The critical response to The Africa Trilogy

•July 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

“I was emotionally ransacked and enchanted by the Africa Trilogy. This play should travel far and wide” – Avril Benoit, Médecins Sans Frontières, Canada

The Africa Trilogy(l-r) Maev Beaty, Trey Lyford, Dorothy Atabong, Milton Barnes, Araya Mengesha in Glo

The Huffington Post:

“Volcano Theatre had a clever idea: to bring the work of three playwrights (German, Kenyan, American) together to explore the relationship between Africa and The West. Each was stunning”

“smart, irreverent, challenging and brilliantly directed and acted.”

The Toronto Sun:

“in a world where it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness,  Volcano Theatre lights three”

FIVE STARS (out of five)

Toronto Star:

“A Substantial Achievement”

great work throughout from the creative team responsible for sets, costumes, lighting,sound and video. Production values for all three plays are top-notch”

Shine Your Eye

Dienye Waboso in Shine Your Eye

Eye Weekly:

“Manson wonderfully integrates video, movement and hip-hop in an eye-opening tale about how the modern world has impacted Africa.”

“Wainaina is one of those rare playwrights who can give the colloquial language the sound of poetry.”

Toronto Star:

“Tight, well-written and poetic, it is a play filled with heart”

FOUR STARS (out of four)


“Binyavanga Wainaina’s lyrical script moves forward with gusto, and is forcefully acted by its ensemble cast”

Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God

(l-r) Tony Nappo, Jane Spidell, Maev Beaty, Trey Lyford in Peggy Pickit Sees The Face of God

The Globe and Mail:

“director Liesl Tommy gets incredible performances out of her cast, as her production masterfully lurches back and forth between hilarity and dread. The staging is full of brilliant touches.

“Life is tragedy seen in close-up, comedy in the long shot, Charlie Chaplin said; Peggy Pickit allows us to see both at once.”

Toronto Star:

“cleverly written and cleverly directed… beautifully cast… powerful”

The National Post

a superbly rigorous production”

NOW Magazine:

“Director Liesl Tommy’s work with the four actors is razor sharp; the looping of word, physicality and emotion is a show in itself.”

Dorothy Atabong in Glo

The Huffington Post:

“took my breath away. It was by up-and-coming American playwright, Christina Anderson. Her work is going to be transforming stages around the world, count on it.”

The Toronto Star:

“oh so charismatic”

The Globe and Mail:

“a potent metaphor… dreamlike direction…”

The Torontoist:

“creative direction and a solid cast”


Trilogy dramaturg Weyni Mengesha and actor Dienye Wasobo on Late Night in the Bedroom

•July 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Schimmelpfennig to present new work at The Wrecking Ball

•June 20, 2010 • 1 Comment

The Wrecking Ball was originally established by Volcano Artistic Director Ross Manson and playwright Jason Sherman. The 10th edition is presented by a coalition of 11 directors.

Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God playwright, Roland Schimmelpfennig, will be the first European playwright to present a work at The Wrecking Ball when Wrecking Ball 10: Gee! 20? hits the Theatre Centre on Monday night.

He joins four of Canada’s top playwrights: Bea Pizano, Melody Johnson, Sky Gilbert and Marjorie Chan, in tackling the here-and-now at the 1oth edition of the one-night-only show that put Canadian political theatre on the map.

Click here for more info

Pics of The Africa Trilogy onstage @ Luminato

•June 19, 2010 • 1 Comment

Photos by John Lauener

inFORMING CONTENT announces all star cast of project leaders

•June 17, 2010 • 2 Comments

The George Ignatieff Theatre was packed last weekend for last weekend's Africa Trilogy Panel in conjunction with Luminato and U of T's Centre for Ethics. This coming weekend it plays home to the inFORMING CONTENT workshops led by Deborah Pearson and the allstar cast of artists below

inFORMING CONTENT: A workshop exploring immersive theatre and its relationship to ethics. Led by Deborah Pearson, co-director of award-winning Edinburgh venue Forest Fringe.

