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.

Schimmelpfennig wins the Mülheim Drama Prize

•June 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Der Spiegel declared Roland Schimmelpfennig the Playwright of the Year for 2010 after winning the award.

The Africa Trilogy playwright and Peggy Pickit Sees The Face of God author Roland Schimmelpfennig has won a major international playwriting award.

Roland’s play, The Golden Dragon, beat out works by Austrian Nobel Prize-winner Elfriede Jelinek and five other finalists to take home the Mülheim Drama Prize for German language drama along with fifteen-thousand Euros.

The jury president stated in the prize announcement: “It has within it everything that one could possibly desire from a play.”

Congratulations to Roland from the entire The Africa Trilogy Team!

A scene from The Golden Dragon

Stephen Lewis on The Africa Trilogy and the HIV pandemic

•June 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Volcano Theatre held a fundraising event on On May 18th at The Elgin Theatre with The Africa Trilogy inspiration Stephen Lewis as keynote speaker. Below is the (slightly abridged) text of his speech and photos from the event taken by Amanda Lynne Ballard.

Stephen Lewis speaks to guests at Volcano's fundraising event at The Elgin Theatre on May 18th, 2010

That was a deliciously over the top introduction for which I am deeply appreciative. Christina Magill and I are extraordinarily privileged to be here tonight. That was an astonishing piece of work, the performance which the four [actors] fully represented – was extraordinarily moving and they are amazingly gifted and I can’t get over it. It augurs so auspiciously for what you people do at Luminato and beyond. And I must say, it was quite something to sit and listen and witness it.

I was very much taken a back by Annie Abeni I believe her name was, because it reminded me so vividly of a Ghanaian fertility doll and that immediately reminded me of the question of the transmission of the virus from mother to child during the birthing process which we call vertical transmission.

And I was also struck because I know Schimmelpfenig [author of Peggy Pickit], had indicated at one point that it was difficult to capture, theatrically, the pandemic of HIV, and yet, towards the end of the excerpt which we witnessed the exchange around the looming revelation of infection is completely consistent with the most current analysis of prevention around the pandemic. Analysis which is called concurrent partnerships, a phrase that was given particular authenticity by a women named Helen Epstein who writes for the New York Review of Books and has written a really quite fascinating book quite recently on concurrent partnerships.

Guests at the event began the evening with a special presentation of an excerpt from Peggy Pickit Sees The Face of God in our rehearsal studios.

The theory is that men will have perhaps three or four partners outside of the marriage – women may have one or two partners outside of the marriage – they are in this very tight web of concurrent partnerships and if one of them gets infected, let us assume a nurse has HIV, then everyone instantaneously gets infected. And it is generally felt that that’s the way the virus has moved so dramatically through southern Africa – this process of concurrent partnerships.

And the reason that there was a very dramatic reduction in the country of Uganda was because the women and the community at large understood the concurrent partnerships and moved in and broke them. Spoke to the women and spoke to the men who were engaged in the relationships and broke the concurrent partnerships and the prevalence rate dropped from 20% to 6% in the matter of eight or nine years. So I was much struck by what the play was verging on because it was so consistent with the contemporary theories on how this virus is taking its toll. And I really look forward to the full play and the other two.

Stephen Lewis with Volcano Artistic Director Ross Manson.

You’re a man, Ross, of such diminutive aspirations. I mean, you could have had a quartet and you chose merely a trilogy. It is a comment on your abridged sense of what the world might provide. But I must say that it is quite wondrous that all of this has been encapsulated. I feel honored – to be a part of all of it – however tangentially. I can remember when we got together in November 2007 for the launch and now we’ve got this huge group or team of actors, and directors, and producers and everyone else together in the phenomena of the Trilogy itself.

You can’t imagine how pertinent it is – I was in Pittsburgh today and I got back just before evening and I had while there participated in a discussion on national public radio of a terrible pattern which is emerging of significant cutbacks in funding to respond to the virus from the United States government in particular and a number of other G8 governments- and it’s causing panic in the AIDS activist community because people are being turned away from treatment. The lists are not being added to, people who are very ill even HIV positive pregnant women are being turned away from treatment because they have been told no further enrollment can occur. They simply do not have the money to fund it and this position is being defended and fought with no authenticity whatsoever by a number of hotshots in the Obama administration, and I was doing my best to give a subversive Canadian view on the truth.

But I thought while I was listening and participating and then my mind got back to what happened in Swaziland last week where over two-thousand grandmothers marched from fifteen countries in Africa- marched together- to protest against the policies of the King and to try very hard to raise consciousness around the situation of a country that has the highest prevalence rate in the world – somewhere between 25-30% of all those between the ages 15-49 are infected in Swaziland and whether the country can survive or not is highly problematic.

So to have one of the plays in the Trilogy [Peggy Pickit] evocatively express the sense of pandemic. And one of the other plays in the Trilogy [Glo], as I understand it giving the sense of globalization and therefore this constant tension between the way in which west behaves towards Africa and the multiplicity and complexity of responses within Africa. And the third play [Shine Your Eye]- Binyavanaga’s play- giving the sense of high-tech and of the dimensions which are coming to Africa now – of internet and technology in a way which is quite fascinating.

Trilogy Actress Maev Beaty (l) talks to guests at the post-speech and performance cocktail party on the stage of the Elgin.

And I don’t know how many of you read the issue of The Globe and Mail which was produced by Bob Geldof and Bono, or at least I hope it was produced by Bono because I think Geldof is a bit of a nitwit… its quite fascinating to see the emphasis on trade and technology and again the things which the play expresses. It is fascinating the way in which we have managed with these remarkable of playwrights and everyone else to hone in on what is real for a continent that continues to struggle, but is filled with people who have astonishing generosity of spirit, sophistication, intelligence… I have been visiting back and forth to Africa now for fifty-one years if you can believe it, and I love every minute that I am on that continent.

Ross, thank you for what you’ve done and for pulling it all together. [Brief segue to seek donations to the project.] And having made a financial pitch – I haven’t done that in twenty years when I was fighting for socialism… and let me say my financial pitches were invested with transcendent futility. But tonight I have a deep and abiding confidence that all of you will come together to support this really remarkable, miraculous, astonishing, theatrical venture. Thanks to everyone for being a part of it.

ASL interview with Glo director Josette Bushell-Mingo

•June 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Click this icon here or in the sidebar to watch more YouTube videos with artists creating The Africa Trilogy.

Jamilla Ross interviews Glo director Josette Bushell-Mingo in American Sign Language with translation by Stacey Mackenzie. Their conversation touches on the nature of the trilogy and the approach the production has taken to incorporating American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation in all three plays.

she received 
Arts. She is currently the Artistic Director of the Tyst Theatre, which produces Deaf stage art under the umbrella of Riksteatern, Sweden’s National Touring Theatre.

Photos from May rehearsals of The Africa Trilogy

•June 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Check out this slideshow of photos by Trilogy photographer Amanda Lynne Ballard from our recent rehearsals. Place your cursor on an image for info on an individual photo. You can see loads more photos of our creation process and research trip to parts of Africa on our Flikr page.