Things to do

Stratford tips from Amparo Villabos

Amparo Villabos arrived in Canada in 1988 as part of a refugee family in search of a better life. At the time, Chile was under the oppressive rule of Augusto Pinochet who repressed and reshaped Chile for nearly two decades and became a notorious symbol of human rights abuse and corruption. The journey to Canada did not go smoothly for the Villabos family. While in Buenos Aires, in transit between Chile and Canada, Amparo’s father was notified that the Canadian government had abruptly implemented a one year waiting period for new refugees. As a result, the Villabos family found a temporary home in a Buenos Aires church, joined by forty other families.

Once in Canada, Amparo spent her formative years in Sarnia. She was then drawn to Stratford’s arts scene and a gentleman who commissioned her to do a series of art pieces. Later that gentleman would become her husband.

Her love of art led to a position as a scenic artist at the Stratford Festival which opened doors to working on film productions such as the Suicide Squad, Pacific Rim and 12 Monkeys and with directors including David Cronenberg and Guillermo del Toro. Amparo currently works at the Stratford Festival, the Grand Theatre in London and on a number of television and film productions in Toronto.

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MURALS?

The creation of murals in Chile were initially Inspired by the revolutionary spirit of the late 1960 as artists headed out onto Santiago's streets to paint. They saw murals not only as a way of brightening up the city's drab walls, but of formenting radical social change. Art is a revoluntionary weapon able to quickly transcend words and alter the course of time.

Mural by Amparo Villabos at Edison's Cafe Bar & Inn

Mural by Amparo Villabos at Edison's Cafe Bar & Inn

What was your connection to STRATFORD?

I was introduced to Stratford by Nathan McKay while living in Sarnia. His enthusiasm for Stratford and especially for the music and arts scene was something that grabbed hold of me.He is a connector of social puzzle pieces. I got to know so many people - some I had nothing in common with and others I had everything in common with. I could feel the magic of the city and of the people who lived here. I have met such amazing people from Justin Bieber to Justin Heeley, a cutting edge designer. 

ANY EXTRA SPECIAL THINGS TO DO IN STRATFORD?

The Stratford Festival has a costumes and props warehouse where you can view racks and racks of costumes. Visitors can book a tour by contacting the festival.  At the end of the tour, visitors get to try on costumes. It’s not only for kids, seniors love the warehouse.

BIG CITY OR SMALL CITY?

We love Toronto and to visit our family there. In Stratford, we feel we have the best of both worlds. There is just so much opportunity here. In a smaller place, you are connected quickly and easily without any pretence. There is a magic here where everything just seems to come together. 

What is your advice to visitors to Stratford?

When I first moved to Stratford, I just wandered the city. There were so many streets that attracted my attention. One of my fondest memories was coming across an open studio. Gerrard Brender a Brandis combines the arts of paper-making, wood engraving, typesetting, printing, bookbinding, and spinning, dyeing and weaving flax into linen book covers. He produces his own limited-edition, hand-made books. On my visit, I was surprised to see what must have been a 200 year old vintage press machine.

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRAVEL NEXT?

Easter Island in Chile though the $1,000 ferry cost is a bit steep. It is a very isolated island almost halfway between Chile and Tahiti. The island is most famous for its enigmatic giant stone statues, built centuries ago, which reflect the history of the dramatic rise and fall of the most isolated Polynesian culture.

Amparo is currently working on a number of art pieces in celebration of the musical diversity of Stratford. The first piece, in the series, can be found in the Music Suite at Edison’s Cafe Bar & Inn.

