2 Halifax playwrights share their visions of the future of Blackness

·3 min read
Shauntay Grant is an award-winning Halifax author, playwright and storyteller. Her play, Beyere, is part of the 21 Black Futures project. (CBC Arts - image credit)
Shauntay Grant is an award-winning Halifax author, playwright and storyteller. Her play, Beyere, is part of the 21 Black Futures project. (CBC Arts - image credit)

Two Halifax playwrights are sharing their creative visions of what the future could look like for Black Canadians.

It's part of 21 Black Futures a series launched by Obsidian Theatre Company, Canada's premiere theatre company for Black artists, in partnership with CBC Arts.

The series consists of 21 filmed, one-person plays, each written, directed and performed by a different Black playwright, director and actor.

From style to script to genre, the plays run the gamut. But each piece seeks to answer the question: "What is the future of Blackness?"

Beyere

Playwright Shauntay Grant wrote Beyere for the series. It's set in the year 2080, and focuses on Aodri, a mother who's just been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

21 Black Futures: Beyere. Written by Shauntay Grant, directed by Lisa Karen Cox, performed by Natasha "Courage" Bacchus.
21 Black Futures: Beyere. Written by Shauntay Grant, directed by Lisa Karen Cox, performed by Natasha "Courage" Bacchus.

The 10-minute play shows Aodri, who does not speak, using sign language and other gestures to tell her 10-year-old daughter, Bena, about her diagnosis.

But the message Aodri hopes to convey is about more than just her diagnosis, Grant said, because the two women are the last of the traditional speakers of the fictional Ebanu people.

"She's trying to pass on the language to her daughter, knowing that she won't be around long and hoping for the survival of her culture going forward," Grant told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

In conceptualizing her play, Grant said she felt an important part of imagining the future of Blackness was connecting it to the past.

"Being removed from our culture doesn't mean that it's actually gone and absent," she said.

"Sometimes we have moments of reconnection and something just comes alive inside of us, and we don't know what that is, we don't know where it comes from, but it feels like home."

Umoja Corp.

Jacob Sampson's Umoja Corp. follows the story of Adrian, a Black man facing the justice system alone.

"It's not necessarily that this character is being derailed ... it's a matter of the loneliness that a person can feel facing huge systems, like a justice system or a health-care system," Sampson told CBC Radio's Mainstreet.

21 Black Futures: Umoja Corp. Written by Jacob Sampson, directed by Leighton Alexander Williams, performed by Pablo Ogunlesi.
21 Black Futures: Umoja Corp. Written by Jacob Sampson, directed by Leighton Alexander Williams, performed by Pablo Ogunlesi.

In the play, Umoja is a corporation that uses political and financial power to support Black people against injustices.

"They use care to protect this individual's future and see the potential of what could be rather than what was done," he said.

The word umoja is Swahili for unity. Sampson found inspiration in watching professional athletes in the NBA and NFL stand up for their beliefs.

"The players kind of united together to further causes that were important to them. Just watching them come into their collective power kind of prompted the idea for this play," he said.

But Sampson said the fictional corporation isn't meant to be a "shining city on the hilltop."

"Putting a corporation behind anything kind of prickles the back of the neck hairs a little bit," he said. "You know, it lends itself to the possibility that things could go awry."

The first two groups of the 21 plays, including Beyere and Umoja Corp., are available to watch on CBC Gem. The third group will be released on Feb. 26.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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