Wednesday, 10 August 2016

d'bi.young anitafrika on BLEEDERS at Summerworks

d'bi.young anitafrika, mother to moon and phoenix,
dub poet, playwright, actor, director, educator
My chat with d'bi.young anitafrika about the final part of the Orisha Trilogy, SummerWorks and running The Watah Theatre.

donna g: What has it meant for you to return to SummerWorks?

d'bi:  SummerWorks has always been my festival of choice because of the love and solidarity that the team puts into the process of curating the festival. It is an accessible space that welcomes all villages to witness and participate in the story. It is a festival by the people, for the people. It is supportive. It is fun. The quality of work presented is deep. Being a part of the magic again this year has been a dream come true. I believe that storytelling is for the healing of the people. That philosophy methodology is evidenced in the theatre festival and it is an honor to be associated with SummerWorks. 

donna g: In watching bleeders, some might say that this final work in your Orisha Trilogy doesn't quite fit. It is, after all, a futuristic dub opera. What's your response to this perception?

d'bi: My committment is to create 3 pieces of storytelling that are stylistically very different. It excites me to see that Esu Crossing The Middle Passage, which featured three storytellers on stage, and She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt , which featured two performers on stage are so very different from Bleeders which features thirteen performers on  stage. The subject matter however is deeply interconnected through all three pieces of work as I attempt to create a deeply intertwined triptych. The Orisha Trilogy as a body of work explores Black identity and it's complex expressions of divinity, gender, sexuality, and the erotic. Each play is set in a different landscape. Esu Crossing is set in the past aboard a slave ship in The Atlantic Ocean, She Mami Wata is set in present-day Jamaica in a strip club and church and Bleeders is set in future Ontario in the core of the earth. The landscapes reinterpret the triangular journey of Black folks, voyaging from Africa to the Caribbean to North America under the influence and protection of The Orishas. Bleeders specifically deals with environmental issues, while Esu Crossing and She Mami Wata deal with Racism and Homophobia respectiveley. However the entire trilogy is drawing attention to the intersectionality of all issues of oppression. It makes complete sense to me that my work grows not only in complexity but also in size and aesthetic. I have always envisioned that I would create large scale political dub opera theatre, as that was what I witnessed as a child growing up in Jamaica. I feel like I have wet my feet with Bleeders and the intention is to continue growing in that direction.

donna g:Yo ur cast includes members of the Watah Theatre, but also a couple of actors who have only been with the company for three weeks! The acting is seamless. What methods did you use to achieve such unity?

d'bi:In all my work I use the Anitafrika Method with the Sorplusi Principles. The Method is a ground-breaking self-actualization, creativity, and leadership process for artists, instigators, educators and change-makers from all walks of life. Sorplusi was inspired by the seminal dub theory work of my mother Anita Stewart and the dub theatre work of my mentor ahdri zhina mandiela. The method provides an intersectional anti-oppressive framework, rooted in creative discovery for self and collective empowerment. The acronym S.O.R.P.L.U.S.I represents the principles of Self-Knowledge, Orality, Rhythm, Political Content &Context, Language, Urgency, Sacredness and Integrity which the practitioner explores through their five bodies: the Physical, the Mental, the Emotional, the Creative and the Spiritual. During Sorplusi sessions practitioners are challenged to uncover their deepest integrities and are invited to continually ask the questions Who am I? How am I? What is my purpose? Supported by the method through a range of meditations, regression exercises, physical, theatrical, literary and leadership activities, each practitioner is guided through a sacred process of uncovering their own empathetic eco-system of accountability and responsibility existing between them and the society they mirror; developing a unique critical-analytical, self-reflective, oppression-aware life-lens. 

donna g:Playing animals can come off as comic rather than dramatic, but everyone did a credible job of bringing us into their world. What made you select those particular animals for the story?--or were the animals selected based on each actors strength?

