14.1 Bonus Feature: Preeti Dhaliwal reads her poem “Re-embodying Jurisprudence”

In her contribution to alt.theatre 14.1, Preeti Dhaliwal uses theatre, poetry, and performative writing to explore how law lives in the body and how we embody law. Because “Re-embodying Jurisprudence” brings together theory and artistic practice in such a dynamic and creatively rich way, we invited Preeti to bring her poem to life by recording it for our blog. You can listen to it below.

Preeti Dhaliwal (photo by the author)

Listen to the introduction:

Listen to the poem:

Listen to the footnotes:

Editorial: Protest and Performance

by Michelle MacArthur

“I see what he’s done as art. I believe that art is seeing the world that doesn’t exist. A lot of people excel at creativity—making TV, movies, painting, writing books—but you can be an artist in your own life. Civil rights activists are artists. Athletes are artists. People who imagine something that is not there.”

– Filmmaker Ava DuVernay on NFL player and activist

Colin Kaepernick in GQ

Football player Colin Kaepernick started his peaceful protest over a year ago, in the 2016 NFL pre-season, to draw attention to the systemic discrimination and violence enacted against black men and women in the US, and his decision to take a knee has subsequently grown into a hashtag, a movement, and a controversy. As I write this, the fervour surrounding Kaepernick and his fellow players’ actions has slightly lessened, momentarily overshadowed by other stories taking centre stage in the 24-hour news cycle, but the issues at the core of Kaepernick’s protest and his status in the NFL remain unresolved. As I write this, Kaepernick has just been named “Man of the Year” by GQ but, three months into the current season, he is still a free agent without a contract.

If, like me, you found yourself wading through news reports and social media posts to figure out where this all began and why the POTUS was targeting football players in both his political speeches and late-night Twitter rants, here is a quick recap. Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers at the time, began sitting during the national anthem in the 2016 NFL pre-season as a gesture of protest against the oppression endured by people of colour in the US. After consulting with former player and army veteran Nate Boyer, however, Kaepernick and those teammates joining him in his protest decided to kneel rather than sit, which they agreed was a more respectful option. As 49ers player Eric Reid recently described in an op-ed for The New York Times, “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.” While Kaepernick’s protest has been reframed in many ways—as I will discuss shortly—he was always careful to communicate his specific reasons for kneeling and to challenge the media’s simplification or misinterpretation of the issues at hand.

Despite Kaepernick’s openness and the growing solidarity shown by other NFL players, the backlash was fast and furious. Kaepernick and others who decided to take a knee were called unpatriotic and disrespectful of the flag, the military, and their country. By the end of 2016, 49ers jerseys were used as doormats and kindling for bonfires by disgruntled fans, and a poll showed Kaepernick to be “the most disliked player” in the NFL (Willingham). (However, the results of the poll were divided along racial lines, with 42 percent of black respondents saying they liked Kaepernick “a lot.”) Kaepernick’s contract with the 49ers was not renewed after the end of the season, a move many see as an attempt to silence him rather than a reflection of his performance on the field.

The POTUS weighed in several times during Kaepernick’s protest. As early as August 2016, during the NFL pre-season, Trump told a Seattle radio station, “I think it’s a terrible thing. And, you know, maybe he should find a new country that works better for him. Let him try. It won’t happen” (qtd. in Love). Trump’s threats grew by the following March, when at a rally in Kentucky he gleefully made reference to a report that NFL owners were reticent to sign Kaepernick in fear of political backlash and a “nasty” tweet from the president. Trump’s bullying continued this past September, when, at a rally for Alabama Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange, Trump encouraged team owners to fire players for taking a knee. His condemnation of the players’ “unpatriotic” behaviour was particularly significant given his reaction to the recent events in Charlottesville and his reluctance to denounce the alt-right’s involvement.

The POTUS’s reaction was also a key factor in shifting the conversation about Kaepernick away from the issues at the centre of his protest. Trump’s September 2017 remarks not only forced Trump himself into the centre of the issue, but forced NFL players, owners, and coaches to pick a side. Whereas earlier in the movement, many were hesitant to join Kaepernick (and this was also divided along racial lines), Trump’s words had the opposite of their intended effect. Participation in the #takeaknee movement in the NFL and beyond grew exponentially, as many teams opted to challenge the POTUS’s assumptions about patriotism and to assert their rights to freely express themselves. Yet, this increased support did not translate into a new contract for Kaepernick, nor did it magnify issues of racial injustice and systemic discrimination. Instead, the majority of participants in the movement presented themselves as fighting for free speech and unity, and as Willingham points out, those who spoke out were also generally careful to frame their remarks by confirming their patriotism and “American-ness.”

As these events unfolded, I was reminded of Donna-Michelle St. Bernard’s final piece in her Principles Office series in alt.theatre’s Volume 13. In “Being the Fifth Bear,” St. Bernard points to the frequency with which marginalized bodies are asked (or forced) to move out of the way and give up space. She offers some examples from her own experience in which her presence was seen as burdening or causing discomfort to others, and examines the implications of her compliance or non-compliance in each situation when she was told to move. Her and Kaepernick’s acts of protest claim a space for marginalized bodies that are seen as intrusive, threatening, or expendable. In their purposeful and defiant stillness, they stand in for others before them who were forced to move and imagine a different future for those coming after them. St. Bernard concludes by stressing how current acts of agency and resistance are connected to “proximate and progenitorial” communities and social movements (34). Reflecting on her past experiences, she writes, “I see my then-self’s narrow shoulders and I urge them to become broad and strong, so that someone might someday hope to stand on them. I urge myself to keep standing still, if only to offer a steady platform to others. I try to remember that standing still is also moving, when done with purpose” (35). By taking a knee, Kaepernick provides such a platform for others, but also stands on the shoulders of those who came before, both outside of the sports arena and within, where his actions are preceded by those of Jackie Robinson, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, and Mohammad Ali, to name just a few. (Incidentally, when we were preparing to publish her piece, D-M sent us several photo suggestions, including one of Kaepernick kneeling, for which we unfortunately could not obtain the rights.)

