We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work? This is Denise Clarke’s answer.
When answering the question of why I chose to take on the work of The Shoe Project, I need only tell you that it was one conversation with Katherine Govier that sealed the deal in my mind. The Shoe Project was born when Katherine and her sisters were searching for a way to honour their mother, a remarkable role model and educator of Canadian Lit.
My own mother was a war bride from London, England. She settled here in Calgary after the Second World War, and her stories of adapting to a new place, a new culture and a new way of living while raising four children had a big hold on my consciousness growing up. Although she made a wonderful life, it wasn’t always easy and she suffered loneliness and a sense of always trying to fit in.
When Katherine spoke about The Shoe Project’s mission to reach new woman settlers, many coming from very difficult circumstances and facing similar cultural shifts but with the added challenge of language barriers, I could see how much more difficult it would have been for my mom had she not spoken English as a first language. She was often misunderstood just because of her strong accent, so I was sensitive to how new English speakers must feel as they navigate a new community while studying the language. It’s bad enough for me trying to order a coffee in France and I have a smattering of French! I have tremendous respect for the courage it demands to re-settle in a new country, often with a new language or even just a strong accent. To be of service to women who come to Canada to begin new lives was something very meaningful to me and I was really delighted to join Katherine’s team.
That was nearly five years ago and to watch the program grow and to meet the fabulous gals that I have met in that time has added immeasurably to my own growth and my own understanding of the world. I believe in the Shoe Project because I believe in the power of these women bringing their stories to the page and the stage. I have seen them shine and glow sitting across from me in conversation or speaking in front of several hundred people. I celebrate the ten years of the Shoe Project with all of them and all of you reading, with the remarkable Shoe Project staff and coordinators and with the Govier sisters who got it all rolling!
Denise Clarke is an Associate Artist with One Yellow Rabbit and is the Director of the OYR Summer Lab Intensive. She has created or co-created several shows for OYR including The Erotic Irony of Old Glory, Touch, Breeder, So Low, Featherland, Sign Language, A Fabulous Disaster, Smash, Cut, Freeze and wag. In 2013, Denise was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary and made a Member of the Order of Canada.