Ancestors calling on a hero’s journey through fear to true self in the engaging, powerful 11:11

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’s RISER 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.

1111 by Samson Bonkeabantu Brown (featuring Samson Bonkeabantu Brown) photo by Brett Haynes #2
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.

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.

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Beautifully profound unfolding of connection & self-discovery in Circle Mirror Transformation

Circle Mirror Transformation. Email PosterSpent a lovely afternoon at the Storefront Theatre yesterday afternoon – this time, for Play Practice Collective’s Toronto premiere of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation, directed by Heather E Braaten.

Set in a windowless community centre space in small New England town Shirley, Vermont, three adults (James – Mark Whelan, Theresa – Pip Dwyer and Schultz – David Frisch) and one teen (Lauren – Laura Jabalee) set out together with instructor Marty (Jill Harland) on a six-week long drama class for adults. And throughout their time together, working through acting exercises and guided improv, they learn more than they bargained for.

For those who have experienced theatre school or acting class, it will come as no surprise that the exercises and techniques resemble a bizarre combination of psychotherapy and boot camp – often without rhyme or reason. Serious acting classes are not for the faint of heart. As the play unfolds, everyone in the class – including Marty – experiences an evolution of how they see themselves and the other participants as personal connections and relationship dynamics wax and wane. The transformation is gradual, with some intense and difficult – and comic – moments.

Braaten’s cast really brings it for this show. Instructor Marty (Harland) and student husband James (Whelan) are an affable, comfortable 50-something couple with an adorable meet cute story whose still waters run deep – and choppier than at first glance. Harland does a nice job with Marty’s supportive, earth mother acting teacher, whose calm presence is rocked to the core with past and present revelations. Whelan’s James is a real charmer, a good sport pal of a husband to Marty and a lovable guy with widespread appeal – maybe too much. As town newcomer Theresa, Dwyer (also one of the co-producers) gives a lovely performance that is both forthcoming and fragile; Theresa is an actress recently escaped from the insanely fast pace and chilly atmosphere of New York City, and one gets the sense that she doesn’t really need to take the class, but is looking for friendship and community. Frisch gives a nicely layered performance as the recently divorced Shultz, a sweet guy, perceptive and a bit naïve, and – like Theresa – feeling vulnerable and longing for connection. And Jabalee (another co-producer) is bang on as 16-year-old Lauren, awkward, ambitious and wise beyond her years, navigating her way through a class full of adults, some of whom are as old as her distracted, troubled parents. She’s the one who questions the validity of the exercises, wondering aloud if they’re going to get to do some “real acting.”

Everyone has a secret: from their past, or a present desire or fear. And all are profoundly affected and changed by the end of the class. And in a strange – almost magical – way, the room is a character in this story – a crucible in which the alchemy of transformation occurs, while remaining essentially unchanged itself. We see it in stillness and semi-darkness during the longer scene breaks that denote the passage of time from week to week – the atmosphere and barometer of the room only shifting due to the human presence and dynamics that play out within it.

With shouts to Laird MacDonald’s design work – the spot on community centre layout and lighting – and Blair Purdy’s sound editing on the moving and evocative pre-show and scene change music.

Circle Mirror Transformation is a beautifully understated, gradual unfolding of deep connection, intimacy and self-discovery, performed with truth and heart by an excellent cast. Get this into your theatre-going calendar.

Circle Mirror Transformation runs at the Storefront Theatre until October 18; you can purchase tickets in advance online. You can also follow the Play Practice Collective on Twitter and support it via its crowdfunding campaign (open till Oct 15).

Time lapse video of Lisa Anita Wegner Transformation @ STARDUST: Life on Jupiter? opening night

Hey all – A quick second post to follow up the slide show of Lisa Anita Wegner’s opening night of her STARDUST: Life on Jupiter? Transformation event at The Black Cat Gallery: Wegner’s time lapse video of the evening’s metamorphosis, including GoPro cam footage of stylist Wanda MacRae’s perspective.

 

Transformation, inspiration & glam rock in Lisa Anita Wegner’s STARDUST: Life on Jupiter? opening night

july29_lawegnerI dropped by The Black Cat Gallery (2186 Dundas Street West) last night for the Transformation at Lisa Anita Wegner’s opening of STARDUST: Life on Jupiter?, on until August 6 (no worries about what it says on the poster – I confirmed the date with Wegner).

Described as a Transformation/ Projection/Live Art Making/Live Collaboration project, here’s what the Haus of Dada Laboratory had to say about this exhibit:

A one-of-a-kind event, Stardust: Life On Jupiter? incorporates the focus on re-birth, redemption, transformation, and search for truth through the adoption of personae that has been a key part of Lisa Anita Wegner’s art practice in her journey to reclaim her life from the personal darkness into which she was plunged six years ago.

Friends, family and Ziggy fans alike hung out together in an intimate, casual atmosphere, sharing a drink and chatting as Wegner’s transformation happened in the middle of the room as Ziggy videos played on the wall behind her. The hair colour came two days earlier, the eyebrow waxing that afternoon (along with a mani-pedi). Stylist Wanda MacRae (who freelances as a makeup artist and colourist, and just got a new gig at Parlour Salon at their Queen Street East location) used a straight razor to shape Wegner’s hair into a Ziggy mullet, then hair spraying to get the volume up front on top. After a break, Wegner returned to the chair, her white lab coat now covering her costume, so Wanda could do the makeup. Hair and makeup were followed by ceremonial milk consumption and a cosmetic dusting with white face powder – a nod to Ziggy’s diet of milk and cocaine.

Then, the reveal. It’s quite remarkable how much like Ziggy she is. Confetti and noise makers announced the emergence from the transformative process.

Here are some images from the STARDUST: Life on Jupiter? opening night event, transformation process:

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Wegner will be at The Black Cat Gallery every day (from 2 – 6 p.m.) for the duration of the exhibit, as she continues to explore the project live and in real-time. The process will culminate in a closing night event (Aug 6 at 7 p.m.), featuring a special, one night only “Stardusted” version of Wegner’s Queen of the Parade installation (a collaborative work with fashion designer Vanessa Lee Wishart, which appeared during Toronto’s Nuit Blanche 2013 and ArtRageous in Motion).

In the meantime, you can also find Wegner on Facebook, Twitter and on her YouTube channel.

And check out the first interview I did with her.