“I see my then-self’s narrow shoulders and I urge them to become broad and strong, so that someone might someday hope to stand on them. I urge myself to keep standing still, if only to offer a steady platform to others. I try to remember that standing still is also moving, when done with purpose.”

-Donna-Michelle St.Bernard

In these ways, gestures of protest, whether moving or standing still (or both), are performative in that they invoke performance strategies and in that they do something. Dance scholar Anusha Kedhar reminds us of this fact in two 2014 articles about the centrality of choreography, movement, and gesture in the politics of protest. Illustrating her discussion with the “Hands-up! Don’t shoot!” and “I can’t breathe” slogans of protest and their respective gestures and choreography, Kedhar underlines the power of performance as a way to draw attention to the impact of state violence on black bodies. The lifting of activists’ hands in solidarity in “Hands-up! Don’t shoot!” in response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, writes Kedhar, “takes those same bodies that are surveilled, disciplined, controlled, and killed and infuses them with power and a voice. It resurrects those dead bodies left lying in the street, and asks us, compels us to confront the alive-ness of the black body as a force of power and resistance” (“‘Hands-up!’”). “I can’t breathe,” which references Eric Garner’s last words but also the broader suffocation of black lives by systematic oppression, is accompanied by a staged “die-in” that points to the ultimate power of the state over black bodies. Implied in Kedhar’s argument is the second meaning of performativity—to effect an action—wherein careful staging and choreography do something: they empower participants, remember bodies, and confront audiences. In Ava DuVernay’s words that preface this editorial, protests and activists are art because they “see the world that doesn’t exist.” They are performative because they also make that world.

Kedhar argues that performative strategies are key components of protest because they impact audience understandings of the issues at its centre. To develop the theatre and performance analogy further, the evolution of the #takeaknee movement prompts us to ask what happens when the communication between performers/protesters and audiences/witnesses are intercepted. What does spectatorship entail in this instance? What does it mean to be a witness or an ally to performative protests? If theatre and performance are continually shaped by internal and external factors that influence the meanings produced, then those who join the protest, watch it, or talk about it bear responsibility in how it takes shape and its ultimate impact. Participating in the #takeaknee movement at this moment means educating ourselves about its beginnings as well as “proximate and progenitorial” movements; it also means doing the work to ensure its message about systematic oppression remains centre stage.

This issue of alt.theatre: cultural diversity and the stage features several articles that look at the power enacted by the state on marginalized bodies, and how performance offers spaces to resist and challenge these systemic acts of oppression. Lina de Guevara reflects on a community-arts project addressing the fraught relationship between police and immigrant communities. Preeti Dhaliwal meditates on how law lives in the body and how we embody law; her use of poetry to develop her discussion reflects a focus on performance in both content and form, and we are excited to host an audio-recording of Preeti reading her piece on our website. Our new series for Volume 14, “A Return to Place—Embodied Story Practice,” curated by Mariel Belanger, unpacks the theories and practices underlying the 2017 UBC– Okanagan Indigenous Art Intensive. Running across all three issues of the volume, “A Return to Place” begins with two pieces by Mariel on how cultural identity connects to oral history and performance practice. As we publish this, our last issue of 2017, we also look forward to alt.theatre’s twentieth anniversary next year. We have some plans in store to mark the magazine’s role in providing a unique space for artists, scholars, and activists to create dialogue about the many intersections of diversity and the stage. We are also excited to usher in this new era with a new look, and welcome Kinnon Elliott, our new designer, whose work illuminates the words on the pages that follow. We hope you enjoy!

Works Cited

“Colin Kaepernick Will Not Be Silenced.” GQ, 13 November 2017. Web.

Kedhar, Anusha. “Choreography and Gesture Play an Important Role in Protests.” The New York Times, 15 December 2014. Web.

—. “‘Hands-Up! Don’t Shoot!’: Gesture, Choreography, and Protest in Ferguson.” The Feminist Wire, 6 October 2014. Web.

Love, David A. “Kaepernick’s protest is gaining support while he’s still out of a job.” CNN, 22 August 2017. Web.

Reid, Eric. “Why Colin Kaepernick and I Decided to Take a Knee.” The New York Times, 25 September 2017. Web.

St. Bernard, Donna-Michelle. “Being the Fifth Bear.” alt.theatre: cultural diversity and the stage 13.3 (2017): 31-35.

Willingham, AJ. “The #takeaknee protests have always been about race. Period.” CNN, 27 September 2017. Web

This is the editorial written in Volume 14, Issue 1 of alt.theatre magazine. Check out the rest of the issue here.

Issue 14.1

What’s in this issue?
  • Editorial – Protest and Performance by Michelle MacArthur
  • Mariel Belanger travels through time
  • Lina de Guevara creates dialogue between immigrant communities and the police
  • Preeti Dhaliwal re-embodies jurisprudence
  • Priya Nair checks into The Refugee Hotel
  • Joyce Boro and Fiona Ritchie review a Hamlet high-wire act
  • Matt Jones reads Terror and Performance

This issue of alt.theatre: cultural diversity and the stage features several articles that look at the power enacted by the state on marginalized bodies, and how performance offers spaces to resist and challenge these systemic acts of oppression.

