Fenway Memory Project Works to Document an Oral History of Neighborhood

October 27, 2017
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By Beth Treffeisen

The Fenway neighborhood, like most of Boston, is filled with history. But beyond the historic games that have taken place at Fenway Park, there is a lot that has happened in this transient neighborhood that many call home.

In an effort to document the stories that might otherwise be forgotten, Tim Ney, a Fenway resident, is working on creating an oral history of the neighborhood called the Fenway Memory Project.

“The oral part of history isn’t written about and it can so easily be lost,” said Ney. “You can forget, and then the memories are lost forever.”

Ney is inviting residents of the Back Bay Fenway to come share memories at a storytelling session on Saturday, Oct. 28, at 10 a.m. in the Morville House at 100 Norway St.

Following the morning storytelling session, there will be a theater workshop led by actor-director Mark Krawczyk, a theater professor at Boston Conservatory at Berklee. This practical workshop for actors and non-actors will teach performer techniques to aid participants in finding ways to tell stories.

The storytelling workshop is part of the [ bitsandflow ] series, an art, media, tech series located in the Fenway that also features concerts, panels, readings and film screenings. The series encourages community members to participate and interact with artists. The format is intended to foster dialogue involving all generations and backgrounds.

The [ bitsandflow ] series is supported in part by the Mission Hill Fenway Neighborhood Trust, FENSFund, and the Boston Cultural Council.

The goal of the Fenway Memory Project is to document oral history, but also to create a sense of place.

“One goal is to show the changing of the Fenway,” said Ney. “The neighborhood has seen a dramatic increase of commerce, housing, and population. Some of the Fenway has always been transient with the student population or doctors in residency; they have a few years and move on after.”

He continued, “There’s a disconnect of the Fenway and the sense of place.”

Ney pointed to a little drugstore on the corner, and the little Italian restaurant that no longer are there. He said they are now artifacts of history because they don’t exist anymore. In addition there are a lot of hidden gems that many transient residents might never know about.

Through the project Ney hopes to gather stories from residents everyday life to people who remember going to their first Red Sox game.

Some of the project will be verbal storytelling through residents or through actors retelling stories through video. It later can become something more such as a theater production or an art installation. Ney said they are still very open to how the finished project will look like.

“The origin will be oral history but we might go beyond video to stage or [performance art],” said Ney. “That way we can integrate and weave the tales together to give an historical sense of the Fenway.”

Previous projects with [ bitsandflow ] include “Transonic III” that featured an evening of live interactive electronic music and video from Berklee College at the Hatch Fenway Landmark Center.

Ney said this gave an opportunity for students to perform outside the college campus and interact with the surrounding community.

“There are a number of people I know in their 80s who really enjoyed it,” said Ney. “After the show, they get to talk with the younger artists and give feedback.”

Another project included “Big Work: Documentary Theatre” that was developed from three months of 40 interviews by two local college students that asked people about their jobs. The artists, along with their acting colleagues read scenes from their play, and shared how their work examines the modern day relationship to jobs.

The series [ bitsandflow ] began when Ney noticed that there where a lot of tech events happening in other neighborhoods in Boston,  such as the waterfront downtown or in Kendall Square in Cambridge. Many of those people either live in the Fenway or have visited the neighborhood going to a ball game or spending some time on Lansdowne Street.

“There are a lot of intuitional silos that cater to people within those organizations and they all tend to work with each other,” said Ney. “I also noticed that there are events based on different age groups such as millenials or for seniors. So I thought, why not try to get events here that bring all of these people together?”

The latest project is the Fenway Memory Project that launches at the Morville House this weekend. Ney hopes to begin the project by collecting stories from seniors who live in the community.

To register or for more information, visit bitsandflow.com.

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