Reclamation & salvation—stories of Black women’s lives told with candor, sass & humour in powerful, theatrical for colored girls

Karen Glave, d’bi.young anitafrika, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Akosua Amo-Adem, Evangelia Kambites, Tamara Brown & SATE in for colored girls—photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

 

Soulpepper opened its production of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have committed suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, directed by Djanet Sears with assistance from Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, to a packed house and a triple curtain call standing ovation at the Young Centre last night.

From the innocent, playful childhood world of hopscotch and double dutch in the playground, to sexual awakening and the discovery of sensual power in young adulthood, to the harsh realities and challenges of life as a Black woman, for colored girls is poetry and politics in motion. Incorporating spoken word, a cappella vocals, dance and storytelling, the excellent ensemble creates scenes, moments and soundscapes. The result is startling, theatrical, hilarious and heartbreaking.

Kudos to the ensemble: Akosua Amo-Adem, d’bi.young anitafrika, Tamara Brown, Karen Glave, Evangelia Kambites, SATE and Ordena Stephens-Thompson. With choreography by Jasmyn Fyffe and Vivine Scarlett, and music composition and arrangement by Suba Sankaran, the cast deftly weaves the stories of these women with honesty, courage and emotional impact—commanding the stage as they engage, entertain and wake us.

Brown’s opening dance is magical and elemental. Glave takes us back to the excitement and anticipation of graduation day with a tale of young love in the back seat. SATE takes charge and takes us out dancing; a woman enjoying the music and the power of her own body in motion. Stephens-Thompson regales us with a poetic, sensual account of woman (Kambites) who attracts with the mystery and allure of an Egyptian goddess. Amo-Adem takes us to church with a proclamation of what belongs to her, coupled with an order to get back what’s been stolen. And anitafrika breaks our hearts as a mother struggling to protect her children.

Highlighting the lived experiences of public and private selves—the public strength and confidence that protect the private vulnerability and fear—from hope and joy to loss and despair, for colored girls is a celebration of Black women finding their voices.

Reclamation and salvation—stories of Black women’s lives told with candor, sass and humour in the powerful, theatrical for colored girls.

for colored girls continues in the Baillie Theatre at the Young Centre; get your advance tix online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666.

In the meantime, check out the for colored girls teaser:

 

Shattering the silence with candor, rage & humour in the powerful, political, personal SILENCED

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HERstory Counts introduced itself with a production of brave, poignant monologues written and performed by a diverse group of womyn* back in April at Red Sandcastle Theatre, promising that it was just the beginning. Now, HERstory Counts is back with its official inaugural production of SILENCED, opening last night to a packed house at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

Created in a collaborative village of diverse womyn, SILENCED is directed by HERstory Counts Founder, Co-Artistic producer and Co-Artistic Director Jennifer Neales, with dramaturgy by Evangelia Kambites and coaching/mentorship by Ordena Stephens-Thompson.

In SILENCED, seven womyn share deeply personal, formative moments in their lives. Each short autobiographical story shifts seamlessly into the next as the staging weaves the individual stories with participation from the entire cast, acting as family, friends, lovers—and even on occasion a chorus of internal and external voices of support and derision.

Growing up Irish Catholic, Shannon Murphy as she finds herself attracted to women, starting with a primary school teacher. Muzzled by playground teasing and her father’s repulsion of all things LGBTQ, she struggles with her emotions and desires. Playful, honest and tender, Murphy shares how she broke out of the shame and silence, choosing to be true to herself and come out as a lesbian.

A Nigerian immigrant to Canada growing up black and in poverty, Ruby Ajilore lives in a loving home with her devout, watchful mother and hard-working, jovial father. Quickly learning that she is judged by the colour of her skin, as well as class and even her hair cut, she gradually turns her search for identity inward. Fierce, funny and thoughtful, Ruby reminds us all that it’s what’s inside that truly counts.

