Behind the Curtain: How Black Mothers Say I Love You

We had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Andrea Davis who is currently starring in How Black Mothers Say I Love You. The production is midway through their run at Centaur Theatre so we had a check-in, spoke about the music in the show and dipped our toes into the waters of motherhood.

Andrea Davis in How Black Mothers Say I Love You. Photo by: Kym Dominique Ferguson

Quebec Drama Federation: You’re about midway through the production. Soon it’ll be travelling to premiere in Brampton at the Rose Theatre! How has it been going for you and the team so far?

Andrea Davis: Well, it’s been a lot of hard work getting here, but now that we’re midway through our run, the show has become even more of what it is supposed to be.  This happens with most shows: the cast gets to the point where the words and actions are just “in you”, you don’t have to think about what you’re going to do or say next so much.  All of us are finding great new ways to interact on stage and finding interesting ways to flesh out our characters. Black Theatre Workshop’s Artistic Director Quincy Armorer dropped by the show last night. He hasn’t seen it since opening and he was very ebullient about how much the show has gelled.  The pacing of How Black Mothers Say I Love You makes it a real pleasure to perform, especially now that we can all play with it a bit more. So we’re all looking forward to moving the show to the Rose Theatre in Brampton. None of us have ever performed there before, so that makes it even more exciting.  I’ve heard that it’s an excellent theatre and that the audiences are very generous. We’re all looking forward to the adventure! The show is in a place now where I believe we could take it anywhere and it would still be great!

QDF: Music plays a central role in the production. Was there any music or songs that influenced your work in the performance?

AD: I’m a big music fan, and I listen to all different types of music:  rap, R&B, reggae, rock, jazz, classical, world beat, EDM, opera, klezmer, you name it.  I’m one of those people who believes that everything you’ve experienced is what makes you who you are today.  And I kind of feel that way about the music in this play. Like my musical preferences, the music in How Black Mothers Say I Love You is very eclectic, which is something I really love about it.  I feel that a lot of the ways in which people listen to music now (for example streaming) forces you to listen to one genre at a time. Unless you spend a lot of time making playlists from different sources, you get channelled into choosing one type of music and that’s all you get. But I think, like me, a lot of people are interested in and listen to lots of different types of music.  This play reflects that perfectly and with subtlety, thanks to our composer Gavin Bradley and our musical director Alejandra Nunez. You’ll hear touches of many different styles of music throughout the play. The fact that it changes from one genre to another is never jarring or surprising; it simply adds more complexity to the piece, supports the action of the play and gives a more worldly aspect to the settings (sometimes otherworldly too!).

Andrea Davis in How Black Mothers Say I Love You. Photo by: Kym Dominique Ferguson

QDF: The narrative of mother-daughter dynamics and reconciliation is one we don’t see enough in theatre. How has the process been in delving into the subject matter of motherhood?

AD: It’s so true, there aren’t that many plays that delve into motherhood very deeply.  Motherhood is always a big subject, but in this play it reaches astronomical proportions.  Daphne’s absence, the generation gap, the religious divide, issues surrounding sexuality…it’s a real can of worms.  During rehearsal we delved very deeply into the characters’ thoughts, interactions, histories and motivations and we talked a lot about our own experiences.  I believe that going through all of that so deeply brought all of us on the team closer together. There is so much to explore there, and believe me, we explored it, and yet I find I’m still finding new things as the run progresses. 

We had our first “Talkback” (where the audience can stay to ask questions or make comments after the show) on Sunday. It was incredible. Not only did 90% of the audience stay, the questions and comments were so compelling, thoughtful, intelligent and insightful.  Quite frankly, it was the best talkback I’ve ever experienced – and I’ve done quite a few in my day! I was blown away. To me, it’s a testament to the fact that people are really connecting with this story and the characters in it, and that audiences definitely need more of this kind of work out there.  Our goal with this production is to help people heal, and I could see clearly from all of the comments and questions that we received that we are doing that. Unfortunately, Daphne’s story is not unique. There are many families out there who have experienced the trauma of separation—women who have had to leave their children behind in order to make a better life, who sacrificed everything to create better opportunities for their children. How Black Mothers Say I Love You gives audiences a chance to see the strengths, vulnerabilities and misunderstandings of the family members at a distance, and that distance gives them the opportunity to see the situation in a new light.  I believe that with understanding comes compassion, and with compassion comes healing, and that is what we all hope to bring to audiences with this play.

ABOUT Andrea Davis

Andrea is proud and elated to be working with Black Theatre Workshop on this magnificent play. Her career has taken her across the country and around the world. Her theatre credits include Intimate Apparel (Grand Theatre), Romeo & Juliet (Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre), Refuge (Tarragon Theatre) The Ventriloquist (Factory Theatre) Recent Experiences (International Tour) and Hamlet (CanStage). Film & TV credits include Orphan Black (Temple Street) Mary Kills People, Rookie Blue, The Firm (E-One) Saving Hope (NBC-TV) Da Kink In My Hair (Global TV) and the independent short film Screenthru (Bravofact). Andrea would like to express her deep gratitude to her mother, Monica, for continually performing fearless acts of love for our family.

Cast of How Black Mothers Say I Love You. Photo by: Kym Dominique Ferguson

How Black Mothers Say I Love You is currently running at Centaur Theatre until March 16, 2019. Thank-you to Andrea for taking the time to speak to us about the production! You can also check out the 3PM matinee after our Serving Up Knowledge: Process of Care event happening at Centaur this Sunday March 10 @ 1PM!