This weekend aspiring and emerging theatre artists from across Toronto will descend on the George Ignatieff Theatre to engage in a two-day workshop on ethical play creation. After listening to a number of lectures provided by University of Toronto’s Centre for Ethics, participants will be broken into five groups to create original theatrical responses to the issues raised. Each group will be led by one of the five boundary-pushing contemporary theatre artists listed below:

FREE EVENT June 19: 10am – 1pm
A series of brief “ethics talks” on a range of topics from post-graduate ethicists from the University of Toronto. current . urgent . compelling.

FREE EVENT June 20: 7pm – 9pm
Workshop participants will respond to the “ethics talks” by creating site-specific theatre. immediate . experimental . intimate.

The Centre for Ethics: is located at 15 Devonshire Place, Toronto. (Click for map.)

Michael Rubenfeld is the Artistic Producer of the SummerWorks Theatre Festival. From 2001 – 2009, he was Co-Artistic Director of Absit Omen theatre company where his work included: Present Tense (writer), Spain (writer, director), Essay (director), My Fellow Creatures (writer, director, Dora nomination for Outstanding New Play) and The Book of Judith (writer, co-creator with Sarah Stanley). Michael graduated from National Theatre School in 2001.

Claire Calnan is a Toronto-based theatre artist and a graduate of Studio 58 in Vancouver.  A performer and theatre-maker, she was voted one of the Top Ten Theatre Artists of 2009 by NOW Magazine. With the help of a Chalmers Professional Development Grant she will be studying traditional forms of theatre in Japan this summer.

Susanna Hood is a choreographer, performer, director and teacher working at the intersection of dance and sound. She is the recipient of various awards including the 1998 K.M. Hunter Emerging Artists Award in Dance, the 2006 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Performance in Dance for her solo show She’s gone away and, most recently, the 2008 Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance.

Ravi Jain is Artistic Director of Why Not Theatre and an  actor, director and producer in Toronto and internationally.  Most recently co-created I’m So Close… and SPENT (3 Dora nominations).  Ravi was the recipient of the Ken MacDougall award for Emerging Director and is currently assisting Jennifer Tarver on George F. Walker’s King of Thieves at Stratford.

Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu was assistant director of Shine Your Eye, the first play in The Africa Trilogy. Other theatres include: African Theatre Ensemble (Softown); Obsidian Theatre (Toast, Mussorgsky Project); SummerWorks (Keen); Alumnae Theatre (27 Weeks, New Ideas Festival); Hart House Theatre (For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, Stephen and Mr. Wilde). Apprentice Director for Obsidian Theatre’s 2008‐09 season, and graduate of York University’s theatre program.

Click here to read inFORMING CONTENT workshop leader Deborah Pearson’s thoughts on the goals and questions that inform this project.

The Africa Trilogy opens tonight!

•June 15, 2010 • 1 Comment

Milton Barnes and Dienye Waboso in Shine Your Eye by Binyavanga Wainaina directed by Ross Manson

(l-r) Jane Spidell, Trey Lyford, Maev Beaty, and Tony Nappo in Peggy Picket Sees the Face of God by Roland Schimmelpfennig directed by Liesl Tommy

(l-r) Maev Beaty, Muoi Nene, Araya Mengesha, Dorothy Atabong, Trey Lyford and Milton Barnes in Glo by Christina Anderson directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo

Photos by John Lauener

3 years in the making, 3 plays, 3 playwrights, 3 directors, 1 dramaturge, 3 assistant directors, 4 stage managers, 11 actors, 2 composers, 3 video designers, 2 production managers, 2 rehearsal halls, 6 weeks of rehearsals, one week of tech, 500+ cues.

The Africa Trilogy has its World Premiere in The Fleck Theatre at Harbourfront Centre tonight.