Part Ojibwe, part South Asian, Yolanda Bonnell and her family experienced verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend. As the years pass, she finds she must choose between her family and her own peace of mind. This lived experience has far-reaching impact—even long after being out of that environment, she is haunted by ongoing nightmares of the abuse. Told with frankness and an adorably contagious sense of humour (the juice!), this is the story of a survivor with a strong will and a gentle soul.

No matter how hard or long she studied and prepared for tests at school, Laura Meadows was failing miserably. Stigmatized by labels of “retarded” and “slow,” she finally learns what’s amiss when her mother connects with a teacher who knows better. Laura has dyslexia, and a magic pair of glasses gives her the power of reading. Her elation is deflated when she learns that it’s a genetic condition. Meadows gives a determined, plucky performance; glimpsing a possible future in which she will share the magic of her special coloured glasses with her child.

Excited to explore sexuality in a respectful, consensual way as a young adult, Risha Nanda finds the experience impossibly painful. Diagnosed with vaginismus, she hearkens back to her teenage years, when her good girl reputation came under fire after a washroom encounter with a boy from another school turned her into a target for slut shaming. Told with frankness and a deep awareness of high school social dynamics, Nanda reveals her journey of self-discovery and acceptance; good girls can have good sex too.

When Eilleen Posadas finds her family life resembling that of a beloved Filipino telenovela, the real-life impact of an abusive father with shady basement dealings and the questionable actions of a neighbourhood playmate is far from entertaining. What is her father doing down there? And what was that boy doing on top of her while they were hiding during a game of hide and seek? Cheeky, engaging and poignant, Posadas’s story is one of eye-opening revelations and a strong will to carry on through disillusionment and adversity.

As a middle-aged, educated white woman, Denise Norman recognizes her privilege. As a child, community racism forced her apart from her black kindergarten BFF; realizing the reason as she witnessed with horror the events that unfolded following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Acknowledging the injustice that remains today, she is a fighter, advocate and ally calling out issues that must still be addressed. Personal and political, she shares her story with a tender fierceness that brings tears of laughter and pathos.

Each is a brave piece of storytelling, combining a sense of rage and fragility. And each womyn endures and struggles to find her voice—and each shouts out her experience loud and proud.

Shattering the silence with first-person storytelling candor, rage and humour in the powerful, political, personal SILENCED.

With shouts to the production’s behind-the-scenes support from SM Caitlin Cooke and Assistant SM Maya Findlay for keeping it all running smoothly, and Social Media Coordinator Shayna Virginillo for shouting it out.

SILENCED has four more performances at Red Sandcastle: Dec 9 and 10 at 7:30pm, and Dec 11 at 2:30pm and 7:30pm; advance tickets available online. It’s an intimate venue and a popular production, so advance booking is strongly recommended. Please note the early start time for evening performances.

Keep an eye out for future productions. This is the beginning of some powerful womyn-fueled storytelling. You can follow HERstory Counts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Check out the Cast page for complete cast bios and a SILENCED trailer video.

*This is the company’s preferred spelling.

SummerWorks: Debating feminism & privilege in provocative, sharply funny Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife

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Traitorous whore spy? Feminist? Sexually liberated opportunist?

The gloriously notorious Mata Hari gets look through 21st century eyes in Call Me Scotty Production’s premiere of Andrea Scott’s Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife, directed by Andrew Lamb and opening last night in the Theatre Centre Mainspace as part of this year’s SummerWorks program.

Shifting back and forth between Mata Hari’s final hours in prison in 1917 and a university course on ‘Women Screwed Over by History’ in 2016, we see the famous erotic performer and accused spy from several points of view, both past and present.

