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!

Behind the Curtain: Numbers Increase As We Count…

We had a quick conversation with the creator of the upcoming Numbers Increase As We Count… Ülfet Sevdi! We talked about her research and the Theatre of the Oppressed!

Photo: Cedric Laurenty

Quebec Drama Federation: The production, Numbers Increase As We Count… includes testimonies and documentation from subjects who experienced displacement and forced-sex work. What was the process of research and collecting narratives?

Ülfet Sevdi: The production includes research and documentation about women who have been displaced and forced into sex-work, but it does not include direct testimonies from victims. Some of the team members have experienced first-hand the effects of the Iraq and, more recently, Syrian wars. I am also a witness of the effects of war, having volunteered in centres for refugee kids in Turkey. The performance does however include one testimony in the form of an interview, from Yanar Mohammed (President of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq), who is in charge of women shelters in Iraq and talks about the situation there. The process of collecting and understanding the situation started more than five years ago, while I was still in Turkey. And it continues until now.
The project focuses on our testimonies, on what we feel, on what we should do when we know things like these happen, on how we can respond as artists. It is an outcry directed at the powers everywhere who benefit from the chaos and divisions they create, and who forget those who suffer the most. Iraq is the focus here because it is the perfect example of a new type of war, an experiment—also because we saw the consequences everywhere in the streets of Turkey. But the project is more general: it is about women in war zones, those who do not become ‘heroes’. The project is not about a country, it is about a situation that is global.
For all theses reasons, there is no narrative. We cannot talk about a narrative structure. What we have instead is a protest.

QDF: Can you talk about the Theatre of the Oppressed influences on this production?
ÜS: There are many ways in which the Theatre of the Oppressed influences how this production was made.
The first one has to do with the way we worked: I did not build a piece for the performers to then perform what I wrote. Instead, I created the framework and asked them to search inside themselves for what they could bring on stage. In that sense, I was a facilitator. My function is to empower the performers, not to request them to do something; as a director, I am merely facilitating the process by creating a structure for them to discover for themselves.
The second one has to do with the dramaturgy.  My goal is not to bring a cathartic experience to the audience. My goal is to create change.
Which brings me to the third point, that has to do with the interactive component of the piece. I offer an active role to the audience members. I do not want them simply to sit; I want them to participate, to be part of the performance. Only in this way can they begin to join the protest.
The fourth one is quite obvious: I am here exploring oppression in many of its forms.
These are all somehow related to my practice of the Theatre of the Oppressed. I am probably not aware of all the aspects of this method that find a place in the way I constructed this performance – there are probably many others. But these are the ones I used here intentionally.

Photo: Cedric Laurenty

You can see Numbers Increase As We Count… starting TONITE February 27 until March 2 at MAI. Tickets are available here.

The production is co-developed with Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal.

Originally from Turkey, Ülfet Sevdi is a writer, theatre director, dramaturge, teacher and Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner now based in Montreal. In 2016, with Nicolas Royer-Artuso, she co-founded Thought Experiment Productions, to produce works with political content that integrate extensive research from the social sciences.

Winter Calendar 2018 Full Calendar

#fringebuzz: Inside Allie Weigh’s Divided Heart

The following piece was submitted by Allie Weigh, the creator of Divided Heart. The piece is part of QDF’s series of artist-submitted works detailing experiences creating at the 27th edition of the St-Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival.

My show has been called a poetry show (by jem rolls!), a music or violin show, a theatre piece, a memoir, a storytelling show and a spoken word show. Click here for a full interview with showbill.

I have been writing for decades. But also, listening. Listening with focused attun-ement. In addition to mothering 2 people into adulthood, I have worked as a psycho-therapist for 20 years. My most developed skill is deeply listening, understanding, and empathizing. I have done approximately 17 000 psychotherapy sessions over the course of my career. That’s a lot of listening. A lot of receptivity and absorption. Listening to the things that people are not sharing anywhere else. These things are always at risk of getting stuck. In me. While I have always kept a foot in group music and performance, one could say that my solo performances are the result of a kind of alchemy. Performance is one of the happier ways that I transmute the energy that I have taken in through deep listening to others. Click here for a blogpost about alchemy and transmu-tation.