d'bi: I chose eight animals who are superstars in the mythological; animals who are celebrated in indigenous traditions globally and who have so much to teach us about our own humanity. Anansi the Spider, Coyote the trickster, Snake the feminine and the phallic, Monkey the signifier, Lion the powerful, Buffalo the keeper of life and death, Crow the storyteller and Elephant the wise. The actors chose the animals they felt most drawn to. Additionally each actor was given an Orisha as well as a Sorplusi Principle and Sorplusi body to explore. These elements formed the basis of their characters. The actors were encouraged to research mythologies that featured both their animals and Orishas and to bring that knowledge into their character work. After so much homework, I was absolutely innerwhelmed at the way they brought these creatures to life. 

donna g: Once again, you're collaborating with the phenomenal Waleed Abdulhamid. How would you describe the creative process that has developed between the two of you over the years?

d'bi: Simply put, I love Waleed.  He is the embodiment of mentorship. He is gentle and direct. He is compassionate and empathetic. He is disciplined and passionate. He is brilliant and genius. And he is humble. Through him I learn everyday how to be an artist and a human being. Each project, moment that we spend together deepens my understanding of his own creative process and its impact on my own developing ethos. He demands so much of me creatively, intellectually, politically, and spiritually; he asks that I grow constantly and sometimes I resist, the way a little sister resists being taught how to ride a bike by he elder brother. Sometimes I throw tantrums, partly because I know he will be patient with me through them and partly because he spoils me a bit. I am so deeply greatful to the ancestors for arranging this meeting in this lifetime. I am working with a master artist who mirrors the deep humanity that I am working towards. Our creative process is wrapped up in everything that we are and we work together like water in the oceans. Waleed has made it possible for me to grow in the direction of Dub Opera. I describe this new work as a Dub Opera, a term I did not coin, but which I am (re)defining as a new threatrical genre representing a meeting place of Jamaican Pantomime, Dub Poetry, and Opera. Dub Opera is large scale theatrical/political spectacle with mythology and magick at its core, ridding Reggae riddims while telling a story through music.

donna g: After the performance you mentioned the difficulty of The Watah Theatre in obtaining sustainable funding. Could you expand on this? 

d'bi:  I am a child of the village of Toronto. I am so humbled by the fact that my own personal work as an artist receives an incredible amount of support. In fact I have been able to run The Watah Theatre from what I earn as an artist because my work gets such incredible support from the people. I think it is important to note however, that the kind of support The Watah Theatre is not getting, is institutional support. Institutional support is very different from the ongoing solidarity we experience from the community. The community is and has always been with us. But I must share with you that the pervasiveness of deeply institutionalized systems of racial discrimination makes it so that First Nations, Black and POC arts initiatives and companies like The Watah Theatre routinely receive disproportionately less or no funding resulting in a shorter life-span and forced closure. This reality makes building and sustaining an institution for Black people very very very very very very very difficult! Of about fifteen grants, we have been successful with three. However, I am not about to give up! My expectation is that there are members of our community who will support developing strategies for Watah to not only survive but thrive because they believe deeply in what we represent and in the work that we produce. There are people amongst us who are moneyed and who also have a great heart. Until the institutions change and open up access, we will continue to work on self-sustaining strategies. A project like Bleeders, I do believe will take care of itself, because it provides an immediate sense of gratification through its storytelling and people will support the project for this reason.  

donna g: You have also stated that charging tuition is not an option. Why?

d'bi: The Watah Theatre providing tution-free artist residencies to Black artists is my attempt at supporting artists who have something crucial to share with our world. So far we have had over 100 artists come through our doors in the Distillery District yet our funding has been sparce. We are currently running a funding campaign to help secure our home and to continue to contribute to the cultural landcape that so desperately needs the voices of Black artists.

BLEEDERS (Orisha Trilogy 3) A Dub Opera
by d'bi.young anitafrika
Presented by: The Watah Theatre

The Theatre Centre Mainspace
1115 Queen Street West (just east of Dovercourt)
Tickets: $15
Wed. August 10th9:15 PM - 10:45 PM
Friday August 12th7:45 PM - 9:15 PM
Sunday August 14th3:15 PM - 4:45 PM

Photo Credits: The Watah Theatre, and Dee Kofri|

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