On her last day in prison, Mata Hari’s (Kimwun Perehinec) is introduced to cellmate Hélène (Lisa Karen Cox), a young French-Senegalese woman in for prostitution who has been moved from another cell block. Instructed by Sister Leonide (Paula Wing) to keep Mata Hari occupied, Hélène knows that this section of the prison is for doomed prisoners. During Mata Hari’s final hours before execution, of which she is unaware, a young prison guard (Jeff Lillico) attempts to satisfy his curiosity about his celebrity prisoner as he takes her for a stroll in the prison grounds. After a failed attempt at converting Mata Hari, a professed Hindu, to Catholicism, Sister Leonide has a genuine heart-to-heart chat. In 2016, as university professor Christopher Locke (David Christo) prepares a lecture about Mata Hari, he gets into a heated debate with a black female student (Cox as Karen Sinclair) over the meaning of feminism and how it relates to Mata Hari.

The sharp, darkly funny and thought-provoking script is well-matched by an excellent cast. Perehinec does a lovely job with the resourceful and unapologetic Mata Hari (the stage name chose by Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod); mining the vulnerability, celebrity entitlement, cultural appropriation and buried memories of a woman who change her name and her life, she reveals the abused wife, loving mother and sexually liberated woman behind the stage name. Famous and infamous for her erotic performances, we see a woman who loves sex and longs to be loved; and who will do what she needs to do in order to survive. Cox is an excellent foil and debater, to Mata Hari (as Hélène) and to Locke (as Karen); fearlessly challenging and questioning preconceived notions with intelligence and edgy humour, tempered with a good-natured personality and a strong desire to have a real dialogue about the issues. Christo brings an easy-going, cool vibe to the forward-thinking, self-professed feminist Locke; he’s genuinely interested in women’s and minority rights, but struggles with a modern marriage arrangement that may be working against his interests, as well as present-day, budget and diversity-conscious hiring practices.

Wing is a delight as the feisty and commanding Sister Leonide; wily and worldlier than she appears, she has a kind heart beneath that take-charge exterior, as evidenced in a lovely two-hander scene with Perehinec. Lillico (a late addition to the cast when Christo suffered a cycling accident that impaired his mobility) does an excellent job with the young guard’s conflicting feelings about Mata Hari; both curious about and furious with her, an apparent crush takes a turn as he reveals his own heartache and loss.

No one is as they seem; and each character challenges our biases and preconceived notions of their social roles and life experiences. This is a play that will make you think about, as well as question, what you believe about gender, race, white privilege, inclusion, economics and power.

With shouts to set/costume designer Melanie McNeill for the opulent and exotic touches to an otherwise drab and Spartan prison setting.

Debating feminism, equality and privilege in the provocative, smart, sharply funny Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife.

Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife continues at the Theatre Centre Mainspace until Aug 14. Go see #thematahariplay

In the meantime, check out some interviews with playwright Scott by yours truly and this week’s cover story by NOW Magazine’s Glenn Sumi.

 

 

Fire & water in magical, sensuous & moving She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt

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d’bi.young anitafrika (Nicki) & Amina Alfred (the DJ) in She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt – photos by Dee Kofri

d’bi.young anitafrika’s epic exploration of the Black diaspora, activism, divinity and sexuality in The Orisha Trilogy – starting with Esu Crossing the Middle Passage – continues with The Watah Theatre’s production of She Mami Wata and The Pussy WitchHunt: The Orisha Trilogy Part 2. Directed by Blakka Ellis, assisted by Wendy Olunike Adeliyi, with choreography by Ravyn Wngz and Lady Kori, and music direction/composition and live music/vocals by Amina Alfred, She Mami Wata is currently running in the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Backspace.

Moving forward from the past in Esu and into the present, She Mami Wata takes us to modern-day Jamaica, from a small-town church congregation to a womxn’s* dancehall in Kingston. From recent past to present day, we see the parallel journeys of four friends, from childhood games and sexual exploration through their evolution into adulthood, where they come to live their truth or repress it.