Michelle MacArthur, Editor-in-Chief

Read More

REVIEW: Pawâkan Macbeth’s Call for Reconciliation Spans Time, Language, and Place

Edmonton, Alberta
Connor Meeker reviews 
Pawâkan Macbeth: A Cree Tragedy, a co-production between Akpik Theatre and Theatre Prospero of Reneltta Arluk’s adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy:

Adapting one of the Bard’s swiftest and punchiest plays, Theatre Prospero and Akpik Theatre’s Pawâkan Macbeth: A Cree Tragedy reimagines the Scottish Lord in Western Canada. Playwright Reneltta Arluk’s adaptation — or “takeover,” as she prefers to call it — skillfully interlaces a canonical Shakespearean tragedy with Indigenous myth and worldview, creating an poignant and darkly humorous production.

Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography

Arluk sets the action in Plains Cree territory in the 1870s, before the signing of Treaty 6 — a tumultuous time of conflict between First Nations warring with each other and the Canadian Government. Macikosisân (Macbeth), a great Okihcitâw warrior, plots with Kâwanihot Iskwew (Lady Macbeth) to kill the Chief, Okimâw Wîpâstim (Duncan). Pawâkan Macbeth hews close to the plot of its source material while making several generative changes in adapting the story to a Cree context. The supernatural elements of Shakespeare’s play are situated within Cree cosmology: Macikosisân’s vaulting ambition is stoked by the presence of the Wihtiko, a cannibal spirit of Cree legend. The three witches (played by Mari Chartier, Nathan Loltz, and Sophie Merasty) who prophesize Macikosisân’s fate are wryly humorous trickster figures, and are given a more prominent role within the narrative. Arluk’s incarnation of Lady Macbeth is seven months pregnant, adding fascinating layers of complexity to the character’s traditional absence of maternal instinct. The language shifts fluidly from English to Cree and from colloquial to Shakespearean, allowing the production to bridge the gap between Cree and Shakespearean cultural contexts.

Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography

The show’s eleven actors give powerful performances. As Macikosisân, Curtis Peeteetuce undergoes a terrifying transformation from a respected warrior to a tyrant consumed by cannibalistic urges. Allyson Pratt’s Kâwanihot Iskwew (Lady Macbeth) deftly balances the countless nuances of her character’s conflicting desires, producing a raw and affecting performance of a woman who is capable of both inciting brutal violence and nurturing her own baby. As part of the expansive design, Leif Ingebrigtsen’s pulsing sound and Kerem Çetinel’s inventive lighting work effortlessly together to intensify the action on stage.

Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography

The production is a collaboration between Yellowknife’s Akpik Theatre, an Indigenous-led company, and Edmonton’s Theatre Prospero. With a company of eleven Indigenous actors and seven designers, it’s on a scale not often seen in Indigenous theatre in Alberta. The scale of the show is made even more impressive by the fact that it’s designed to be portable enough to adapt to non-theatrical spaces—after this initial public run, the show will be toured to Indigenous communities throughout Treaty 6 territory.

Pawâkan Macbeth evokes multiple resonances between Canada’s pre-Treaty history and our current socio-political situation, calling for harmony and reconciliation moving forward. After Macikosisân is slain, Kihcîkosisân (Malcolm) makes a speech to the warring groups. He warns them that the Wihtiko is bound to reappear in another form, predicting that their spirituality will be suppressed and their women subdued. As the house lights partially rise, he calls for unity in facing these impending challenges. As Arluk states in her Playwright’s Note, “Now, in the time of reconciliation, we need to make good on the unity our ancestors agreed to. It is time to step out of comfort zones. To go beyond the blackbox of theatre. To listen.” Pawâkan Macbeth shows us that the time to come together, to collaborate, and – most importantly – to listen is now.

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Connor Meeker is in his final year of the BA (Honors) Drama program at the University of Alberta. His Honors thesis will focus on theatrical responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, looking specifically at Tara Beagan and Andy Morro’s play Reckoning. Previously, Connor has completed a research project investigating the historical reenactment of Treaty signings and has also worked as a Literary Intern with The New Group in New York City.

REVIEW: Circadia Indigena’s Greed/REsolve Assaults the Senses

Vancouver, British Columbia
Annie Smith review’s Circadia Indigena’s Greed/REsolve, a contemporary dance piece in two acts devised collaboratively by the inter-Nation collective:

By the end of Circadia Indigena’s Greed/REsolve I felt as though I had been assaulted by an icy ocean wave. Once I had let the effects of the pummeling of the icy water subside I felt renewed, invigorated – and scoured by sand. Going into the performance I hadn’t been able to wrap my head around the program description printed in the Talking Stick Festival’s brochure. After the performance, listening to the dancers at the Q&A, I began to understand some of the power I felt and with which I was still resonating.

Greed/REsolve is a contemporary dance performance of two separately developed pieces that inform each other in an uneasy symbiosis. Watching the performance it is difficult to separate the halves, to see where one piece becomes the other. Circadia Indigena–Indigenous Arts Collective explores contemporary issues through sound, lighting, video, and theatrical effect as well as choreographed movement.

