide dogs, Kim offers a humorous and humbling depiction through short stories of each dog.

Kim hugs Tulia. Photo: Joan Anderson

“Dog day, dog day” she utters in her peaceful yet commanding tone at the start of each new story. With laughs and honesty, Kim tells the audience how her human trainer simulated being a dog so Kim could learn the right commands. “Forward”, she’d say petting the head of her trainer and praising him, “good dog”. She recalls anxiously waiting for her first dog Gwenny, a black lab.

Through the stories we learn about Kim and her daily life, but also about the colourful traits of each dog. Kim quickly breaks the myth that guide dogs are saints. Gwenny hated the vet, so she would mislead Kim to the bus stop to catch a ride back home, instead of guiding her to the vet as planned. Margaret, her second dog, would get distracted by squirrels leaving Kim to do “95% of the work in that relationship”, which prompted an early retirement. Gia, her third dog, was calm and a bit of a thief, stealing a bag of Smarties for Kim on occasion. Tulia uses her puppy eyes and large body to shame customers into clearing out of the table at Kim’s regular coffee place. Kim encourages it.

Kim offers a humorous and humbling depiction through short stories of each dog.

In between Kim’s storytelling, director Bronwyn Steinberg portrays paintings of dogs by artist Karen Bailey on a screen. One particular dog, Stanley, is a recurring muse. Bronwyn and Karen meticulously describe the images through voice over. This approach integrates accessibility and equity into the creation process. The voice over and images facilitate the transition from story to story, and showcase the collaboration between these three women: director, artist and storyteller. More importantly, this accessibility technique reminds us of the relevance of making all human experiences, including art, inclusive.

Kim, Tulia, Karen and Stanley. Photo: Karen Bailey

This play is a joy to watch. It is important to watch. It is a story of trust and partnership between humans and animals. It is a nuanced story by a blind woman about her experiences clear from cliches and filled with funny anecdotes and depictions of loss and challenges, often in daily acts I take for granted (like Kim waiting for an hour in minus forty degree weather because her dog couldn’t get her up four steps to her doorstep). Kim Kilpatrick confirms that there is great power in the story of one.

Performances will run until August 5, 2018. Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission. Voice over and audio description throughout the play. ASL interpretation at performances on Sunday, July 29 at 2:30pm and Friday, August 3 at 7:30pm. Tickets online range from $15 (plus HST) for students, seniors, and children to $25 for adults.