Sacred, profane & magical – blood variations & intimate, powerful storytelling in BloodClaat

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d’bi.young anitafrika as Mudgu in BloodClaat – photos by Dee Kofri

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of BloodClaat: The Sankofa Trilogy Part 1, The Watah Theatre is remounting d’bi.young anitafrika’s award-winning Sankofa Trilogy, starting with a run of BloodClaat to open its 2016-17 Blk Bx Season [calendar link] at its home in Toronto’s Distillery District at 9 Trinity Street, Studio 317.

The Sankofa Trilogy takes us on the journey of three generations of remarkable Jamaican womxn,* starting with Mudgu Sankofa in BloodClaat, collectively directed, with the guidance and support of spiritual mentor Raven Dauda. A solo show inspired by anitafrika’s lived experience as an incest survivor, BloodClaat is part autobiography, part mythology as we follow 15-year-old Mudgu’s coming of age.

Mudgu lives with her grandmother while her mother prepares a new life for them in Canada. An active, precocious young woman who talks a mile a minute, she excels at net ball and adores her boyfriend Johnny. Navigating her grandmother’s strict house rules, her school and personal life, and a rough neighbourhood known for violence, she is also coming to terms with being a woman – and that means dealing with her monthly menstrual cycle and the power to create life (which her grandmother forbids her to do). Her world changes forever when she goes to live with her aunt and uncle for a while, and an act of violence in her grandmother’s neighbourhood ends in death.

Woven into Mudgu’s story are mythological tales and parables of strength and ritual; in particular, one of a warrior princess who gives a rallying cry to her people to rise up for freedom from their white plantation masters.

The theme of blood is the common thread: a womxn’s monthly blood, with the power of giving life and even healing; blood that’s shed in violence and in sacrifice; and the blood of goddess and ritual. And we see different perspectives and points of view on menstrual blood: shame, derision, celebration, creation and powerful magical properties.

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d’bi.young anitafrika in BloodClaat

Anitafrika is a profoundly compelling and engaging storyteller; and the staging in The Watah Theatre’s studio space makes for an extremely intimate, immersive experience. Throughout the story, the audience becomes Mudgu’s neighbours, her fellow bus passengers and the warrior princess’s people.

Told with humour, candor and emotional punch – incorporating voice, movement and posture, with very little in the way of costume changes – BloodClaat features sharply defined characters, exquisitely drawn by anitafrika. From the delightfully energetic and innocent Mudgu, to her sharp-tonged, strict grandmother and kind, gentle mother; her smooth talking boyfriend with swagger Johnny; her distracted, pious church lady aunt and deep-voiced, possessive uncle; the stuttering bus driver; and the fierce and inspiring warrior princess. We are rapt as we find ourselves alternating between being a fly on the wall and part of Mudgu’s story.

As is anitafrika’s custom, each performance is followed by a moment to catch your breath, and an opportunity to share comments and ask questions. When asked about BloodClaat and The Sankofa Trilogy, anitafrika described the generational through line and how she wanted to remount the work in a more intimate setting. As The Watah’s 2016-17 season experiments with a black box theatre experience, what happens when there is minimal production in a room filled with energy? Is it possible to move through a (r)evolution without resources? Confronted with limited funding and support, the stories still need to be told. Story moves us to change regardless. The houses have been small, but the impact has been huge; up close and personal, something magical happens in that space. And perhaps it is only in such an intimate space that storytelling medicine and healing – and profound, surprising growth – can happen.

An interesting divergence from the original production, noted by one audience member in her comment, was that there’s now a scene of Mudgu washing herself, her bed sheets and nightie. Bypassed for 10 years, anitafrika realized she’d been avoiding this reality of the story. Mudgu wakes up with menstrual leakage and needs to clean up. Of course she does! And in these moments, Mudgu must hold herself – and it’s become one of anitafrika’s favourite scenes.