African issues and the challenge of artistic response: A panel discussion

•June 12, 2010 • 3 Comments

To what extent can art be a force for change? Should it be? Are some artworks more or less useful than others in such a context?

Binyavanga Wainaina, playwright of The Africa Trilogy’s Shine Your Eye and Director of the Chinua Achebe Centre for African Literature at Bard College, esteemed author and scholar Ngugi wa Thiong’o and James Orbinski, writer, doctor, and former head of the Nobel-prize winning Médecins Sans Frontières, discuss African issues and the place of artistic response in an arena more often dominated by international development discourse.

Sunday, June 13; 7pm

George Ignatieff Theatre
Trinity College, Larkin Building (NW corner)
15 Devonshire Place
Toronto, ON M5S 1H8


Today the audience arrives: First preview for The Africa Trilogy

•June 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Image by roadieshow licensed under Creative Commons.

Four years after Volcano Artistic Director Ross Manson had an idea while vacuuming his dining room and listening to The Massey Lectures on the radio, hundreds of people will head town to The Fleck Theatre at Harbourfront Centre and sit through a play called The Africa Trilogy. Theatre is a magical thing that way.

Over the next four days the Trilogy will be honed and refined through evening performances followed by afternoon rehearsals the following day to make changes and adjustments – all leading up to opening night on Tuesday June 15th.

With the arrival of preview performances comes preview articles.  Check out some of the press that has recently come out about The Africa Trilogy by clicking on the images below.

The creative team in The Globe and Mail

Dramaturg Weyni Mengesha in NOW

Actor Karen Robinson in Extra


•June 8, 2010 • 4 Comments

Deborah reading a book. Photo: A Jamalzadeh.

Deborah Pearson leads inFORMING CONTENT, a workshop exploring innovative methods of play-creation and the relationship between art and ethics June 19-20, 2010.
Click here for more details

by Deborah Pearson

When Ross Manson asked me six months ago to run a workshop in partnership with The Africa Trilogy and the U of T Centre for Ethics, I absolutely jumped at the opportunity. There were several reasons behind my enthusiasm: The first was that Ross’s passion for The Africa Trilogy was contagious. It was obvious that there was something pressing and important that he and the others involved wanted to say, and I felt honoured to be a part of that.

But my other reasons were entirely selfish – because as it turned out there was also something pressing, and possibly important, that I wanted to say, or more specifically, to try. And this workshop would be the perfect place to try it.

There is a lot of talk about theatre being inaccessible – self sustaining by virtue of the community who makes it – that this living, breathing art form often preaches to its own choir, performs to its own colleagues, and many see this as a problem. It’s an interesting question, and it brings up a lot of arguments, one being the importance of a community. Why should a theatre community feel any less important as a place to inspire, to introduce new ideas, and to instigate change? The next argument could go like this: Where does this “theatre” community come from? How does it start, and where do the new members come in? Could it be that watching theatre makes people want to make theatre, which makes them part of this “self sustaining” community? I’m sure we’ve all had that feeling of watching a performer, and wanting to jump to our feet and deliver their lines, to get involved?

Deborah dispenses advice on the streets of London

So where does this sit in relation to a workshop on experimental theatre and ethics? Well, if theatre is the first part of the inaccessible equation, I’d argue that Politics are just as culpable, and in many cases far less proven in terms of making political activists out of political observers. There’s often a sense that we aren’t well informed enough, that our opinions won’t make enough of an impact, that our actions could be meaningless, or that the issue is too complicated.

In some cases this may be true. But I also can’t help but be moved by the Martin Luther King quote: “Even if I knew the world were going to end tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree today.” There is something to be said for getting out of the observers seat and for taking a risk. For jumping to your feet and doing something. This is why I felt that a workshop that combines ethical lectures with experimental challenges for Toronto theatre makers and audiences was such an important compliment to the Africa Trilogy. I want to live in a world where politics is about regular people feeling informed and empowered to join the discussion, to take action, to do something, to take a risk.