The sensory assault is visual and aural. The soundtrack, assembled from a variety of sources from pop to classical to unsettling sound effects, sometimes leads the movement and sometimes supports it.   Visually, there is live video of the performance projected on the black curtains of the backdrop, in multiple frames. The lighting follows the dancers, highlighting pieces of bodies and obscuring them in turn. At times the dancers shout words in English, Spanish, and Indigenous languages, bringing the percussive sound produced by their bodies into the choreography. Above all, it is the physical and emotional commitment of Indigenous bodies expressing the themes of the piece – the greed of contemporary Western culture and the awakening of remorse to compel us to decolonize ourselves, the land, and the biosphere – that carries the most power.

Photo by Circadia Indigena

Greed portrays the driven competitiveness of the stock market and the allure of money and is expressed by the repetitive picking of empty pockets and the slow motion tumbling of the dancers. Remorse is a more complex emotion to portray: REsolve–the individual’s journey to internal peace–is meant to lead to the resolve to protect the planet.. It is here, possibly, that the cultural differences between the Indigenous performers and the largely white, older audience, is felt. I found myself emotionally caught in the cycle of greed and remorse, unable to reach a place of inner resolve.

The piece’s structure is jazz-like with each dancer taking on solo roles supported by the ensemble of four. Sometimes this support is in contest with the solo performer; sometimes the solo dancer is alone but the remaining dancers are always physically engaged, holding the space through peripheral movement. At one moment, as Olivia C. Davies struggles to free herself from the allure of greed, the other dancers are rolling and creeping around the periphery of the floor in a counter-clockwise movement as if building their energy and focus for a fresh assault on whichever dancer next moves into contested space to be grappled physically and emotionally.

The inspiration of the work is drawn from the Blackfoot stories of the hero, Kutoyis, who came to rid the People of oppressors. Kutoyis is canny and observant and challenges and defeats the forces that hold the people captive. The forces today that need to be challenged are the colonial attitudes and corporate greed that are killing our planet. Circadia Indigena transcribes the struggles to decolonize and confront the force of greed on their own bodies in this visceral performance.

Circadia Indigena’s artists worked collaboratively to develop the full-length Greed/REsolve, utilizing inter-Nation dance styles and contemporary fusion dance. Greed began as a ten minute piece performed by two male dancers as part of the 10x10x10 Dance and Music event held at the Scotia Bank Dance Centre in Vancouver in 2011. Choreographed and performed by Byron Chief-Moon to the music “Triple Witching” by Jeffery Ryan, it scores a time in the stock market when millions can be won or lost, when greed and remorse circle each other.

The company consists of Luis G. Canton, of mixed ancestry from Yucatan, Mexico; Byron Chief-Moon, Niitsitapii, of the Fish-eater’s Clan of the Blackfoot Confederacy in southern Alberta; Olivia C. Davies, co-founder of MataDanze Collective in Toronto; and JP Longboat, Mohawk, of the Turtle Clan from Six Nations in Southern Ontario. The videographer is Damien Eagle Bear of the Kainai Nation. Each artist has their own individual dance practice as well as being members of the collective. The company’s structure is modeled on Indigenous ways of working through consensus and community as opposed to a traditional European artistic hierarchical structure.

My emotional response to Greed/REsolve comes from my visceral – literally at the gut level – response to the breath, voice, and movement of four dancers who do not stint their engagement with each other in creation and performance. Their commitment invites the audience to engage with complex visual and sound imagery far beyond what one might usually find at a dance performance.

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Annie Smith is a theatre director, teacher, and researcher currently teaching for SFU’s Continuing Studies Program and the SelfDesign Graduate Institute.  Her research interests include Indigenous Theatre, Participatory Performance, Historical Reenactment, Community-Engaged Theatre/Arts.  She directs the City of Surrey’s Historic Reenactment Program.

REVIEW: Tracing with Body and Music in Jeff Ho’s trace

Toronto, Ontario
Shelley Liebembuk reviews Jeff Ho’s trace, a Factory Theatre production in association with b current performing arts:

In his debut as playwright, Jeff Ho presents a solo piece that explores his family history through three generations of women. Structurally merging text and music, trace plays with the non-linear and conflicting nature of family memory, and candidly mines trauma and hostility alongside love and loyalty, through Ho’s artful embodiment and Nina Lee Aquino’s strong direction.

Jeff Ho. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Performed on a smartly crafted minimalist set of raised platforms with only two upright pianos as set pieces (co-designed by Aquino and Michelle Ramsay), the show centers on Ho’s skilled embodiment of the three core figures of Great Grandma, Grandma, and Ma. Notably, Ho chooses to embody these women without constructing gendered postures or attitudes for them. Instead, we are invited to read Ho’s body in performance for key gestures, stances, and tones (in both English and Cantonese) to decipher which of the three characters is being manifested. The choice is refreshing and intelligent. The character depictions are especially powerful in the precision and theatricality of individual vignettes. For example, the matriarchal presence of Great Grandma is beautifully portrayed in the first time she sets up a game of Mahjong: at once fiercely grounded in her stance, and expertly fluid in her smoking. Another vignette reveals Ma’s tenacity as a newcomer to Canada through a poignant reconfiguration of the piano as the elderly person Ma must attend to: lifting up the top cover of the upright piano, Ho gently leans against the piano and moves an arm into the narrow space between the hammers and the siding, enacting the careful gesture of cleaning someone who has soiled themself.

Structurally, the piece follows the form of a piano sonata in five movements, with an addition of a prelude and a coda. As Ho explains in an interview with My Gay Toronto, “As I tried to figure out the structure, how do we put a hundred years of memories, with gaps and time jumping, how do we make it fit? […] logic wasn’t the right way to approach it, but musically that was something we could carry.” This choice does away with the banality of a more linear autobiographical narrative, allowing for an affecting re-membering of bits of story across the differing perspectives of each character. It also has the promise of swiftly guiding its audience to distinct tempos; yet, in the performance, the shifts in rhythm remain too subtle, and the transitions between movements are marked primarily through their projected titles.

