Luminato interviews directors Ross Manson and Liesl Tommy

Ross Manson and Liesl Tommy


The Insider had a chance to catch up with two of the three directors, Ross Manson and Liesl Tommy, as they prepare for workshop rehearsals prior to the world premiere of The Africa Trilogy at Luminato this June.

Insider: What was the main inspiration forThe Africa Trilogy?

Ross Manson: Stephen Lewis. I snapped on CBC Radio one day, and he was on the air delivering one of his Massey Lectures on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. This was almost five years ago, when every piece of news was dominated by the war in Iraq. Yet here was Stephen Lewis reporting that a pandemic in Africa was, at the same time, claiming more lives each day than were lost in the twin towers. This boggled my mind: a ‘9/11’ each and every day. This was simply the largest and most deadly crisis on earth, and almost no one was talking about it. “Why?”, I thought. What ELSE isn’t being reported? These questions struck me as quintessentially dramatic. As an artist I became fascinated not so much by the issue of the pandemic, but by the idea of a global relationship so full of hidden agendas, unreported stories, and disinformation.

I: What makes this project important or relevant to you?

RM: I believe that the interplay between Canada and the many nations of the world that have contributed Canadians to Canada is a national phenomenon worth making art about. I believe our theatre must be less narrowly defined. With Volcano’s The Africa Trilogy, a group of international artists has been assembled to tackle an important global issue, in the same way that Canadian diplomacy has, at its best, gathered international partners to tackle pressing global concerns. The process is Canadian, even if the partners are international.

Liesl Tommy: As a woman born in South Africa and working primarily in the West, I felt profoundly engaged with the original proposal put to the writers. Having lived and traveled in parts of Africa and parts of the West, and experienced the complexities therein – the hypocrisy, the misconceptions, the fetishizing, and the joys of the clash of these two enormous regions – I was eager to participate in the theatrical dialogue. As we head further into the 21st century I want to participate in a new kind of conversation involving the continent of my birth. I hope that The Africa Trilogy might explore what that new 21st century theatrical conversation could look like.

I: What do you think makes Luminato and the city of Toronto an ideal place for the world premiere?

RM: Toronto is certainly one of, if not the most multicultural city on earth. As I have learned through the casting process, there is a vast and talented African diaspora in Toronto. OF COURSE we should have theatre in Toronto that uses the city’s vastly diverse pool of talent and story.

I: This project was officially launched in November 2007. Now almost 2 ½ years later, how much has the project changed since the very first workshop?

RM: The project has been tremendously fluid through its many phases of development. We began with a meeting at the Gladstone Hotel discussing theory. We traveled to Uganda and Rwanda together. The writers met separately in New York to discuss how they might proceed such that the plays would somehow fit together. There have been meetings and/or public talks in Toronto, Stockholm, Berlin, New York, Nairobi, Kampala, and Kigali. At every step of the way, as the scripts emerged, as design elements were discussed, we have been aware that decisions need to be made rigorously. What has been terrific in this project is the extraordinary level of communication amongst all of these many artists, from all these many backgrounds.

LT: These stories have just become stronger and stronger with each workshop. So I don’t think there has been much change, but there has been tremendous growth… [and] I do think the artists involved have been changed. I think we have all had to have some pretty intense conversations with each other, have had to challenge each other… We have all had to confront our ignorance, our bias, our arrogance, and our fears. It has not always been an easy process, but it has been a profoundly rewarding one.

I: Volcano Theatre has an impressive international touring history, including a recent run of Goodnessin Rwanda. Are there any plans to tour The Africa Trilogy beyond its presentation at Luminato?

RM: I would love to tour this trilogy internationally. I believe there is no richer conversation than the one inspired by cultural artistic exchange. And just such an exchange is what this trilogy is all about. I believe art is not simply a useful, but an essential, part of the way humans need to process information – especially complex information. But art does complexity well. Because art doesn’t seek to explain – it seeks to reveal.The Africa Trilogy is part of an international conversation. We’d like an equally international audience to take part.

~ by volcanotheatre on April 20, 2010.

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