Drama production part of Summer Lights Festival

Monday, June 9, 2014

They walk these floors at night. Working in the afterlife. Like the buttons they crafted, we are fastened to our history.

black and white photo of inside an empty room with large windows The Department of Drama and Speech Communication has partnered with members of the Baden Storytellers to explore the Button Factory’s past and present in she haunts this place, an immersive multimedia performance. 


Where: Button Factory Arts25 Regina St South, Waterloo

When: Saturday, June 21st   

Time:  8pm, 10pm and midnight

Cost:  Admission is free

This year, Button Factory Arts celebrates its 20th anniversary serving the community as an arts centre. But the building it inhabits served the community in a variety of industrial functions, primarily as Roschman’s Button Factory for which it was built in 1886.  While the uses are dramatically different, the building still stands as a place for group work and collaborative creation.

It has been rumoured that some of the spirits of past workers still haunt the Button Factory. Renters, staff and tenants in the building claim to have heard women’s footsteps. It is very reasonable to believe the spirits are those of women, as the Button Factory was one of the few places where young women could find employment. A photograph taken in 1890, found in Waterloo: An Illustrated History, has been very inspirational in the creation process. It affirms that many of the staff members were women and quite young. The production imagines the reality of these girls and suggests that their spirits are still present in the building, and indeed the challenges they faced in the work place still haunt working women today.

The production weaves together a variety of different forms.  It is directed by Professor Andy Houston and features stories told by Brenda Byers, Mary McCullum Baldasaro and Michele Braniff, all members of the Baden Storytellers.  Students from the department include Zac Gungl, Emma Mann, Kara Nagel and Vanessa Wainwright.  Film and projections by Samuel Houston and music composed by Meghan Bunce.

Andy Houston describes the reasoning for this project:

This project is important to me as a site-specific artist/researcher because of the significance of this site to the labour history of the region.  Buttons were a very important commodity and technological advancement.  They fasten things and hold things together, just like these women in the workforce.  Developing the genre of a ghost story in unexpected ways, the performance poses questions about the undervalued worth of women in the workforce, both in 1866 and today; here the stress of working women haunts Waterloo then and now. 

For the students this is a directed study of devising a site-specific work at a near professional level, sponsored by the Ontario Arts Council.  The system of production that we teach at uWaterloo is a model that resembles that of Regional Theatre.  This site-specific devising model is another method where everyone on the team wears multiple hats; it is faster, dirtier and more collaborative.  These students are being exposed to a multiplicity of forms of creating and performing. 

Innovative art activity - Waterloo's version of Toronto's Nuit Blanche.

[S]he haunts this place, is part of a series of events called “Button-Up, Button-Down”, which reflect on the history of the Button Factory.  These events include an exterior installation and gallery exhibit from June 21st – July 25th.  All aspects of the project have been supported generously through the Ontario Arts Council, Multi and Integrated Arts grant.  These events are also a part of the Summer Lights Festival on June 21st in Uptown Waterloo and Downtown Kitchener.

For more information regarding the performance contact:

Andy Houston, Director

For more information regarding Button Factory Arts, the installation or gallery exhibit contact:

Heather Franklin, Executive Director of Button Factory Arts