Jeff Ho. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

The music in the piece also serves to voice the peripheral, male characters. As Ho elaborates in an In the Greenroom interview, “I didn’t want the men to speak, I wanted to hear the women and what they wanted to say, and we get the intention and feeling from the men from the piano.” It is at the piano that we discover the character of the playwright himself: first, as a small child, shyly playing and dangling his feet; later as a teenager, playing Les Mis despite his mother’s disapproval. During the emotional climax of the piece, as Great Grandma leaves her ill son behind during the Japanese invasion of China in WWII, the piano’s escalation reveals the traumatic event. The piano both escalates the conflict, and reduces the spoken text in favour of symbolic abstraction.

trace plays through December 3rd, at the Factory Theatre.

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Shelley Liebembuk is a dramaturge and theatre scholar. A postdoctoral fellow at York University, she is conducting dramaturgical research on multiple fluencies in Canadian-Latinx performance, funded by the Canadian Consortium on Performance and Politics in the Americas. She is the dramaturge for Toronto Laboratory Theatre’s In Sundry Languages, and is also undertaking comparative research on multilingual dramaturgy in Germany and Canada. She completed a doctoral dissertation on the Latina body in performance at the University of Toronto’s Graduate Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies (2016); teaches acting and theatre courses; and is a graduate of the Atlantic Theatre Company’s acting conservatory (NYC).

REVIEW: Sitting with Amanda Parris’ Other Side of the Game

Toronto, Ontario
Shelley Liebembuk reviews Cahoots Theatre and Obsidian Theatre’s world premiere of The Other Side of the Gamewritten by Amanda Parris and directed by Nigel Shawn Williams:

Five actors enter the stage, each carrying a folding chair. In unison, they slam the chairs down and sit staring into the audience for one…two…three minutes. The silence is broken by a sharp collective scream, as the actors expand their voices and bodies out for a brief moment, only to then contain themselves again in the impasse of continued waiting. The silence resumes. One actor breaks the stasis with a quick scratch. Shortly thereafter, another screams again, a third yawns, a fourth picks a wedgie. Each carefully choreographed moment crisply breaks the waiting, only to then reinscribe the weight of its inescapable duration.

(Left to right) Ryan Rosery, Virgilia Griffith, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Shakura Dickson, Peter Bailey. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Choreographed by Jasmyn Fyffe, and especially captivating in actor Ordena Stephens-Thompson’s embodiment of these movements, this strong opening scene refreshingly throws its audience into the core themes of the play without having uttered a word. As Amanda Parris writes in her Playwright’s Note, it is this “abstract tension-riddled space of the waiting room that anchors this story,” a story inspired by Parris’ experience of visiting a friend at the Don Jail, and one that grew following conversations with other women who had visited someone they loved who was incarcerated. This site at once captures the institutional marginalization and violence that effects the Black population, and the individual and communal resistances to it. Most saliently, it highlights the ongoing resistance of Black women.

Parris centers the play on the experience of Black women, often otherwise forgotten or invisible in mainstream Canadian representation because of their Blackness, or marginalized to secondary roles in male-dominant Black representation. Her protagonists are Black women seeking to define the terms of their own resistance, revealing a fierce, self-sacrificing loyalty. As Parris elaborates in her Cahoots’s Youtube interview, they are “ride-or-die” women: “a hip-hop term, used to describe an individual, often a woman, who has an undying loyalty to someone outside of herself […] often personified as a woman because quite frequently women are the ones putting themselves second, third or fourth in the list of priorities and putting somebody else or something else in front of that.” The play’s protagonists exist in two settings: a contemporary Toronto just before the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Toronto during the 1970s Civil Rights movement. As the scenes weave across these temporalities, we see our heroines struggle to take care of their children, to better their own circumstances, and to support their partners and friends, in the face of intersectional poverty, racism, and sexism. Virgilia Griffith (in the roles of contemporary Nicole and 1970s Akilah) commits to performing the complexity of this struggle: the fierce resilience and the overwhelming exhaustion. In a moving passage, Griffith as Akilah lists the names of those who have fled, of those who have been jailed, of those who have been killed, concluding through gritted teeth “and I’m still here.”

Virgilia Griffith (centre), Ryan Rosery, Shakura Dickson, and Peter Bailey. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

While this production is still steeped in the prescribed Naturalism that permeates much of mainstream Canadian theatre and results in overly earnest, eye-locked acting, I found the performance was at its strongest in the few scenes that, like the waiting room vignettes, went beyond this convention. One such scene has Griffith run in place while being fantastically surrounded by her fellow actors, who tower over her from their position on the set pieces, so capturing Akilah’s negotiation of the superhuman expectations placed on and internalized by Black women.

The Other Side of the Game is significant in that it centers on the intersectional body of Toronto’s Black women. It remembers the long-standing presence of Black experience and activism in Toronto, and highlights that, forty-years later, the struggle continues. Moreover, as Parris points out in her Intermission Magazine article, the play has become an “archive of Toronto’s soundscape,” giving voice in script and on stage to the language of Toronto’s west-end, a voice that remains underrepresented on Toronto’s stages.

Other Side of The Game plays until Nov. 5, 2017. www.cahoots.ca/otherside
Running concurrently with Other Side of the Game, in the lobby of the Aki Studio: an exhibition of visual art works that echo themes of the play.

