d’bi.young anitafrika is no strange to SummerWorks. This year, she bring Bleeders, the last piece of The Orisha Trilogy to the festival. Bleeders is an Afro-futurist dub-opera set in Ontario.
To learn more about Bleeders, d’bi’s work, and The Watah Theatre – a performing arts company she founded in Toronto – d’bi graciously accepted to answer a few of my questions.
HM: Bleeders is the last part of The Orisha Trilogy; how closely are themes from the other two pieces interconnected with Bleeders?
d’bi: The Orisha Trilogy explores Black identity and its complex expressions of divinity, gender, sexuality, and the erotic. Each play is set in a different lanscape. Esu Crossing is set in the past aboard a slave ship in The Atlantic Ocean, She Mami Wata is set in present-day Jamaica in a strip club and church, and Bleeders is set in future Ontario in the core of the earth. The landscapes reinterpret the triangular journey of Black folks, voyaging from Africa to the Caribbean to North America under the influence and protection of The Orishas. Bleeders specifically deals with environmental issues, while Esu Crossing and She Mami Wata deal with Racism and Homophobia respectivley. However, the entire trilogy is drawing attention to the intersectionality of all issues of oppression.
HM: A Dub-Opera, please share for those new to your work what to expect during the performance?
d’bi: I describe this new work as a Dub Opera, a term I did not coin, but which I am (re)defining as a new threatrical genre representing a meeting place of Jamaican Pantomime, Dub Poetry, and Opera. Dub Opera is large scale theatrical spectacle with mythology and magick at its core, ridding Reggae riddims while telling a story through music. I grew up watching the Pantomimes which are Jamaican musicals at Ward Theatre in Kingston, as well as being deeply immersed in Dub Poetry through my mother’s work. I have spent the earlier part of my career honing my skills as a Dub Poet while developing the genre of BioMyth Monodrama using The Sorplusi Principles. Bleeders marks an evolution of my creative into Dub Opera which allows me to bring all that Monodrama has taught me, while expanding the presentation to large-scale theatre. Audiences should expect to see a Dub Opera.
HM: Having followed your theatre trajectory, I admire how much empowerment messages are essential in your works. Are themes and key messages what drive your creative process — do you allow space for themes to evolve and change as the pieces themselves evolve on-stage?
d’bi: My creative process is largely driven by how I feel about myself as a human being and how I feel about others. That sits at the core of my work. The incredible thing is that, how I feel is deeply connected to issues of actualization and empowerment because we live in an intersectional, interconnected, overlapping system that we call life. The minute I begin to observe how I am feeling, I am called into thinking about dynamics of power, systems of oppression, (self) love/hate, the legacy of imperialism and colonization and this goes on and on. I am unable to think about my feelings in a vaccuum. This leads me outward into the world and looking at the world leads me inward to myself. I find this one observation about life so profound that I keep trying to find new ways to make theatre about it.
The Watah Theatre, a company that provides tution-free artist residencies to Black artists, is my attempt at supporting artists who have something crucial to share with our world. So far we have had over 100 artists come through our doors in the Distillery District yet our funding has been sparce. We are currently running a funding campaign to help secure our home and to continue to contribute to the cultural landcape that so desperately needs the voices of Black artists.
These is no better person to describe the importance of her work, and that of The Watah Theatre. Be sure to donate to The Watah Theatre’s Go Fund Me campaign; this is community theatre that is much needed. And of course, do not miss the chance to experience d’bi and company in Bleeders at SummerWorks; performances run until Sunday, August 14th.