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Director, Rhoma Spencer on I MARCUS GARVEY

Since 2004, the Theatre Archipelego has pursued it's mission to promote works from the Caribbean and its Diaspora. My last focus on the theatre was my broadcast interview last Spring with playwright/actor, Edwige Jean-Pierre about Our Lady of Spills which was directed by theatre Founder and Artistic Director, Rhoma Spencer. This time round, I had the opportunity to ask Spencer about the theatre's latest production, I Marcus Garvey, which she also directs.

The name of Marcus Garvey comes up a lot during Black History Month. Why did Theatre Archipelago choose to focus on Garvey instead of a lesser-known historical figure?

I find that a great amount of this generation do not know who he is. He is well known to our West Indian parents but their Canadian grandchildren don’t have a clue who is Marcus Garvey. Needless to say, the average white Canadian is even less aware of Garvey let alone something called the UNIA, his United Negro Improvement Association. I also wanted to do this play even more so because of its Canadian reference. We all know too well the opening bars of Bob Marley’s redemption song. “ emancipate yourself from mental slavery…” How many of us know that this is taken from a speech he made in Cape Breton in 1938?

EDGAR NKOSI WHITE has written many plays and is known in England and the United States, but could you please introduce him to us?

It is my hope that through his play we will get to know who he is. He was born on the island of Monsterrat and grew up in Spanish/English Harlem. He was educated at Yale University and New York Theological Seminary where he respectively completed his studies in Drama and Theology. At the age of eighteen his first play, The Mummer's Play (1965) was produced by Joseph Papp Public Theatre in New York. The success of this production, which revealed his talent as a playwright, convinced the producer to stage his next four plays, including The Crucificado a drama set within the Hispanic community in Harlem, New York.

After moving to England in 1981, his plays were successfully produced by the Black Theatre Co-operative, Temba, Talawa, Umoja, and Lumumba theatre companies in a number of London and national venues including the Keskidee, the Royal Court Theatre, and the Edinburgh Fringe festival. The national theatre in London is presently doing a season of his one-act plays.

What is the physical set-up of I Marcus Garvey? Can audiences expect vignettes of Garvey’s life or is the piece focused on one particular period/event in his life?

The play is what you call an epic drama and it spans his life and work in Jamaica, England, and America from 1912-1927. The play is in 3 acts but for the purpose of this showcase presentation, we are only doing two acts. My objective for this Black History Month offering by my company was to figure out if the play written with about 16 characters and musicians could be done with 6 actors and 4 musicians.

I was surprised to see OWEN BLAKKA ELLIS in the cast list. Many in the Caribbean community know him primarily as a comedian. What role does he play in this piece?

Owen Blakka Ellis is first and foremost an actor. When I first met him 22 years ago in Trinidad he was in a play on tour of the Caribbean. The play was Whiplash. After years of being an actor he branched off into comedy according to him, it is less taxing, no lines to learn, no attitudes to deal with, just he and himself. He plays multiple roles. He is West Indian Archie, a pimp and thug in Harlem, Wallace, Garvey’s brother-in-law. Needless to say, he brings comic relief to the play with these characters.

I was not surprised to see ANDREW MOODIE in a piece like this because he has such a great command of the stage. Did you hold auditions for the role of Garvey, or did you have Andrew in mind for the role?

I had Andrew in mind to play this role since 2003. I approached him since then and he was very excited to play the role. For the next seven years I kept reminding him that I wanted him to do it and that as soon as I see the money, I would call him. So said; so done. Thanks to the support of TD it became a reality. TD puts their money where their mouth is; they saw Theatre Archipelago’s vision and supported it wholeheartedly. The bigger show is carded for our 2011/12 season.

CHRISTIAN CAMPBELL will lead the post-show discussion. Could you please tell more about Campbell?

Christian is a Bahamian/Trinidadian educated at Oxford and Duke University. He is an Assistant Professor in the faculty of English at U of T, with research interest in Caribbean Literature, Black Diaspora Literatures and Cultures (including Caribbean, African-American, Black British and Black Canadian). He will talk about how Garveyism is manifested in popular music today. We will also have MICHELLE JOHNSON, a York professor in History doing one of the talk back sessions as well. Professor Johnson is a recent transplant from University of Mona, Jamaica.

What do you hope that people will take away with them when they leave a performance of I Marcus Garvey?

I want them to come away after the showcase asking themselves so where are we as a race? I want them to reflect on his ideology and see if we are at a better place now or we are still grappling with what he talked about in 1912. But more that, I want my people, black people, to take pride in being who they are without feeling sorry for what atrocities we would have gone through to get us here. It is our resilience that kept us, like the people of Haiti who so reminded us when even after 14 days they could still be finding persons alive.

I Marcus Garvey
By Edgar Nkosi White
A Showcase Presentation- Directed by Rhoma Spencer
Featuring Sarah Michelle Brown, Colin Doyle, Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis,
Quancetia Hamilton, Andrew Moodie and Anand Rajaram
Post show discussion on ‘The influence of Garvey on popular culture and African Diasporic identity’ with Christian Campbell. Feb 6 & 7 only.

Fri Feb 5 & Sat Feb 6, 2010.
Papermill Theatre, 67 Pottery Rd. Toronto. Showtime: 7.30pm

Sun Feb 7.
William Doo Auditorium, New College U of T. 45 Willcocks St. Toronto
Showtime: 2.30pm

Admission: $10. Students $5.
Reservations: 416-750-1764 Ext 1.


Click here to read Blakka Ellis' article in the Jamaica Star Online about being in I Marcus Garvey.


北橋 said…
生命是一頓豐富的宴席,有人卻寧可挨餓 ..................................................

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