Samson Bonkeabantu Brown. Set design by d’bi.young anitafrika. Costume design by Samson Bonkeabantu Brown. Lighting design by André du Toit. Photo by Brett Haynes.
A.V.O. Collective brings the world premiere of its engaging, powerful production of 11:11, presented as part of Why Not Theatre’sRISER Project 2019, to the Theatre Centre’s Incubator stage. Written/performed by trans-identified artist Samson Bonkeabantu Brown and dramaturged/directed by d’bi.young anitafrika, 11:11 is a bio-mythical monodrama journey, stretching across time, space, and the realms of life and afterlife, as our hero connects with his Portuguese and South African ancestors, and moves through fear to become the man he was meant to be.
In a one-person show that encompasses both broad and immediate personal history, Brown draws out his tale as he gradually constructs a pattern on the floor with white stones. Incorporating storytelling, history, movement, ritual, language and music, he shape shifts in and out of a cast of characters that include the precocious, curious seven-year-old girl he once was and the joyful, prophesying, matter-of-fact South African ancestor he’s about to meet.
Becoming a bridge between past and present, female and male, he connects with the spirit world through dreams and visions—and gradually the messages become clear as the little girl who experiences strange dreams and headaches, and is shunned in the schoolyard, grows up and comes to learn that there’s nothing medically wrong with her. She is a receiver, a prophecy made flesh, a shape shifter.
In a world where white men divided up a continent they claimed as their own, and forced their alphabet onto environment-based African dialects—and, later, Western medicine onto African descendants—how does our hero reconcile his connections to both the colonized and the colonizer? And, through the pain of the struggle for true identity, and the ancestral pain of apartheid and displacement, he comes to realize the complex—and even contradictory—aspects of identity and experience that have combined to create him.
Brown, who recently wrote for/performed in the RARE Theatre/Soulpepper production Welcome to my Underworld, is a compelling and entertaining storyteller. Engaging, bold, unashamed and vulnerable, he invites us along on his journey—part autobiography, part personal mythology, part history lesson, part supernatural revelation—as he connects with his roots and finds his true rhythm. From the child-like playfulness of a little girl to the wry-witted wisdom of an elder, the fear, confusion, joy and humour Brown expresses throughout resonate in a deeply profound, intimate way. And I know I wasn’t the only one in tears at the end.
11:11 continues in the Incubator at the Theatre Centre until June 1, with performances on:
Tuesday, May 28 – 6:00PM
Wednesday, May 29 – 9:00PM
Thursday, May 30 – 6:00PM
Friday, May 31 – 9:00PM
Saturday, June 1 – 6:00PM
Tickets available online, in person at the box office, or by calling 416-538-0988.
Clockwise from top centre: Christol Bryan, Marina Gomes, Yousef Kadoura, Tijiki Morris, Nathan Redburn & Anthony Perpuse. Set & costume design by Christine Urquhart. Lighting design by Rebecca Vandevelde. Photo by Sam Gaetz.
Eraser Theatre brings the world premiere of its immersive production ERASER, presented as part of Why Not Theatre’sRISER Project 2019, to The Theatre Centre’s Incubator stage. Created by the ensemble, along with director/choreographer team Bilal Baig and Sadie Epstein-Fine, ERASER invites the audience into the world of the six performers’ grade 6 memories and fantasies, weaving their individual experiences together as their young student selves navigate their tween lives and struggle to figure out who they want to be.
The endearing, brave, high-energy ensemble features Christol Bryan (Whitney, the Queen Bee), Marina Gomes (Tara, the Know-it-all), Yousef Kadoura (Jihad, the Follower), Tijiki Morris (Afroze, the New Kid), Anthony Perpuse (Eli, the Space Cadet) and Nathan Redburn (Noah, the Sad One). As you enter the theatre space, you’re given a lanyard that bears the name and image of one of the students; this student will be your guide throughout the experience, and you’re invited to join them in their space before the action begins.
I was put on team Eli (Perpuse), and we joined him in his room, hanging out and getting to know him before the start of the new school year. A gayby kid of Filipino heritage, nearly 12-year-old Eli has two moms—with one mom’s brother being the sperm donor for the other mom’s pregnancy. He’s a chill, affable, curious kid who loves to hang out in his room, stretching and playing video games, especially Pokémon; and he’s got a nostalgic side, favouring games he played as a kid (i.e., an even younger kid).