The pieces that will be created over the two days are based on experimental theatre models that are very familiar to European audiences, and that often ask the audience to be more active, to make more choices, to be more involved and adventurous than they are when they watch a film. The audience is dealing with real people, with the present, and if this isn’t politically charged, I don’t know what is. Combine this ask with a team of extremely talented young Toronto theatre makers working with an exciting pool of drama students, and what you end up with may be a little rough around the edges, but it will take risks, it will surprise you, and it will get you involved. It will be present, and it will make sure that everyone is on their feet and a vocal part of the community it creates. There won’t be stories that tie up neatly, that resolve themselves in a three act structure – there won’t be comfortable seats – but there will be questions – and there will be action. And if anything, that plants something. That’s a start.

Are you the tenant or the landlord of your life?

•June 7, 2010 • 1 Comment

Actor Lucky Ejim stars in Shine Your Eye by Binyavanga Wainana. He also plays the lead role in the critically acclaimed film The Tenant. Click above to watch the trailer for the film.

By Lucky Ejim

I recently played the lead role in The Tenant, a film that tells the story of Obinna; a Nigerian refugee in Canada, who has thirty days to leave the country or face deportation. Timothy, his terminally ill Caucasian landlord makes him a proposition: if Obinna can get his estranged daughter to make peace with him before he dies, he will intervene in his deportation as a former immigration officer. As the clock ticks on, Obinna has to do the impossible and find Timothy’s daughter and convince her to return home. In less than 30 days, he has to turn hate into love.

The Tenant was born as an answer to the many questions that many displaced Africans like myself have been carrying. Where is my place in the larger scheme of things? Why am I an immigrant in the world I live in? And in making sense of these intricate questions, an overarching question is revealed: Are you the tenant or the landlord of your life?

Creating The Africa Trilogy has also raised different aspects of this question:
Where is Africa coming from? Where is she at the moment? Where is she heading? These questions are the beginning of our dialogue between the continent and the West. Three entirely different plays with similar goals and recurring themes, each searching for answers to the same questions.

In Shine Your Eye, I play the role of Tambari – the head of a “Telecom Company”, based in Lagos, Nigeria. It is a name befitting a company that is into scamming, as the scam involves telecommunications. It is better known as a 419 scam – an operation that blasts thousands of emails hoping to lure greedy and gullible Westerners into transferring large sums of money. This operation presents no moral dilemma for Tambari -for him, all he is doing is bringing back money that in his opinion is constantly being stolen from Nigeria and has been so since colonialism.

Lucky Ejim performs in a staged reading of Shine Your Eye. Photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard

My experience portraying this man has been quite a challenge because it has forced me to examine my own morality as an African and a Nigerian. You can agree that it behooves me to promote a good image of the continent and portraying a scammer who truly believes what he is doing is right, is not necessarily the ideal way to foster greater good for my motherland. But in the words of my father, please “temper justice with mercy” because I am only a storyteller – the bearer of the message. So please consider the message of the story and not the character who brings you this message.

Shine Your Eye places a microscopic lens on the issue of fraud in both Africa and the West. It seeks to ask the question: Who is scamming who and at what cost? It proposes that if Africa properly channels her human and natural resources, a better and wiser Africa can emerge. It also says to the West: “It is time to wake up to the fact that Africa is not just a jungle that needs “help”, but a huge continent whose resources can no longer be abused and trivialized.

As we rehearse Shine Your Eye, the character of Tambari keeps saying to me, “Lucky, I am the landlord of my life and not the tenant.” Tambari is struggling to make a space where things work for him and his people from Ogoni land in the Niger Delta in Nigeria. This is a place where more than two million barrels of crude oil is taken from everyday, by foreign oil companies, including Shell, while much less is put in to developing the country and its resources.

Big thank you to Volcano Theatre for presenting me with the opportunity to be a part of this amazing journey and to the entire Africa Trilogy family for being so hospitable. Much love and luck to you all.