My performance name is Allie Weigh (alleyway) which is a passage, through a continuous row of houses, permitting access from the street to backyards, garages, and to everything that is more private or unsightly or which people want to conceal, or even throw out. Alleyways accumulate garbage. Dog owners are less likely to pick up their dog’s poo in an alleyway. During the day, it is a place for kids to play, and at night, a place to have a sexual encounter or go pee. It is also a place to move, and not get stuck. I am most comfortable and stimulated in environments where the unsightly and unsaid is seen and heard. Anyone who has seen me perform knows this is true.

A woman came up to me after seeing my show and asked if I was alright. She worried that I might be feeling very vulnerable. Not at all! The material from my own life that I use in my show is material which is processed—through years of reflection, writing, my own therapy and talking. Perhaps the show can bring up raw feelings in the audience. I am comfortable in those emotional places but the theme of motherhood and personhood touches absolutely everyone.

What is far more vulnerable for me is just whether the performance is effective. Whether it provides a meaningful or interesting experience for the audience. A long time friend came to my show and afterwards told me that I tell things in a way to manip-ulate the audience into feeling things (a compliment?). My goal is telling the truth. About experience. About life. Not necessarily the literal truth but the experiential truth nonetheless.

The Divided Heart in the show refers to the experience of being a mother and a person at the same time. Click here for a 6 minute video of reflections on motherhood. The wrenching experience of loving little beings, that you brought into the world, that you created, that are

separate from you, completely dependent on you, and going to leave you—-in fact, they leave you a little bit more everyday. It is also about wanting things that you cannot easily have—-time for your own creativity, pleasure, and freedom from responsibility. While the subject is serious, people often laugh during my show (which I love), some-times at new and surprising places, and some people really like the music and the live violin. Click here for my one minute teaser.

Divided Heart runs from June 8th to 18th at Black Theatre Workshop. For ticketing information, click here.

#fringebuzz-ing With Scott Humphrey: The Detective, the Dame, and the Devil

By: Max Mehran

On a bright, sunny afternoon that feels that summer is finally coming, I met with the wonderfully talented and multi-faceted Scott Humphrey. He takes on the roles of writer, producer, actor, marketing director, and many more for the world premiere The Detective, the Dame, and the Devil presented at the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival. A show he has been working on for three years, Scott couldn’t be more excited- and terrified – to see it finally hit the stage this summer.

The show is, in Scott’s words, “essentially a Film Noir parody.” He explains that a lot of people are familiar with the tropes of the genre, such as the monologu-ing detective, Venetian blinds, double-crossing, etc.  The popularity of the genre motivated Scott to write a parody because, as he states, “[he] just wanted to turn [the audience’s] expectations around and have fun with this.”

Scott amusingly recalls the first thing people think when he tells them his show is a parody of Film Noir. “I often catch people rolling their eyes,” he adds, “because the style is often already a parody.” That being said, the reason why Scott decided to go ahead with this idea is the fun of playing off of these tropes with the intention to challenge the expectations of the audience. “It’s where comedy comes from, and people get a laugh at that,” he continues.

The show is structured in an interesting way. Scott explains that “the first part is a heart-boiled detective story played as straight as possible, but then the story is told twice more from the perspective of the other characters.” With this, Scott attempts to keep his audience on the edge of their seats while making them laugh as well.  “I like to combine mystery and comedy,” he continues, “because they both function on the same premise: you don’t always know what’s going to happen next.”

The play, therefore, deals with how much your perception of a situation can influence its outcome. Scott tells us that “when you are watching a play, you are basically watching relationships between characters, so what I wanted to do was to create strong relationship between three different characters, but then depending on who is telling the story, the relationship might have a different hero and different villain.”