Audience members following a character* become that student’s group of friends, their confidantes, their posse—and we follow them through the sixth grade minefield of gym and math class, the cafeteria and playground, class presentations, a game of Truth or Dare, and a school dance. Each character reads as an archetype for someone you surely knew—or maybe even were—in grade 6 yourself; interesting dynamics emerge, and theories and rumours abound. How did Noah’s brother die? What’s the deal with the new kid? Who has a crush on whom? Who’s failing math?
The remarkable ensemble invites us in as they open their hearts, minds and sixth grade experiences to us. The six individual stories are woven together with scenes, movement and audience interaction—with engaging and moving results; and the appearance of their teacher, Miss Hall, is indicated with the footstep sounds of her heels. Bryan’s Whitney may be the alpha kid on the playground, but her confident, take-charge demeanour masks the profound sense of frustration and oppression she, the only Black kid in the class, feels over being singled out for discipline when the whole class was involved. Gomes’s A-student Tara relishes learning and academic success, and dreams of becoming an important political figure—while, underneath it all, she just wants to belong and have a nice, cute boyfriend. Kadoura’s Jihad, who wears a prosthetic leg, seems happy to follow his friends, yet he’s the one they call upon to approach the new kid; he has a big, open heart and a supportive network, but you get the sense that he’s struggling with his place in the world.
Morris’s Afroze, a white girl raised in Pakistan, is navigating both culture shock and being the new kid in a group of kids who’ve grown up with each other. Struggling to make friends as her classmates treat her like some strange, exotic creature, she holds the familiar comforts of home close as she works out a way to fit in to this new world. Perpuse’s laid back Eli reveals a pensive, sensitive soul struggling with math class—and wondering why his friend Noah is ignoring him after they got so close over the summer. Sometimes, Eli needs to give himself a time out from it all, craving a solitary moment so he can sort things out in his head, or let his pent-up frustration safely erupt. And Redburn’s Noah desperately wants his life to just get back to normal after his brother died this past summer; reaching out, then pulling away from his friend Eli as he grapples with grief, loss and attraction.
If you’re an adult audience member, you may find yourself becoming that kid you were in grade 6—or at least remembering what it was like. The emerging hormones and curiosity about sex, the gossip and note passing, the mortifying shyness at the school dance, the joyful fantasies of future success, and fears of failure or having your most secret desires made public. Some of it comes to matter deeply, some of it doesn’t. And while each audience member will experience the show in their own personal way, everyone will take away something from the experience.
ERASER continues in the Incubator at the Theatre Centre until May 14, with performances May 10, 11 and 13 at 7:00, and matinées on May 9, 11 and 14 at 2:00 (with a 30-minute talkback following matinées). Tickets available online, in person at the box office, or by calling 416-538-0988.
*There is seating for those with mobility issues; they will have a good vantage point—and, in some cases, the action will come to them.
Cassandra’s (Jenny Young) neuroscience has brought Megan (PJ Prudat) out of a coma, but she fears the combination of electric current and music applied to the brain may have done more harm than good. Still struggling to remember what happened to her, every emotion Megan feels presents as anger; attempts at talk therapy and other standard treatments aren’t working and Megan’s responses, fuelled by alcohol and her hatred of Cassandra, are becoming increasingly violent. When Megan fires Cassandra and demands a therapist who speaks Lenape, Cassandra reluctantly brings the experimental, unorthodox Indigenous neuropsychologist Alison (Cheri Maracle) onboard.
Unlike Cassandra’s method of electric and music impulses input into the passive brain, Alison’s method incorporates active, directed output from Megan’s brain, and translates those choices into music. Even more importantly, Alison has learned that conducting sessions in Lenape calms Megan’s tortured brain—and she’s convinced that a combination of their therapies will uncover Megan’s healing prayer.
While their approaches differ, Cassandra and Alison are both haunted by the loss of someone they loved very much: Cassandra’s partner Melanie (Cheri Maracle) and Alison’s sister Steph. Torn between maintaining a professional perspective and distance, and sharing their personal experiences of pain and grief, they both struggle with the question: who are they doing this work for? And who are they really treating—and what does this mean for Megan’s recovery?
