An African Odyssey in Montreal
Journey With Black Theatre Workshop’s Unique Style
Few immigrants would come to Canada if they thought a crumbling economy was going to leave them homeless. In Black Theatre Workshop’s latest production, Stori Ya, that’s exactly what happens, however. The play, which recounts the journey of a woman forced to first leave her country, then her house, is told through song, dance, and stories.
“The goal in writing this script was always to stay true to the character,” said the playwright, Joan Kivanda. “And in turn, create a universal understanding and caring for her situation.”
In Stori Ya, Maria (played by Botswana-born, Montreal-based actress Warona Setshwaelo) welcomes the audience—as her dinner guests—to a night of storytelling. It’s the eve of her eviction, while millions of others are losing their homes in North America’s changing economy.
She tells of her life from Tanzania to Canada, going into detail about the people who influenced her through narration and song.
“I grew up in a culture where music naturally intersects with stories,” said Kivanda. “Music is part of everyday life, and naturally, it’s part of everyday stories, as seen in Stori Ya.”
The play unfolds through the kind of vivid storytelling that recalls African theatre traditions. But Kivanda believes that often when the West looks at such traditions, the meaning gets lost in translation. She’s optimistic that this doesn’t have to be the case.
“Change will come when more African people start telling their own stories and contextualizing their own art in their own words,” Kivanda said. “Otherwise, we are letting the Western world interpret our work from their lenses and perspectives, which leads to misinterpretation, as everything is filtered by the knowledge gathered outside of the continent.”
While appealing to the mainstream, fostering this kind of cross-cultural understanding is an important facet of how Black Theatre Workshop entertains its audiences.
Kivanda stresses that the purpose of the play was never explicitly to educate, although with the cultural nuances and patterns she’s imbued her character with, “it’s inevitable that people might learn a thing or two… [But] the lessons come from shared experiences.”
As the oldest African-Canadian theatre company in the country, BTW has proven itself an institution in Montreal—and watching the complex and charming Stori Ya, it’s not hard to see why.
Stori Ya / Nov. 16-Dec. 4 / M.A.I. (3680 Jeanne-Mance Ave.) / $20 student, $24 regular. For more info ‘blacktheatreworkshop.ca’:http://blacktheatreworkshop.ca or 514-932-1104