Stratford tips from Lisa Stacey

Lisa Stacey absolutely loved her childhood growing up in Stratford.Though she was an athlete, a standout in volleyball, it was the arts that made her heart dance. Growing up in Stratford offered so many wonderful experiences in the arts especially within theatre. Some of her fondest memories were living room performances for her mother’s friends. After a degree in acting, Lisa jumped into modelling internationally on the advice of one of her friends. It offered much more freedom and adventure than working for her father’s insurance company and more than paid the bills. One of her first gigs was as a Miller Lite Beer girl. Her modelling career came to an end when she was drawn back to her love of yoga. Her light now shares as a yoga practitioner in Stratford and beyond.You can find Lisa at the YMCA or at Wellspring, an organization supporting cancer patients, or dancing with her two young sons.

HOW DID YOU LIKE MODELLING?

I absolutely loved the experience as it was so freeing and it was much better than working a 9-5 job. I was recently in London, England visiting with friends. It was as though time stood still.The one difficult part of modelling was how people treated women.They saw us as a commodities and not as living, breathing human beings. One time during an interview for a gig in Europe, the interviewer suggested that I had an adrogynous look and, in fact, could pass for David Bowie. A man? I was not prepared for that.

IF YOU HAD A FREE SATURDAY WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

I would wake up early as I wouldn’t want to miss a moment of the day. Our family would go for a stroll through the city - on the way to Hahn’s Restaurant for brunch. I grew up with Hahn’s daughter after they arrived in Stratford from Vietnam.Though Hahn doesn’t speak English well, it is her loving presence that means so much. In the afternoon, we would take in an event - it seems that there is an event every weekend in Stratford.The evening would be spent with my family and friends playing board games or dressing up in costumes from our tickle trunk. 

WHAT ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT?

This April, I will take my fifth trip to Canada’s North to share yoga and meditation with the youth. A friend of ours, Paul Finklestein, had been going to the North for many years to get the community excited about nutrition and cooking. He thought yoga would be a natural extension and asked if I would come. DId I really want to go to such a cold place and sleep on a gym floor? The trips have been magical. It is so rewarding to participate in a different culture - one of sharing - in our own country. To see the kids reaction when I return is priceless. It is so important to the kids who have experienced so many broken promises. In May, we will host a number of youth from the Nunavut area.These are kids who haven’t even seen a tree.

WHAT’S THE LOCAL SCUTTLEBUTT?

It’s funny how change is often feared.This year the city is revitalizing its downtown core by addressing its market square. Many fear the loss of parking spots.This seems shortsighted. I have experienced the vitality and strength of markets, such as Barcelona and London, as places to bring people together. As our world seems more and more disconnected, such places are essential, in my opinion. I’m looking forward to offering yoga classes in the square.

ANY ADVICE FOR A TOURIST COMING TO STRATFORD?

Walk around the downtown, explore, go to shops, try on clothes. Just be present to everything that is offered to you in this very special place.The Bluegrass brunch at the Local Community Food Centre is a fun way to start the last Sunday of every month.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE ROAD TRIP?

The quaint town of Bayfield, Ontario. The town is a mini version of Stratford. They have so many special stores and restaurants.The Black Dog is one of our favourites pubs.

WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE PERSON TO DRESS UP AS?

We often have friends over to explore our tinkle trunk of costumes.At first, some of our friends are reserved but by the end of the night they are likely wearing a wig and a fabulous dress. Dressing up somehow unleashes a person’s character and, at the same time, it grounds them by playing with each other. My favourite would have to be David Bowie.

Notes: Bayfield is a small lakeside village, 45 minutes by car from Stratford.The Black Dog Village Pub and Bistro is a true Canadian establishment filled with warmth and character.The pub offers a great selection of beers, wines and an impressive collection of single malt whisky, bourbon and Irish whiskeys. Here is a review from Hahn’s:“You would never guess by looking at the exterior of Hahn’s (attached to a gas station no less) that it's where your going to get some of the best pad Thai you've ever had period. Huge servings made fresh at about $10, awesome for takeout or sitting in. Get over the exterior and you'll be happy you did.” The Local Community Food Centre is a welcoming space where people come together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food. People learn cooking and gardening skills, and kids get their hands dirty in the garden and kitchen in ways that expand their tastebuds and help them to make healthier food choices.