Strong, compelling and heartbreaking performances all around in this powerful three-hander. Young delivers a taut performance as Cassandra; distant and clinical, even cold, on the surface, Cassandra is tightly wound—holding onto self-control with all her might and she navigates the aftershocks of losing Melanie while continuing her work, and lashes out with her sharp scientific mind. Moments of beautiful artistry and tenderness are revealed in a flashback, where the shy introvert Cassandra meets Melanie at a conference. Maracle brings a remarkable sense of strength and conflict to the brilliant, haunted Alison; struggling with her own ghosts, as well as confidence in herself and her theories in the face of so much doubt and derision, memories of her sister both break her heart and push her to find a way to help Megan. Alison’s determined to connect—and persists through each barrier and set-back. Prudat’s Megan is part wild child, part lost girl; as her memories surface, she mourns the familial discouragement away from her heritage, her own Uma (grandmother) steering her towards piano lessons to get her away from the ‘evil’ drum. Her irreverent, devil-may-care feral outbursts are both a cover for and a symptom of her profound pain and suffering—and she’s got the guts to do whatever it takes to get better and get her life back, however dangerous it may be.
Shouts to the evocative work from the design team: Michel Charbonneau (set), Tess Girard (videographer), André du Toit (lighting), Isidra Cruz (costume) and Andrew Penner (sound/composition) for creating a world that combines the clinical with the natural in a striking, innovative way. White set, with images—brain scans, shimmering water and art therapy drawings—and English translations of the Lenape text projected on pieces of scrim that hang like hospital curtains. The scrim also creates ghost-like barriers for flashbacks featuring lost loved ones. And there’s an opportunity to hear the Lenape language in a visceral way, with bone conduction headphones that transmit the sound into your cheekbones, providing a physical experience of the language and leaving your ears free to hear it. Headsets are limited, and distributed via a combination of game of chance and lottery draw before each performance.
Science, music, art and language combine in the search of a healing prayer in Spiderbones Performing Arts’ mind-blowing, heart-wrenching Everything I Couldn’t Tell You.
Everything I Couldn’t Tell You continues in the Theatre Centre Incubator space until May 12. Tickets available by calling The Theatre Centre’s Box Office at 416-538-0988 or online; advance booking strongly recommended, as it’s an intimate space and a short run.
Written and performed by Adam Paolozza, who co-directed with Daniele Bartolini, and produced in partnership with Bad New Days Performing Arts, Paolozzapedia is described as an “auto-fictional-biography” – a personal, one-man trip across time, space and cultures in the search for meaning.
Paolozzapedia uses a delightful combination of personal anecdote, traditional storytelling and documentary. The performance tool box includes monologue, dialogue, songs accompanied by acoustic guitar, projected images and text (including English subtitles) and commedia dell’arte performance as Paolozza flashes back and forth in time and location, highlighting the moments that resonate. A personal history tour, mined for what the past can say about the present.
Evocative staging and pacing capture the imagination and take us along on this trip, starting with an easy-going, slow groove as Paolozza makes Italian coffee onstage, sending pre-made pots of coffee around the audience. It’s like we’re all hanging out in his kitchen as he sets up the story. A story of how a disillusioned and depressed young man decides to take a journey into the past – to his father’s hometown in southern Italy. Despairing of the present and anxious about the future – ever aware of the fleeting nature of time – he seeks to find some grounding in the present and the ability to move forward into the future. As he travels by train from the airport to meet a family friend who will drive him the rest of the way to his father’s town, the projected image of the moving train window makes us feel like we’re on that train with him.
The storytelling is both moving and fun and; serious and silly. The heart wrenching scene of his father’s family leaving for Canada on a ship – his father a small boy at the time – held up by his father as they stand at the railing, waving goodbye to the loved ones they leave behind. Punchinello makes an appearance, cheeky, full of fun – scrapping with Death by poking fun at seriousness in general and Paolozza’s pensiveness in particular. Even with the recognition of impermanence, Paolozzapedia celebrates life in its acknowledgement of nostalgia, memories of events both big and small – and reminds us to appreciate and cherish the sweet moments as they come.
Paolozzapedia is an entertaining, poignant love letter to roots, family and father. Go sit with Adam, have a coffee.