Asked a more general question about what she says “No” to, anitafrika is mindful of corporate sponsorship. It’s important to know where your funding is coming from and who you’re potentially partnering with. Despite its seeming naiveté, anitafrika believes there must be a way to live your ethics and values – and that may mean revising your definition of success. It’s not about becoming rich and famous; it’s about living with purpose in service of your community. And while it’s not a new idea, “meaning leads to joy.”

With shouts to the creative team for their beautiful work on this production: Rachel Forbes (set and costumes), Andrenne Finnikin (ass’t set design) and Brett Haynes (lighting/producer).

Sacred, profane and magical. Blood variations and intimate, powerful storytelling in BloodClaat: The Sankofa Trilogy Part 1.

BloodClaat continues at The Watah Theatre’s space (9 Trinity Street, Studio 317) till Nov 20; it’s an intimate space and a truly compelling show, and you can get your tix in advance. Please note the 7:00 p.m. start time for evening performances.

The Sankofa Trilogy continues with Parts 2 and 3, with stories of Mudgu’s daughter Sekesu and granddaughter Benu in Benu (Feb 15-Mar 5, 2017) and Word! Sound! Powah! (April 5-28, 2017); this in addition to other productions scheduled for the 2016-17 season. All shows will be performed at The Watah Theatre’s home.

You can keep up with The Watah Theatre on Twitter and Facebook.

Please consider supporting this unique and important theatre company by donating to The Watah Theatre’s Go Fund Me campaign.

* This spelling of “woman” is the preference of the playwright.

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SummerWorks: Brave, raw & moving story of incest survival in The Devil You Know

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Rielle Ritchie & Sarah Irankhah

The L’Amoreaux Collegiate Institute production of The Devil You Know, written/directed by Wendy Krekeler is the Toronto Regional Showcase selection for a SummerWorks/Sears Ontario Drama Festival partnership. The show opened last night for a three-show run at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre in the Pia Bouman School for Ballet and Creative Movement.

Based on a true story, Krekeler and the real-life Rachel started writing the play a year ago as part of Rachel’s process of coming to terms with her abuse – the resulting script giving a voice to her broken silence during the writing of the play and her work on recovery.

The cast of The Devil You Know includes: Darla Biccum, Jonelle Gunderson, Sarah Irankhah, Wendy Krekeler, Karen Lee, Rielle Ritchie and Muhammad Tameem; several of the cast are high school students or recent grads. The play also includes original music by Ritchie – some lovely, haunting and fervent cello and guitar arrangements. And the set design, by Ritchie and Cindy Bang, features some beautifully painted unit cubes (used to create furniture), each with eerie black and white imagery: one an ink blot design that appears bird-like, but also like the face of a menacing man, another two have a bird with eyes on its wings, and the other two a raven and a skeleton hand.

Nice work from the entire cast, with a few stand-outs: Ritchie gives a strong performance as Rachel, who seeks help when her suicidal thoughts get too close to the bone; Ritchie finds a nice balance between Rachel’s vulnerability and strength as she struggles to deal with her abusive home life and subsequent recovery process. Irankhah is solid, warm and nurturing, yet gently challenging, as Rachel’s therapist – everything you’d want a therapist to be. And Gunderson shows a lovely range in her performance as three supporting characters, giving an extremely well-crafted and moving performance as Franka, an incest survivor sharing an account of her experience.

The back of The Devil You Know program has contact info for the Kids Help Phone. Like the incest survivor characters in the play, there are kids out there in the real world – like the real-life Rachel – who need someone to listen and someone to help. And a play like this one helps give those kids a voice – and is eye-opening for an audience. It’s not always an easy play to watch, but it’s a very worthwhile experience.

The Devil You Know is a brave, raw and moving account of one young woman’s struggle to survive incest – respectfully and truthfully told by a fine cast.

The Devil You Know has two more performances: tonight (Friday, August 8) at 7:30pm and Sunday, August 10 at 1:00pm.