Jumblies grew out of the work of founding Artistic Director, Ruth Howard, with inspiration from varied forms of visually-based and socially-engaged performance, especially the British “Community Play”, a form that combines theatre on an epic scale with a philosophy of wholehearted social inclusion and an astonishing capacity for social change. This form sprung from the work in England of Ann Jellicoe, Jon Oram and the Colway Theatre Trust (now Claque Theatre), and was introduced to Canada by Dale Hamilton of Rockwood, Ontario, with the ground-breaking production of “The Spirit of Shivaree” in 1991. Ruth Howard had the good fortune to be the costume designer on this production, which united her interests in art, community-building and activism as never before. Ruth went on to design several community plays across Canada and in the U.K., and started to produce her own arts projects, drawing from and adapting this model.In 2000, Ruth initiated South Riverdale Lives and Legends, and produced Twisted Metal and Mermaid’s Tears, an outdoor multi-lingual production that engaged several hundred local participants. Following this, in 2001, she founded Jumblies Theatre. Since then, Jumblies has undertaken residencies at Lawrence Heights, performing an adapted Haitian folk tale (I’m Tapingi Too!) bringing together seniors, youth and Hispanic women; at Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre, with Arts for All, producing the highly-acclaimed Once A Shoreline in 2004; and in Central Etobicoke, with Bridge of One Hair, engaging Somali, Caribbean and other Toronto Community Housing and area residents, with a culminating production presented at Harbourfront Centre’s 2007 New World Stage Festival; with Camp Naivelt (historic summer community of Toronto’s Jewish Left), producing Oy Di Velt Vet Vern Yinger (remounted at Toronto’s 2009 Mayworks Festival); and in East Scarborough, in partnership with the City of Toronto’s Arts and Cultural Services, with the culminating production of Like An Old Tale, a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.As a result of Jumblies’ Legacy and Sustainability phases, our former residency projects – or Offshoots – Arts4All (Davenport West), MABELLEarts (Etobicoke) and the Community Arts Guild (Scarborough), have all grown into independent locally-based organizations with their own distinctive leaders, initiatives and projects. As well Jumblies inspired the formation of several other organizations: Making Room (Parkdale, Toronto), and, in Northern Ontario, Aanmitaagzi (Nipissing First Nation/North Bay) and Thinking Rock Community Arts (Algoma Region).
In 2014, Jumblies moved to a new home base in downtown Toronto, in the newly-developing neighbourhood called CityPlace. We called our new street-level venue The Ground Floor, and from here continued our community-engaged work, with a focus on Toronto’s displaced and buried Indigenous histories, and a shift from locally-based to theme-based approaches. We produced two Canada-wide tours – Train of Thought and Four Lands, and the 2017 Touching Ground Festival, and Talking Treaties, a multi-year multi-faceted project led by Jumblies Associate Artistic Director of Mohawk descent, Ange Loft. Talking Treaties has resulted in, numerous workshops, an outdoor theatrical spectacle, a film (By These Presents, ‘Purchasing’ Toronto), an installation at the first Toronto Biennial of Art, and a new film (Dish Dances), book (Treaty Guide for Torontonians) and accompanying website to be presented at the second Toronto Biennial of Art in Spring 2022.
Meanwhile, Jumblies also launched into a new multi-year project, led by Ruth Howard, on the theme of ‘social goodness’ – Grounds for Goodness, and enlisted Sharada Eswar as Assistant Artistic Director to bring to Jumblies another multi-year project on the theme of ‘border crossings’ – blue skies, red earth, tall pines.
Jumblies is cited as a pioneering and inspirational example of art that embraces and intertwines aesthetics and social engagement. Mentorship and professional development have always been integral to Jumblies’ work, and in 2006, Jumblies launched the Jumblies Studio, with developmental funding from the Metcalf Foundation, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Toronto Community Foundation and the Toronto Funding Network. The Jumblies Studio – renamed Artfare in 2019 – is now an established, integrated and award-winning strand of our company, delivering courses, workshops, seminars, internships, mentorship, consultancy, multi-media resources and collaborative projects, in Toronto, Ontario and across Canada.
Jumbiles and Ruth have received several awards for our work, including two Great Grants awards from the Ontario Trillium Foundation; a Dora Mavor Moore nomination for costume design of Bridge of One Hair; a Toronto Vital People Award, the Canadian Urban Institute’s City Soul Leadership Award; and TAPA’s George Luscombe Award for mentorship, and the 2018 Toronto Arts Foundation Celebration of Cultural Life award.
For more information on the history of Canadian Community Plays click here.