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d’bi.young anitafrika as Pastor M in She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt

We see the opposing spiritual forces at work in this small town: Pastor M, who preaches the old-time religion long entrenched by colonialism; and Mother Tersa – who some would call “witch,” “healer,” “shaman” – who teaches the old ways of ancient African spiritual tradition. While Pastor M rails from his pulpit and in the aisles on the Old Testament creation story, Mother T gathers the children around her to tell them the story of Mami Wata (Mother Water), the name given to the womxn water spirits, who live in the water and embody its diverse and complex qualities: the cradle and giver of life, and bringer of storms, floods and tidal waves. Energetic and magnetic, Pastor M’s words spit fire and brimstone, and his special sermon is targeted against the LGBTQ community, as he preaches “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, or Sharon and Eve.”

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d’bi.young anitafrika as Mother Tersa in She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt

Meanwhile, at The Pussy WitchHunt, the Kingston dancehall, Nicki dances; moving like water, her sensual undulations ripple out through the appreciative and vocal crowd. Here, she speaks against the terrible history of Jamaica’s buggery laws and hate crimes against the LGBTQ community – more leftover colonialism – and fosters love, ownership and empowerment over one’s body and sexuality, especially for womxn. The Pussy WitchHunt is the last queer-friendly dancehall left after the men’s spaces were burnt to the ground, and it is now a safe haven for all womxn-identifying people, including one of Nicki’s childhood friends, who is now a drag queen. To Pastor M, we are “congregation,” while to Nicki, we are “pussy witches” – each takes us in, accepting us into their respective flocks.

As the story of the four friends progresses, so too does the dynamic of innocence, sexual awakening, homophobia and betrayal. Love and friendship turn to revulsion and shame, and Nicki is forced to flee to her aunt’s in Kingston or suffer the terrible consequences of being outed by Michael. She invites Kizzy to go with her, and Michael has secrets of his own to keep, revealing a facet of the double standard between men and womxn, and the denial that turns him into the man we see throughout the play.

anitafrika, along with long-time friend and colleague Alfred, is the mistress of storytelling; charismatic, spellbinding and sensuous, she engages our senses and our minds, playing multiple characters, and incorporating song, dance and spoken word as she weaves ancient mythology and Christian Bible stories with politics, law and activism. There is no separation between the so-called “divine” and “profane” here – all is divine. The human body, sexuality and the freedom to express these aspects of our humanity are all divine, with special props and appreciation for womxn’s bodies, which continue to be objectified, abused, owned and repressed by men, law, religion and society. The two performers have incredible chemistry, as anitafrika deftly shifts between characters and locales, and Alfred acts a one-womxn chorus, band and DJ booth. The resulting storytelling is playful, dynamic, thought-provoking, sexy and gut-wrenching.

The packed house enthusiastically played along, interacting with the performers – no fourth wall here – as Pastor M works the crowd to praise God and condemn gays, Nicki goes forth in search of a lap dance patron, and the DJ tosses “treats” (panties, bra, scarves) to an appreciative crowd.

The Watah Theatre has a tradition of post-show talkbacks, creating an open and safe space for the audience to ask questions, and discuss and share experiences. anitafrika introduced and thanked the production and creative teams; and she and Alfred praised the audience, expressing appreciation for their participation and engagement, which fuelled the already high-energy performances last night. Summarizing the three parts of The Orisha Trilogy, anitafrika described Part 1 as being rooted in the past, Part 2 in the present and Part 3 in the future; Part 3 will be a post-nuclear accident dub opera, to be performed during this year’s SummerWorks (Aug 4-14). Esu crossing the Middle Passage has been made into a video, and there are soundtracks in the works for each part of the trilogy, along with published versions of anitafrika’s work. The most moving moment was an audience member’s sharing of a personal experience, triggered by seeing She Mami Wata, but also putting her on the road to healing the trauma.

With shouts to the design team for their beautiful, evocative work on this production: Jenna McCutchen (set/costumes), Sharmylae Taffe Fletcher (lighting) and Waleed Abdulhamid (sound).

Fire and water in magical, sensuous and moving She Mami Wata and The Pussy WitchHunt.

She Mami Wata and The Pussy WitchHunt continues in the in the TPM Backspace till May 22; it’s an intimate space and a truly compelling show, so get your tix in advance.