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Shelley Liebembuk is a dramaturge and theatre scholar. A postdoctoral fellow at York University, she is conducting dramaturgical research on multiple fluencies in Canadian-Latinx performance, funded by the Canadian Consortium on Performance and Politics in the Americas. She is the dramaturge for Toronto Laboratory Theatre’s In Sundry Languages, and is also undertaking comparative research on multilingual dramaturgy in Germany and Canada. She completed a doctoral dissertation on the Latina body in performance at the University of Toronto’s Graduate Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies (2016); teaches acting and theatre courses; and is a graduate of the Atlantic Theatre Company’s acting conservatory (NYC).

REVIEW: Fresh Takes on Fresh Meat, Part 2

Ottawa, Ontario
Jonas McLean catches the second weekend of Ottawa’s Fresh Meat Fest, a self-described “playground” that gives local artists the space to explore new work in a micro-play format. Keeping in kind, here are Jonas’ micro-reviews of the first five of ten new Canadian plays:

Fresh Meat 6’s second weekend offers emotionally raw perspectives on the human mind, with the same variety of theatrical styles that I came to expect from the first round of shows. Between shows there is another immersive experience to take part in. This weekend’s is Metaverse, an augmented reality room created by Liam Mooney. If you’re curious about what the future of immersive theatre might look like just sign up at the bar.

In-between walks us through the stages of growing up the children of Vietnamese immigrant parents. This piece, like its characters, seems to be going in several directions at once. Far from confusing, however, it feels coherent throughout thanks to Helen Thai and Franco Pang‘s skilled physicality and timing.

In Holding Mercury Kristina Watt begins with brain surgery and goes deeper, peeling back layers of intrusive thoughts to reveal the complexities of the human mind. Watt’s nuanced performance combines with a multitude of well-timed sound effects to make the brain under her knife a second character.

Folie is a brilliant piece of clown created and performed by Madeleine Hall and Mitchel Rose. Folie, French for madness, takes on multiple meanings when we meet Hall and Rose’s flirtatious, garishly dressed clowns. They’re foley artists, and most of the sounds we hear are indeed made by them and their assortment of bright orange props. This physical comedy offers a perfect contrast to the more serious tones of the rest of this weekend.

Kelsey Rideout’s anXietywomXn is another one-woman show that puts a mind at war with itself at its centre. Rideout wraps herself and the stage in string while her poetic language draws the audience in, inviting us to follow her thoughts spiral through the onstage web she has woven. When Rideout leaves the stage, she brings her string with her but leaves her recurring question – “Who am I?” – with us.

Finally, InSight teaches us not to take sight for granted, and yet I must encourage you to see it. This paradox is brought to the stage by Geoffrey Dollar who details the experience of living without sight before launching into a captivating dance that will leave you wanting more.

Matt Hertendy and Matt Venner of Two Kind Boys deserve praise for their part hosting the evening. Fresh Meat’s decision to change hosts every night is one that can easily backfire, but these two kept things moving in a charming and professional manner.

If you catch the festival’s closing night this Saturday your host will be Al Connors, who will also DJ the after-party.

 

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Author Bio: Jonas McLean is an improvisor and theatre creator from Ottawa, Ontario. He holds a BA in Dramatic Arts with a concentration in theatre praxis from Brock University and is currently pursuing an MA in the Theatre at the University of Ottawa. His research explores improvised performance and the role of the audience and audience participation in performance events. If you would like to continue the conversation he can be found on Twitter @TheJonasMcLean.

REVIEW: Fresh Takes on Fresh Meat, Part 1

Ottawa, Ontario
Jonas McLean catches the first weekend of Ottawa’s Fresh Meat Fest, a self-described “playground” that gives local artists the space to explore new work in a micro-play format. Keeping in kind, here are Jonas’ micro-reviews of the first five of ten new Canadian plays:

At Fresh Meat, emerging and established Ottawa artists showcase new works, with 90% of this year’s shows created by artists from underrepresented communities. Five shows run each weekend, plus extras like Gabrielle Lazarovitz’s “I’m Not a Doctor” Sleep Clinic.

La disparition (She’s gone) is presented en Français with English surtitles. Anie Richer and Marc-André Charrette’s reflections on losing a mother will make you laugh and cry even if you don’t speak French.

Honey Dew Me is a story set during the height of 1960s homophobia with Luke Brown and Kyle Cameron skilfully playing several characters each. It’s easy to agree that LGBT+ inequality remains a global problem in 2017, but harder to take an honest look at our own neighbourhoods as this show does.

Before Le Crip Bleu you will be given the opportunity to leave, but I highly encourage you to stay. Frank Hull and Alan Shain’s choreography and performance is hilarious and titillating, getting the audience hooting for safety belts being unbuckled just as they might for a glove peel at any other burlesque show. The show confronts the gaze of privileged groups and challenge conceptions of who is allowed to empower themselves through mediums like burlesque.

Packed with wit and ghost stories, Badges features Lauren Cauchy, Ali Harris and Amanda Logan struggling to complete the trifecta of friendship, true love, and career. It’s a thrill to watch who succeeds, who fails, and who gets to be the judge.

Amongst this varied and powerful selection of performances Beer Buddies still stands out. Michaela Steven unpacks the complexities of the human heart with the help of more than a few drinks, a gift for language, and a captivating authenticity that had me on the edge of my seat and wanting more.

You can still catch these shows this Saturday.