Paolozzapedia continues its run at the Theatre Centre Incubator space until May 24.
Produced in partnership with Pandemic Theatre, written by Tara Grammy and Tom Arthur Davis, directed by Davis and starring Grammy, Mahmoud is a one-person whirlwind of storytelling – the highs, lows and in-betweens of three seemingly disparate characters that eventually cross paths.
Iranian electrical engineer turned Toronto taxi driver Mahmoud is a congenial host in his cab, keenly interested in people and always up for a conversation, especially when it comes to talking about his homeland. His love for home is palpable – he adores Persian culture and poetry, and misses the food. But it’s been 25 years since he’s been there, and the Iran he longs for no longer exists – and past events, the ones that brought him to Canada, continue to haunt him. Emanuelos is a fabulously flaming gay Spanish perfume salesman with a hot Iranian boyfriend, Behnam, who’s currently back home in Iran on a family matter. It’s a complicated relationship, as Behnam’s family is very traditional – and more conservative than Emanuelos wants to admit. And we see self-described Iranian-Canadian Tara go from an awkward, earnest tween aspiring actress to a driven young woman working to establish a career in the industry.
Identity, and cultural perceptions of women, sexuality and relationships play strongly in Mahmoud – each character is conflicted and layered in such a way that you can never tell the whole story from just looking on the surface. Assumptions and stereotypes are highlighted. Emanuelos’ feelings for Behnam, his own personal Prince of Persia, feed off the sexy and erotic draw of the exotic other. Tara wants to distinguish herself as an actor – and not as a doctor or some other white-collar profession that her parents would like her to be – but also just wants to blend in with her more western-looking peers. Her perceptions of outward beauty – blonde and hairless – are turned upside down when an agent wants to capitalize on her “exotic” natural look. And Mahmoud’s conservative views towards women and relationships may seem at odds with an educated man who has the heart of a poet, but his values ground him and help him to make sense of an otherwise senseless world.
Grammy is a delightful and engaging storyteller, shifting in and out of each character with style and clarity – and, above all, with truth and respect. No one is perfect – and that’s definitely the case with her three characters, which each have a delightful quirkiness of his or her own. And in each character’s individuality, she shows us the commonality – all want to be loved, work, belong and connect.
Mahmoud is a charmingly funny, moving and thought-provoking look at identity and culture.
Mahmoud continues its run at the Theatre Centre Incubator space until May 24. Check out the RISER Project and it’s exciting 2015 program. You can get advance tix online here.
“There are a great deal of opportunities within the Toronto theatre community for mentorship and the development of artists but The RISER Project is unique in that it creates a rare opportunity for companies and artists to be mentored through production …this model empowers artists to find their voice and not rely on curation or abstract training.” – Ravi Jain, Artistic Director at Why Not Theatre
In 2014, Why Not Theatre created an exciting new theatre production model, aimed at providing support to small companies, and provide greater access and opportunity for artists. In partnership with senior theatre companies, and the support of the Toronto Arts Council and Canadian Heritage, the RISER Project provides mentorship, space and technical tools – this year, culminating in the performances of four Canadian productions at the Theatre Centre in April and May. I had the opportunity to ask Why Not Theatre A.D. Ravi Jain about the RISER Project and the 2015 program:
LWMC: Hi, Ravi. Thanks for taking some time from what I’m sure is a very busy and exciting schedule to talk about the RISER Project. During the two years leading up to the creation of the RISER Project, Why Not Theatre had been exploring and searching for a model to support and mentor independent theatre productions. What can you tell us about the genesis of this particular (RISER Project) model?
RJ: The genesis of the model came out of my time as the Artistic Director in Residence at the Theatre Centre. It was a position that Franco Boni created at the theatre to allow me the experience of running an arts institution in Toronto. There we had many discussions about the Theatre Centre’s residency program, which offers 2-3 years of support for artists to develop a new show from the first moments of the idea all the way through to production. My feeling was that there were many opportunities for long-term development, but not many opportunities to put on work. As an artist, it is difficult to have people see your work, as opportunities are limited, so the question was: How can someone see my work, in order to get the reputation to be offered a long term residency? I am also a resident artist at Soulpepper, and one of the brilliant things that they do is run shows in rep. The rep system saves a great deal of money by using space very efficiently. So in our first year, we created a model where three companies shared a space for six weeks and ran their shows in rep… and then the Riser was born.