It has been a long time that Scott has been working on the show, and when the Fringe lottery picked out his name, things escalated quickly. “I wrote it originally as a one person show” he reveals, “composed of three monologues.” After a less-successful first reading, he realized there was still work to be done on the play. After he workshopped it further, the play became funnier, less heavy, and not as dark. Scott also added two new characters to his story. “About a year ago,” he explains, “I did a reading of the draft and I thought to myself, ‘this is in a good place, I think I want to go ahead and produce it’.” A little while later, his name was picked out from the Fringe lottery and all of the sudden his play was to be produced in front of a live audience.

“It is the kind of show I felt required a group with a particular kind of humor,” he tells me when I asked about how he chose his cast and production team. He wanted the cast and crew to be as familiar with the genre and the tropes as he and his audience were, because the play makes callbacks and a lot references to other films. “It’s a farce and a highbrow stuff at the same time,” he jokes. Casting the play was easy as he chose actors who he knew were strong and funny performers. While Scott contemplated the idea of being the director of the show, he chose to go with the scarier option and asked an outside perspective to take the reins. “I had the choice to appear in the thing I wrote and directed or to give the power away to a director, and I asked myself which one was scarier.” He decided to hire someone he hadn’t worked with before, and it seems that so far, it’s been a perfect match.

This is Scott’s first time as a producer, which can be rewarding when he gets to connect with other companies …but can also be stressful. He created The Detective, the Dame, and the Devil knowing what he was getting into. “Going back to what I conceptualized,” he tells us, “I conceived it as being as simple as possible.” He continues emphasizing that “every decision that we have been taking so far have been to make our lives as simple as possible- at least we are trying.” The play is still subject to changes as cues or dialogue can be added or removed if the team feels it doesn’t add to the whole show. “I think there is also a lot of fun in the fluidity that other artists bring to the text.”

While this isn’t Scott’s first time writing, The Detective, the Dame, and the Devil is his first attempt at writing a comedy. “I took myself too seriously before, and it is fun be able to indulge in the serious side, and be able to laugh after,” he explains. The Detective, the Dame, and the Devil is also his first full-length play being ever presented. I am curious to see how he feels about the whole ordeal, he answers quite honestly. “Let’s be real, I feel terrified,” he jokes, “but not because I think it’s going to go poorly, but because anytime you invest a lot of time and energy on something, you are telling people that you believe your work is worthwhile.  And I do think people are going to get something out of it.”

I asked Scott how he feels about presenting his play at the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. He tells me that the festival “is a great opportunity to take a risk because there is a lot of material out there and the audience knows that people are there to have a good time.” He also appreciates how being part of the festival draws new audiences to one’s work and starts conversation about theatre in or out of the festival.

At this moment in time, Scott is most looking forward to Fringe For All “because it’s going to be the moment where we get that charge of a live audience, your work, their interest, and everyone is just having a blast.” Scott and his team will also be around the festival spreading the word and trying to draw audience members in. They will also be handing out three oversized playing cards that, if someone manages to collect all three, offer a discount of two dollars on the ticket prize. With this marketing idea, he hopes to create a mini treasure hunt during the festival.

As we are wrapping up the interview, I have to ask Scott the question that was haunting me for the duration of the interview, ‘what is your favorite Film Noir?’ He takes a few seconds to answer, and then confidently tells us, “I am going to say The Maltese Falcon because it is so… standard and strange at the same time.” He continues saying that “people think of Film Noir as very serious, and in this film, while the leads are very witty, the dialogue is often very dry. I think those interpretations really are what drew me to do something in the first place.”

Thank you to Scott Humphrey for taking the time to talk to us about his upcoming show, The Detective, the Dame, and the Devil, “a Film Noir parody and a smart comedy with something for everybody.” Now start your hunting for the three playing cards and find your way to Theatre La Chapelle during the festival to catch the show!