 

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Author Bio: Jonas McLean is an improvisor and theatre creator from Ottawa, Ontario. He holds a BA in Dramatic Arts with a concentration in theatre praxis from Brock University and is currently pursuing an MA in the Theatre at the University of Ottawa. His research explores improvised performance and the role of the audience and audience participation in performance events. If you would like to continue the conversation he can be found on Twitter @TheJonasMcLean.

 

REVIEW: The Watah Theatre’s Lukumi is a call to action and a celebration of Black resistance and resiliance

Toronto, Ontario

Signy Lynch attends the world premiere of d’bi.young anitafrika and The Watah Theatre’s afro-futurust dub-opera Lukumi, playing now in the Tarragon ExtraSpace:

This review is an experiment. It’s a response to a pattern of theatre criticism that often presents the opinion of one person as an objective measure of a show’s worth. In focusing on star ratings, and seeking above all to define what is good or bad in a production, these reviews often seem more interested in evaluating a piece’s commercial worth than exploring its artistic contributions. To de-centre my experience, and to give readers what I hope is a deeper engagement with the work, some of the cast members of Lukumi have kindly shared their perspectives. These perspectives, which provide a different kind of insight into the show, are to be read alongside my experience and should be considered just as much a part of the review.

Signy, reviewer: One of the first things that struck me about Lukumi, the final installment in playwright/composer/performer d’bi.young anitafrika’s Orisha Trilogy, is its shocking urgency. The dub opera is an uncompromising celebration of Black resistance and resilience, even as it presents a call to action, warning us of the impending environmental disasters facing humanity.

In a post-apocalyptic landscape (brought richly to life by designers Rachel Forbes and Michelle Ramsay), the remnants of humanity are forced to live in caves and hide from the brutal new world order. From this darkness, a hero, Lukumi (played by anitafrika), emerges to fight against the capitalistic forces which have destroyed the planet, razed natural landscapes, and caused an epidemic of infertility through toxic spills. The show follows Lukumi as she undertakes a vision quest to the Ancestor Tree in order to save the world, while resisting .

As I watch parallels emerge, clear and often chilling, between the fictional world of the play set in 2167, and the fraught political climate of today. Soldiers of the capitalist super conglomerate The One World Army chant “you will not replace us,” to the Black rebels they fight, echoing the words of the neo-Nazi protestors in Charlottesville earlier this year. Meanwhile, Lucius Dechausay’s film work presents the contemporary political and environmental moment through an affecting montage (featuring Trump, Kim Jong Un, and fracking) that makes current events seem a credible start to the apocalypse. Equally prominent are parallels between contemporary activists and the Ahosi rebels, whose songs – co-written by anitafrika and Waleed Abdulhamid – and movements – choreographed by Dr. L’Antoinette Stines – occasionally sample popular protest songs, linking their actions to an important tradition of Black performance and protest and reminding us that these protest movements might be our only hope facing the oncoming environmental devastation. In recognizing that the same forces that cause institutionalized racism and mass incarceration in the West are also responsible for climate change, the show makes clear that all these struggles are connected, and that anti-racist methods must inform any efforts to confront ecological destruction.

Lukumi is as spectacular to watch as it is politically poignant. The show takes the form of a dub opera, a performance style that mixes Jamaican popular performance forms with a rich dub tradition. The resultant piece is visually and aurally luscious and operates on multiple levels of meaning-creation, for me particularly the sensory, gestural, spiritual and the mythological. There are strong performances from the entire cast, most of whom take on multiple roles including the Ahosi Mino (the survivors and rebels of this post-apocalyptic world); the animals who confront Lukumi on humanity’s environmental impact; and the Orisha, deities in the Yoruba pantheon.

In the second act, after being chosen for the journey, Lukumi makes her way through eight layers of the earth to find the Ancestor Tree. The journey Lukumi takes is not only physical, but also emotional and spiritual and is played by anitafrika with an enrapturing vitality. Through the teachings of the animal guides, Lukumi gains the confidence and assurance to face the lack of clear solutions the Ancestor Tree provides—a journey of personal development that echoes the principles of anitafrika’s own Anitafrika Sorplusi Method. However, her transformation from uncertain hero to empowered leader does not seem to signal a victory for all humankind, but rather serves as a challenge to the audience. As Lukumi leaves the theatre with the Orisha pantheon at the play’s end, she leaves the audience with the weight of our own actions and decisions. Lukumi is a hero, the show seems to say, but she is not our saviour. Instead she models what each individual audience member must do to meet the environmental and humanitarian challenges ahead, a task that the piece makes clear is the individual responsibility of all.

For me, a real source of the performance’s strength and – despite the dark and dire subject matter – its ultimate hope is the way it ties contemporary issues to age-old myth, storytelling, and tradition. One way the show frames Lukumi’s journey is as the mythical journey of the Orisha Oshun. It is this divine scale that allows Lukumi to succeed (where other shows that attempt to address climate change have failed) in both capturing the massive scale of the problem and giving the show enough weight to confront it – and to even imagine possible solutions.

(Left to right) Uche Ama, Savannah Clarke, Sashoya Shoya Oya. Photo by Ahmed Barakat

Uche Ama, Actor (Ahosi/Buffalo/Oya)
Uche is a queer, black performer.

Q from Signy: What does the piece mean to you?

This piece means everything to me because I come from a musical theatre background and my experience with theatre has not always been as spiritual, as connective with my cast, as connected to my history and my heritage—I’ve never experienced something like that doing a show. So this experience changed my world; it’s changed my perspective of art. It’s changed my perspective of what I want to do as an artist because my whole life I’ve been like “I want to be a musical theatre performer,” it’s what I want to do, and I love it. And I still love it but now, because of what this show is, I feel like there’s nothing like this out there. Maybe I need to start writing it; maybe I need to start creating it with some of the people in this cast. So this show definitely means a lot. It’s close to my heart, very close to my heart.

