“The Shoe Project”: The Superpower of Stories

The Cause

SkirtsAfire is Edmonton’s theatre and multidisciplinary arts festival featuring women. Our 10 day programming runs each March at various venues in the city. We present powerful and insightful stories to a diverse audience that is hungry to be moved by passionate performances and exhibitions. Programming reflects the true diversity of the thriving arts community in Alberta and Canada, and is adaptive in its approach in order to remain responsive to the needs of artists and audiences.

In partnership with Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre, who produced the project in '21 and '22, we are honoured to present “The Shoe Project” in our 2023 festival. A National initiative with satellite versions in different cities across Canada, this brilliant project brings together immigrant women who have powerful stories to share about their journey to living here in Edmonton, told through the lens of a pair of shoes. The project brings experienced Canadian women artists into partnership with newcomers, working with them on writing, performance and presentation, and voice and speech. These stories come alive for a wide audience who learn from and are impacted by these engaging, sometimes harrowing, and diverse stories.

Here is an excerpt from “The Shoe Project” 2022, that took place this past June, presented by Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre:

Please welcome our new Syrian family, the priest said at the end of the mass. We wondered if we were good enough to be sponsored by this community. Were we dressed well enough? Then he asked us to stand up so everyone could see us. I froze– I was ashamed of my rubber boots, which I had bought quickly before I left Aleppo, thinking they would be appropriate for Canada’s climate…

We had made our last visit to our home to collect our belongings on Friday, October 16, 2015. It was crazy–each of us trying to decide what to take and what to leave behind–a whole life packed into one 20 kg. bag. A life full of gatherings with family and friends, in a home governed by love and faith. We had to hurry because the driver was coming soon. Our trip would begin in the middle of the night because darkness is better for travel during a war. When the driver put our bags in the trunk, he asked why they were so heavy. Of course we couldn’t tell the truth: "We are leaving our homeland after surviving five years of a very dirty war.” Instead I said we were going for a vacation in Lebanon.

-LAYLA (Syria)

Who Will it Benefit?

This project benefits the immigrant and refugee community in Edmonton by giving them a voice and an opportunity to bring that voice to the forefront as they work to settle themselves in a new country. Established writers and theatre professionals share their skills, networks, and experience with the participants, giving them tools and expertise to be able to present confidently and professionally in public speaking and performance. These skills lend themselves so well into many other day to day experiences and challenges as they integrate into a new country and community. The theatre professionals also grow in their own work delving into these profound stories from strong, incredibly resilient women.

The Edmonton community benefits from meeting these women through an intimate sharing of their stories, growing in understanding and with the potential to welcome some into their own networks, workplaces or other community connections where their skills are valued and put to use.

Shoe Project 2022 Participant, Ama Dogbefou, shares the impact of taking part in this project:
“The Shoe Project helped me because my English [language] issue is a disadvantage for me. I didn’t know how to get through it so having someone help me with the writing was like therapy for me and has become an advantage for me. By writing my story, it helped me. By telling my story to people, it helps people know what’s going on in my life and I have freedom in my heart.”