Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

'Symposia' in the Drama of Trey Anthony and Louise Delisle

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

'Symposia' in the Drama of Trey Anthony and Louise Delisle

Article excerpt

Opening

African-Canadian writers and their critics celebrate, mutually, the literature's vibrant multiculturalism, and rightly so. Excitingly, African-Canadian literature is the child of a kind of African United Nations, an assembly of artists from every corner of the African--or Negro--Diaspora, gathered in Canada. In her introduction to African-Canadian Theatre (2005), Maureen Moynagh sees, "much of contemporary African-Canadian experience is shaped by the ties that African Canadians continue to have with other nations in the Americas and in Africa" (xvi). She also realizes, "African-Canadian theatrical practice is informed by the theatrical traditions and dramatic canons of African America, of the Caribbean, of Africa, and of Black Britain, which are themselves in constant intercultural dialogue with one another and with European and Euro-American theatrical models" (xii).

Diversity, thy name is African Canada. Only here can a Nigerian writer, say Ken Wiwa, be placed in dialogue with a Jamaican one, perhaps Rachel Manley, then both set in conversation with a native Albertan writer, maybe, Suzette Mayr, or even a Quebec-based Francophone one, namely, Gerard Etienne. Such juxtapositions are the norm, for they are our reality. Every African-Canadian literary anthology, for instance, numbers contributors whose roots are global and who may hold multiple passports. Thus, each anthology offers a roll call of Canadian provinces, US states, and Caribbean and African nations, as well as a few 'shout-outs' to Europe, South America, and Asia. Even, the history of African-Canadian literature is complicated by its fanatical internationalism. For instance, the first published play in English is Trinidad-born Lennox Brown's The Captive (1965), published in Ottawa, but the first play in French is one by Franck Fouche, Un fauteuil dans un crane (1957), published originally in Haiti. While readers of these writers and texts may instinctively discover commonalities, or be asked to do so in essays for courses in African-Canadian literature, the impertinent question may still be asked, "What do these writers and texts have in common beyond the 'Canadian' designation (one which they may reject)?"

I think this question acquires acute meaning in reference to drama, for it may seem ridiculous to ask a largely West Indian-derived audience in Toronto to applaud a rustic story set in historical Nova Scotia, or, alternatively, to ask an African-American-derived audience of Saskatchewan settler heritage to laud a contemporary, urban 'rap' set among the immigrant high-rises of big city suburbs. Yet, the problem I posit is irritatingly facetious: George Boyd's play about the destruction of historic Africville in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Consecrated Ground (1996), has played Toronto (2004) as well as Halifax (1998), while Djanet Sears's Harlem Duet (1997), has gone to New York City (2003) and Halifax (2004) as well as to Stratford, Ontario (2006). Of course, many other examples of such crossover appeal may be cited. (Consider the appearance of Walter Borden's 'psycho-drama' Tightrope Time [1986] in Amsterdam [1985] and in Montreal [2005].) However, I think more is being demonstrated here than the oneness of' black' experience or the ability of 'black' theatre goers--like any audience--to make imaginative leaps into another cultural experience.

Rather, I think our dramas make use of the device of the 'symposia,' fairly perpetually, to stage anatomies of communities and their final reunification (if comic) or disintegration (if tragic). Certainly, this device enjoys wide usage, from the situating of nearly one dozen personalities in the brain of the Host in Borden's Tightrope Time, to the presentation of sundry kitchen, doorstep, and living-room scenes in Sears's Harlem Duet, to the living-room, bedroom and kitchen scenes in Andrew Moodie's Riot (1997), and to the similar scenes in M. NourbeSe Philip's Coups and Calypsos (1996, 2001). …

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