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

 

Interview with Andrea Scott on upcoming Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife @ SummerWorks

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Andrea Scott is an award-winning Toronto-based actor, playwright and producer at Call Me Scotty Productions. Her plays have appeared in the New Ideas Festival and SummerWorks (Eating Pomegranates Naked and Better Angels: A Parable – the latter is also featured on Expect Theatre’s PlayMe podcast), in a Mixed Company Theatre touring production (Frenemies) and, most recently, at Solar Stage (Princesses Don’t Grow on Trees). Next up for Scott is a SummerWorks production of Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife, which “explores feminism, slut shaming and the power dynamic that exists between the genders as viewed from Mata Hari’s prison cell in 1917.”* Andrew Lamb is directing, and the cast includes David Christo, Lisa Karen Cox, Kimwun Perehinec and Paula Wing.

LWMC: Hi, Andrea. Thanks for taking the time to talk about Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife – and thanks for giving me the opportunity to read it first. Things have been cooking for you lately, with Expect Theatre for the PlayMe broadcast of Better Angels and a recent production of Princesses Don’t Grow on Trees at Solar Stage. Quick side question: What’s your experience been shifting between writing for adult audiences to younger audiences?

AS: Less swearing. Or maybe more, now that I think about it. When I write for children, I have to be very conscious not to give the children my ‘adult’ voice. I have a habit of using big words or a vocabulary that is rather expansive. Children are so smart and observant, and when they say something insightful, it takes adults by surprise. That is a challenge to write because you don’t want people to hear it and say, ‘Oh, that’s just a clever adult putting their words into the mouth a child.’ I remember feeling that way after reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

LWMC: Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife features Mata Hari as the central figure. How did you become drawn to her story?

AS: I was asked to be in a reading of Harriet’s Daughter by M. NourbeSe Philips in the 2013 AfterRock Festival produced by b current. The character I played was obsessed with Mata Hari, so in order to understand my character better, I researched who she was in history. I thought I knew who she was and was surprised to learn that there was little to no hard evidence that led to her execution. What was clear was that she was very open about her sexual appetite, enjoyed showing her body, and entirely unapologetic. A woman like that could only be trouble in 1917.

LWMC: The action shifts back and forth between Mata Hari’s cell, in the hours before her execution in 1917, and a present-day university women’s studies course that includes a lecture and discussion about Mata Hari. What made you decide to structure the play in this way?

AS: I was very excited about this woman’s story and when I would tell people about Mata Hari, I came to realize that most didn’t know who she was at all. The professor conceit came out of the desire to inform and educate the audience. Early drafts had him directing the lecture at the audience, but Marjorie Chan, AD at Cahoots Theatre, felt it would be more dynamic to have another character with which the professor could interact. Nobody knows what Mata Hari’s last hours were like, so this is an imagining. What is known is that she had two cellmates and was never informed of an execution date. Right up until the guard showed up at her cell, she believed she would be released. She seemed unaware that an espionage charge was a guaranteed death sentence when over 50,000 French soldiers had been slaughtered at the Battle of Verdun.

LWMC: The play draws some sharp social and feminist parallels, and the discussions of gender, sexuality and colour – and even ownership – between Mata Hari and her cellmate are mirrored to some extent in the debates between the professor and his female student in the present day. What do you hope the audience will take away from these perspectives?

AS: That, unfortunately, slut shaming between women is just as bad as when men do it and it has always existed. That even in prison there exists a hierarchy entrenched because of racism and privilege. Mata Hari, who was a Dutch citizen, looks at her cellmate Helene and asks her where she is from even though Helene is clearly French. There were many black people in France, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of evidence of this fact in French plays or literature. Alexandre Dumas’ work was being read in French prisons and he was a black man. Race and gender politics have always been around but now we have a more open society where one can discuss it without reprisal (hopefully).

LWMC: And was there anything that surprised you as you were doing the research for the play?

