Another truly beautiful theatre experience yesterday afternoon, when my pal Kerri MacDonald and I went to see the closing matinée of Shelley Hamilton’s one-woman show A New Hope, the story of the first African Canadian communities in Canada.
The first thing that struck us about this production was the venue – the relatively new ING Direct Café at the corner of Shuter and Yonge (where the Pier 1 used to be). An incredibly innovative café/workspace, there is a space for workshops/meetings and, in this case, a play upstairs (which also includes a lounge area for folks to park themselves and their laptops, and have a cuppa. For the scoop on the Café – check out the ING site: http://www.ingdirect.ca/en/aboutus/whoweare/whatwereupto/PR_2011-04-27.html
A New Hope was written by Shelley Hamilton, in collaboration with Stan Christie, and includes music – some of the songs written by Hamilton (who also directed), with live accompaniment on African drums by Tony Ansou John. The hour-long performance takes us from a classroom in Preston, Nova Scotia to the arrival of the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia and the later migration of part of the community to a British colony in Sierra Leone, with Hamilton shifting from teacher to various characters in the past. The story of this group of people is one of hope, hardship and broken promises. A promised land that never was.
Hamilton’s performance is powerful, inspiring and heartbreaking, not to mention technically brilliant, moving with apparent ease from humourous to intense scenes – and, after a particularly brutal one, immediately into song. Right after the performance, Hamilton led the audience in an African chant. Bringing back the light.
Throughout the month of February, Black history month, A New Hope has been performed in Toronto, Nova Scotia and in schools. Artist Cecilia Booth designed the minimalist set and costumes – including a beautiful backdrop quilt of a sailing ship – evoking time and place, and perfectly transportable. This production of the play is in support of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Arts Fund: http://www.stephenlewisfoundation.org/arts-fund
If you ever get a chance to see this play – go. A New Hope is an eye-opener to a part of Canadian history of which many may not be aware – told with respect and love.
For more info on Shelley Hamilton and A New Hope, please visit her website: http://www.shelleyhamilton.ca/