By: Alex Hudecki
Last Wednesday our class visited Eldon House in London. I am used to going to museums where you can look at artifacts behind glass but really it was like taking a step back in time to the Victorian days. Every little decoration on the shelves and even the shelves themselves had a fascinating story on where it came from. It was of particular significance to our group because, of course, because it was the home of Teresa Harris, the subject of Penn Kemp’s play. Not only that, it was interesting to see the actual set of Penn’s original play, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris. This play took the audience to various parts of the Eldon House to venture through Teresa’s life. In terms of work in the Community Engaged Learning project, the trip really helped me to help see the inspiration of Penn’s story about Teresa. This house, and the family of Teresa Harris really are a microcosm of classism (being a very wealthy Victorian family living in a mansion) and colonialism (the many trophies of African animals that line the walls and Teresa’s travels). The house had items collected from all over the world, such as the Japanese cabinet we saw there. I feel that by Penn taking a dramatic spin of the family she is really highlighting these facets of South-Western Ontario’s history; not only entertaining but enlightening the community.
In my view that is part of the value of local artists like Penn, because while we may read a story about classism or racism, seeing it as a part of our Local history helps us to remember that it is not just a problem for other places but for our local community as well. Having the author Don Mckay visit our class this week was another valuable experience. Not only was it truly an honour to have such a renowned artist visit our class, I learned about the importance of local literature, something both he and Penn enriched the city of London with. I think our work with Penn in the CEL course is not only about us helping her with the production of The Triumph of Teresa Harris but actually helps us to better understand the role of people in this space, our local space. Personally, the work of these two artists in seeing their work has definitely impacted me to see the local in a new way; to not overlook the details and accept things the way they are but to question and critique when necessary.
So, we continue on with our projects involved with The triumph of Teresa Harris but I can say I for one have a new found curiosity – I do not want to view Teresa’s life from the sidelines but rather be an active part in recreating her life.