How little things have changed regarding military protocol if you are identified as a threat to national security. Mata Hari was taken into custody, interrogated repeatedly, denied access to her lawyer on many occasions, had her correspondence intercepted, and essentially convicted for being a sexual woman. Several years after her execution a prosecutor on the case admitted that they did not have enough evidence to kill a cat.

I also touch on the precarious employment issue plaguing university professors. I was completely unaware of how little they make, their poor treatment, and the assumption that once you’re a professor you’ve got it made. It was a bad situation 10 years ago and now it’s even worse as universities move towards operating on a business model treating education as a commodity.

LWMC: You’re currently crowdfunding for the production on Indiegogo. Tell us about that. And what other ways can folks support Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife?

AS: I recognize the impetus to simply split the box office after a SummerWorks show and make a little bit of money beforehand in order to pay for supplies, but I really want to pay my team for their skills. I did a Fringe show many years ago, and after 5 weeks of rehearsals and 7 shows, I was paid something like $20 and I was like, ‘Nah, Man!’ My base amount is $500 per person, so usually I need about $5,000 in the business account by July so that I can pay for rehearsal space, marketing, insurance and contingency items. By the time the show has had a run and the box office is reconciled, I’ve usually made enough to give everyone that $500 in September. This year, I’m being way more ambitious by applying for grants because rather than $500 (which breaks down to $100/week/member), I’d like to pay them $600 a week, which approximates the Indie 2.1 contract. We’ll see. It may be nuts and everyone will simply get $500, but I had to try.

If people don’t have the funds, I’d just like them to re-post the link or talk about the play. Nothing can replace good word of mouth.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?

AS: The tiny play I wrote for Wrecking Ball #18 last July has been expanded into a full length piece called All Most Be Longing, and there will be an excerpt read at Factory Theatre Wired in June.

LWMC: Cool! I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:

What’s your favourite word? Specious

What’s your least favourite word? Scumbag

What turns you on? Intelligence with a sense of wit

What turns you off? Self-centred behaviour with lack of awareness of other’s feelings

What sound or noise do you love? The sound of birds in the morning

What sound or noise do you hate? CNN on all the time.

What is your favourite curse word? Fuckery said with an English accent

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Professor

What profession would you not like to do? Labour lawyer on the side of the companies

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? You did alright. Here’s a dirty martini with extra olives.

Thanks, Andrea!

Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife will run during SummerWorks 2016 (Aug 4 – 14). Take a look at the YouTube fundraising video:

 

 

* Call Me Scotty Productions website

Toronto Fringe: Brave, sexy & frank talk about women’s joy of sex in Slut

slut_poster_image-7968Beer in a Glass Productions’ presents Erin Thompson’s Slut, directed by Dahlia Katz and running at the Annex Theatre as part of Toronto Fringe. Not used in a pejorative way, the “slut” in the title is used thematically – it’s one of the labels used to describe women who enjoy sex – and we get to meet and hear the experiences of such women throughout the course of Thompson’s one-woman show.

Based on real-life events, and using elements of ritual, mythology, storytelling, movement (with choreography by Ayesha Mansur) and song, Thompson plays key character Diana, who reveals the various women to us. A five-year-old who enjoys the forbidden game of showing her vagina in exchange for her best friend showing his penis; a painfully shy and hopeful teen; a party girl world of one-night stands, a taste for dirty talk and kink; a woman who wants to have a baby and settle down with her own kind of chosen family.

Accompanied by Apollo (Robert Steven Wilkinson) on keyboard and vocals, Slut features original songs written by Thompson and Wilkinson, highlighting each woman’s life experiences, and choices to love and express love. Thompson’s performance is deeply human, open, honest and entertaining – engaging the audience and gently challenging preconceived notions and stereotypes. And maybe even evoking understanding and acceptance.

Slut is a brave, sexy and frank one-woman history of women’s joy of sex.

The show continues at the Annex until July 12 – check here for exact dates/times. Advance tix or lining up early highly recommended.