Q: What message do you want an audience to take away from the show?

The message I want them to take away is “Stop, and look”. We as humans in the city are so fixated on the go go go of life, and “I’ve gotta go here, I’ve gotta go here, I have to do this, I have to do that,” and coming here and taking in what that does to the human race really helps us see how easy it is to forget about things that used to be important. Once upon a time, environment and our earth was something to fight for—we wouldn’t be here without the earth—it’s so important so I’m curious as to what happened to let that importance fall by the wayside. So that’s a message that I hope the audience goes away with.

Q: What effect do you hope Lukumi has on an audience?

I hope they’re taken aback. I hope they’re taken aback, and I hope it makes them ask questions. I really hope they stop and they’re like “Wow, what am I doing? What am I doing right now to make this an issue? What am I doing to feed this problem?” I say to myself for the last month, since we started working on the show, “Lukumi is everywhere”. And climate change is everywhere. Especially the weather that we’re experiencing right now. It’s September and it goes from being 30 degrees to today where it’s like 17 degrees and you want to wear a sweater and a scarf, and next week it’s going to be 30 degrees again. So, stop, question. That’s what I hope.

Q: What advice do you have for an audience who is encountering the dub art form for the first time?

Listen. And ask questions, if you have questions. I would also recommend reading that article that Amanda Parris wrote in CBC about what dub is, the history of it, the importance of it in the Jamaican culture and why it is what it is. Even a person who kind of knows dub or has seen d’bi’s shows in the past, that article really brought everything to light and prepares you for what you’re going to experience here, I think.

Q: Do you have anything else you want to add?

Come see the show! Come see it! You’ll be moved, you’ll be excited, you’ll come with questions AND you’ll leave with even more!  There are no answers here. None whatsoever. And you’ll probably find yourself online when you go home, and that’s definitely what we want. Google, find reputable resources, and research things that you’re curious about if you don’t understand something. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand in the talkback because that’s why we have a talkback!! No fear! Break the ice!

Lukumi cast. Photo by Ahmed Barakat

Aisha Bentham, Actor (Ahosi/Crow/ White Mask/Yemoja)
Aisha Bentham is a Toronto-based (Ajax) artist/creator.

Q from Signy: What effect do you hope the show has on the audience?

I really hope that they enjoy it. I mean, we are talking about some really heavy, deep stuff in this show and I pray and hope that people will take that in; but, as well, I just want people to enjoy the show. It’s beautiful. The music is so much fun, and the visuals and the different characters that we all play. I just really want people to enjoy it. And also come into this show with no expectation. Because this type of theatre is not like every type of theatre. And so, just coming in with an open heart, because really that’s the most important thing, having an open heart. And not coming in ready to judge.

One thing that I think is never to be taken for granted is the fact that we all go through change in different ways. Like I said, this is a big show and we’re talking about some really heavy stuff, and even as myself as an actor in this show, I still have moments of like, “oh my god”, and it’s always new, even though I’ve been doing this for so long. And so I don’t take it for granted that some people, it may not land for them right away; but like I said, I think a big thing is have an open heart and come in with the option for things to hit you. With the option. Because when you come in being like “Nope, okay, I’m here, they’re there, this is their experience, this is not my experience,” really coming in with the option of being like, “This could be my experience,” or, “This actually is my experience”. But for some people it takes a little bit longer…We had a talk back last night and we had our director Eugene Williams talking about dub art form, and I’m still sitting with it, too. I’m not of Jamaican descent but that doesn’t matter. The form is still coming out of me in ways that I’m still grappling with, and being like, “Okay, what is this? How am I saying this? Where does this live?” …. Just come in and be open-hearted.

Q: Do you have a favourite part of the show?

This part of the show when the Ancestor Tree comes and starts to sing her song—the Ancestor Tree’s played by Najla [performer Najla Nubyanluv]—and Lukumi is about to start her journey, and you have all the Ahosi Mino on the stage, and the Ancestor Tree’s singing to her and she’s saying “Come to me Lukumi” as if she’s serenading her to come to her. And the drums are going and it’s all very—every time it’s different and every time it’s so organic, and real. And it really transports you (at least myself as an actor on stage) into a space of—it’s like you’re not here in Toronto, Ontario at 8:43pm. Your space and time is no longer this solid form, it’s malleable. And it really transports you into this other space, and I love it. I can never anticipate what’s going to happen and I think that’s the coolest part about that moment for me.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Climate change, deforestation, mining is so real. I think that’s the hardest part for people to really grapple with. Because we’re not touching it. We’re not next to a family of trees getting uprooted to put a condo or a building. So just reminding ourselves that this is very real. And the closer that we get to earth, the more that we will really hear its heartbeat. I know that’s very poetic, but we need to do that more. And that’s going to look very different for every person. You know, maybe people, that’s when they go up to their cottages every weekend. Or maybe people just can’t live in the city, have to live in the suburbs or up North. But whatever that means, you need to get closer to the earth to hear its heartbeat because it speaks to you. That’s it.

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Author Bio: Signy Lynch is a PhD Student in Theatre and Performance Studies at York University. Her research investigates how direct audience address in contemporary performance can help audience members and performers to negotiate the complexities of inhabiting a twenty-first century globalized Canada. She is a member of the Centre for Spectatorship at the University of Toronto and is a board member of Cahoots Theatre.

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