Say What?

Growing up in London Ontario was difficult as a little black girl

In July 2016 I was asked to write a short essay about being a black writer in Canada. As it is Black History Month and I'm still a writer it feels fitting to post this on my website.

Thank you Michael Wheeler and Sarah Garton Stanley for giving me this opportunity.




Aint That Something?

I always wanted to be a writer and then I was but had no idea what that really meant. I always thought I'd write fiction. Novels and short stories were the goal. I was asked by many why I didn't write plays and I always said, 'I don't know how to write plays; I was never taught'. And that is true. 

I went to theatre school to be an actor. I trained at Sheridan College and University of Toronto and, at the time, there was not a playwriting course. Besides, I had no illusions about being a playwright. The only reason I wrote a play was because I had a friend transitioning from male to female and had an incredible life story that I believed should be written down. She said, 'Go ahead, I give you my blessing,' and that is how Damaged was born.

The problem was I am not a member of the LGBTQ community and not transgender. The play had a couple of readings at bcurrent but when I attempted to get interest elsewhere I was roundly criticised for telling a story that was not mine. This was in 2012. Transparent, Transamerica, and Orange is the New Black were not in existence yet. I was defiant, at first, because I believed I was telling a very important story. Alas, it was not my story. It was my friend, Lillian's story, and she had moved to another part of the country and could not care less about what was happening in Toronto. 

Lillian found Toronto a hostile place for transwomen in 2010 and couldn't wait to leave. My play was supposed to illuminate those who didn't know how great the trans community was in our city. I gave up trying to produce that play many years ago because there were plenty of trans actors who could tell that story better than me.

I'll never forget the blistering letter I received from Yvette Nolan that basically said, 'how dare you?!' and Sky Gilbert gently coaxing me to move on to another play. In retrospect I'm glad I was schooled in 'appropriation' since writing at the time was so new to me. I moved on to write a different play that I titled Eating Pomegranates Naked and the genesis of that piece is just as interesting as the birth of Damaged. Hopefully I'll remember to write about that tomorrow. Let's just say that there's a goldmine of ideas in your daily newspaper. Inspiration is everywhere; take it from someone who was named when her father found the name Andrea on a piece of garbage in a TTC subway car. True story.

Why Not?

I have been told for years that I should have a blog. I have resisted since I really don't think that I have that much to say about an industry that I am still figuring out. But, I think this is going to be an interesting year and this would be an ideal place to capture the ups and downs and ins and outs. I was pretty sure that blogs were no longer a THING but, alas, they are. So, I am going to do my darndest to write a little something about being a writer, a producer, and an occasional actor in this city called Toronto.

Let's start with something banal: a rejection. I applied for a residency at a major theatre company, made it to round three (there are four) and was sent a brief 'not gonna happen' email. I was strangely non-plussed. I'd applied for the same residency the year before and gotten all the way to the minotaur but was roundly defeated. A year later, I figured, I knew what I was doing and applied again. But the circumstances of my life had changed since January 2017, I was feeling good about the adventures of 2018, and I wasn't entirely sure I loved the theatre company as much as I used to; it was definitely like when a boyfriend hints at marriage and you realize that you hate their weak chin. I mean, can I continue to look at that weak chin for the rest of my life and not want it to change? Probably not. So, shortly after jumping the third hurdle I gently divorced myself from wanting the residency. Oh, don't get me wrong, it stung to be summarily dismissed, because, I love being wanted. But...I wanted to be TRULY wanted and I that was not the vibe I'd been getting for awhile. Besides, you know that saying, 'when God closes a door, he opens a window?' (is that right? Because I'd think opening a window after shutting a door in my face is asking for a felony to occur...but  digress). Anyway, right after I was told no from one company I got an enthusiastic, welcoming hug from another hours later. Our industry is like the weather in Calgary, don't like it, just wait, it's bound to change to something very interesting and unexpected.