Imagining a Black future in 21 monodramas
Natasha Bacchus in 21 Black Futures - BEYERE
Rayvn Wngz in 21 Black Futures - Jah in the Ever Expanding Song
Sheila Ingabire-Isaro in 21 Black Futures - Chronologie2
Obsidian Theatre’s latest production, 21 Black Futures, is centred around imagining Black future, but rooted in the socio-political context of 2020. This anthology of 21 filmed monodramas is the first project of Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu as the new Artistic Director.
While Mumbi, an acclaimed theatre creator and director who has won several awards, officially took over the role in July 2020, she had been in conversation with the Obsidian team since December 2019 to ensure a smooth transition.
But then the pandemic hit and everything changed. Not long after this, a renewed call for racial and social justice reverberated throughout the world as systemic forms of anti-Black racism were highlighted. Founded in 2000, Obsidian Theatre has a long history of exploring, developing and producing Black voice. While the pandemic had put an end to all live performances, for Obsidian, not speaking, not performing in the context of the movement for racial and social justice was just not an option.
According to Mumbi, the 21 Black Futures project was born out of the moment – COVID-19 and the movement for racial justice. It imagines a Black future, from personal, social, and political points of view. The future that the 21 playwrights are imagining could be six months - or forty years from now. These futures are utopian, dystopian, like the past or the present. These futures allow for a different interpretation of time. “...the piece I am doing is timeless, in which time is not linear,” says Mumbi. Mumbi is directing ‘Cavities’ by BC based Playwright ‘KP Dennis’ starring Obsidian Founding Artistic Director Alison Sealy-Smith. The monodrama looks at a future that is set the moment after the revolution - End of Slavery, Civil Rights Movements, Black Lives Matter. Is there ever a moment, a future that comes after the revolution, that fulfills the promises, the expectations of a revolution?
“21 Black Futures highlights the diversity within the Black community,” says Mumbi. “(Individual Playwrights) don’t have to speak to the whole Black experience. There’s plenty other Black futures that are going to be happening alongside yours. What you are experiencing in this project is just a sliver of the infinite possibilities.”
While different playwrights bring their own definition and interpretation of future, one thing that is common about this future is that monodramas are being imagined as a live performance, on a Black stage, with the Black gaze strongly rooted at the centre. While the playwrights are creating work for live theatre, meant to be performed in front of a real-life audience, the directors and actors are bringing these theatrical works to life as short theatrical films.
All the pieces are filmed on the same stage, with theatrical lighting and flexible set elements. Some pieces will feel like pure live theatre on film, others will feel more of a hybrid of theatre and film while others are leaning fully into short films. “We are discovering a new genre that is a theatre film hybrid in mode. We are inventing it, discovering it, in the process. It’s a true experiment.”
“I was such a (theatre) purist and now I am doing this digital project,” says Mumbi. “I am learning new skills about working in another medium as well as other theatre artists involved. Film artists involved are learning what it’s like to work with theatrical elements as well. I love what has come out of it and I think there are a lot of possibilities of what future collaborations between theatre and film will look like.”
21 Black Futures is available on CBC Gems.
Obsidian Theatre is supported through Toronto Arts Council’s Operating Grants Program
*with the exception of Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu's photograph, all images courtesy Obsidian Theatre/CBC Arts