RJ: In our first year, we partnered with Theatre Smith Gilmour, who played an important role in the development of the model. We brought them on board for two key reasons: mentorship and investment. Being a senior company, they have over 40 years of experience in creating and devising work – their expertise was ideal for the shows we were presenting at the time. Also, because of funding structures, senior companies receive the most amounts of operating funds at all the council levels. A main focus of the model is encouraging these senior companies with the funds to invest the money to companies with no structure or funds, thus creating an interdependent community (moving away from independent). So, for this year, we wanted to try and expand the partnerships and encourage other companies to get on board. The added bonus for the artists involved, and our hope is, that these senior companies may pick up the shows in order to give them future life in an upcoming season.
LWMC: The 2015 RISER Project production series includes four theatre companies, including three world premieres: Quote Unquote Collective’s Mouthpiece, The Little Death Collective’s Little Death, Pandemic Theatre’s Mahmoud and Bad New Days Performing Arts’ Paolozzapedia – An auto-fictional-biography. How did these companies/productions come to be a part of the RISER Project?
RJ: These companies were selected because of their needs and their ability to be flexible within the model we are creating. We are in our second year, so there are still kinks we are trying to sort out – so these are people who are able to help us figure out how this all works and more importantly, roll with the punches. In the future, next year, we will be putting out an open call in order to open up this opportunity to more artists.
LWMC: What do you hope the participating partners and theatre companies will take away from the 2015 RISER Project?
RJ: I want people to understand that we can be even bolder as a community and work in a more collaborative way. Resources are scarce and there are A LOT of inefficiencies in spending, so we have to be diligent and more critical of ourselves as to how we are spending that money. This model really is designed in such a way that everyone wins, and the winning happens because of strategic, smart investments. It’s a model that is seen in many other sectors and one with a proven track record. It’s about building a supportive community.
LWMC: And what about the audience?
RJ: They will see great shows. They will see great shows at an accessible price.
LWMC: Where does the RISER Project go from here? Do you envision an annual production event, several throughout the year …?
RJ: We will be doing another next year, fingers crossed, with six or seven companies/artists’ projects… stay tuned for our open call.
All RISER Project performances will take place at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St W) and will feature two performances in succession every night. The 2015 program includes four Canadian plays, with three premieres:
Mouthpiece(April 17 – May 3)
Company: Quote Unquote Collective
Created and performed by: Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava
Music composed by: Amy Nostbakken
A world premiere, Mouthpiece takes us on a one-day journey of a woman trying to find her voice – using a combination of “a cappella harmony, dissonance, text and a range of physicality including dance and physical storytelling.”
Little Death (April 17 – May 3)
Company: The Little Death Collective
Written by: Daniel Karasik
Directed by: Zachary Florence
Performed by: Shauna Black, Sarah Dodd, Kate Hennig, Christopher Stanton, Nicole Underhay and Elizabeth Tanner
In another world premiere, a man who might be dying goes in search of sex and connection in hotel bars – this with the permission of his conflicted wife. Little Death “asks fundamental questions about marriage, fidelity, and the intimate needs of men and women.”
Mahmoud (May 14 – 24 with preview May 13)
Company: Pandemic Theatre
Co-written and performed by: Tara Grammy
Co-written and directed by: Tom Arthur Davis and Tara Grammy
The lives of an Iranian engineer turned taxi driver, a gay Spanish perfume salesman and an Iranian Canadian pre-teen converge in this one-woman show. “…Their experiences with racism, sexism, homophobia, political structures and everything in between become intertwined in unexpected ways, taking an exacting look at the ways diasporic populations deal with instability in their country of origin and the personhood they have in their new homes.”
Paolozzapedia – An auto-fictional-biography (May 14 – 24 with preview May 13)
Company: Bad New Days Performing Arts
Written and directed by: Adam Paolozza and Daniele Bartolini Featuring: Adam Paolozza
A world premiere of a one-man autobiography experiment finds Paolozza mining his Italian family history to present his journey with storytelling, imagery, music and memories. “How is it that one feels homesick for a place that was never one’s home?”