By Michael Asiffo
Stories of sexual abuse and depression in the black community are common everyday issues, especially amongst men but are generally left untouched by the mainstream media.
Black Men in Theatre – a collection of plays that recently took place at the Fairview Library Theatre showcased underrepresented issues surrounding black men. The plays featured stories by Troy Crossfield, Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison, Peter Bailey, Dennis Langley and Jonathan C Pearche.
In this in depth VIBE TALKS interview, Correspondent Michael Asiffo Black Men in Theatre with playwright Peter Bailey.
Michael: What is Black Men In Theatre all about?
Peter: This event is dedicated to highlighting black men in theatre and specifically black men telling their story and not necessarily the stories you see on regularly on TV or on American television on a regular basis. So it is from more unique and very personal standpoints that you do not see everyday. That is what is highlighting and it’s also highlighting that you see a lot of men in these industries, but black men are unrepresented, so their stories are not represented. So this is what this event is for; is to highlight the stories of black men that you do not see on a regular basis as well as opening up our communities up to theatre as an avenue of artistic expression.
Michael: Can you delve deep into one of those topics?
Peter: Well to start with, Troy Crossfield piece. When I saw the rehearsal, what really struck me is this story also talks about abuse in the black community and sexual abuse, especially men towards men. I feel like this is a subject matter that I think that our community at times can be challenged at talking about these things. There’s so much stigma around it and because of that stigma, there is lots of pain that our community feels because these are issue that we can actually talk about. So Troy’s piece delving into this issue as articulately as he does, as emotionally as this piece does, I think that is something that people need to see. Also it is a story that is not as represented as often.
Michael: Was any of the actors, when looking at the pieces, moved by the script for example?
Peter: Yes, yes, very much so! There was a great response to the Troy Crossfield’s piece that I mention but also, I was actually pleasant to hear the response to my piece as well entitled Tyson's Song. When involves two men and the issue of the depression. How we as men support each other and how do we listen to each other. I was really happy with the response from that and those were the two piece that I got to see. This is an interdisciplinary event, so there will be dance as well but those were the two pieces that the response struck a chord with me.
Michael: When you were growing up, did you notice that black people were not talking about depression as much as they should have?
Peter: Yes. I saw this specifically because when you think about depression or at least the way black people have been depicted: sometimes we internalize the sense that we can take anything. So that whatever we are going through, no matter the pressure or the stress or trauma it invokes, sometimes we internalize the idea that we are built to get through because of slavery and all those types of things. Sometimes what could also could complicate that, is also our institutions whether it is churches, those kind of things. Also, how we view mental health in general because depression is just an extension of mental health. It is no different than taking care or your heat or your liver or any part of your body, but, there is something about it. Maybe because it is a little esoteric and it is a little bit unseen. Because we are talking about of something that is going on in our minds and how we are responding to things. So I think in that sense that is what really intrigued me about this piece and talking about depression as well. So yes it is something that I did not appreciate in my youth but stepping back and also my own bouts with depression, let’s put that out there, understanding and stepping back that I did not necessarily have the tools to deal with it and we only develop the tools by talking about these issues.
Michael: Where can we improve as black people to get our stories told?
Peter: Well we have to learn to believe in ourselves and join with people and tell them ourselves. That is one route, but I would recommend a number of things. Do those things, but still fight, still lobby, let’s not give up. I would not necessarily argue one over the other, I think those two things work in conjunction, would be the most successful but groups like Peace of Mine Arts are stepping in the right direction. (Regardless) This is theatre, somewhere else someone can be doing the same thing with film but it is about telling our stories and encouraging this type of thing. Also, this idea of black people in arts and sometimes it feels like it is a stereotypical kind of thing. Whether we’re singers or we’re dancers and I think sometimes there is a resistance to that but arts and producing this kind of stuff is also about producers and developing directors and playwrights and those types of people. I think there is not an understanding that when we see all these wonderful films out of Hollywood, whether it is Fences or The Color Purple, what we have to understand that as a community that those things only happen because it is not only about developing artists that are on stage, it also about developing the people behind the lens. (It is about people) who are directing, who are choreographers, who are costume makers. These are the things we have to understand as a community, and understanding that if we want the best of that we have to understand that those are the things we have to build on too. So that we can actually tell our kids that “there is a career in this”, and I do not think that is something that has happened in our community enough. Because we never really viewed it as a career choice, so these are the things we have to do.
Michael: When typically talking about these certain productions, it is usually about people on the way up, but this is a star studded cast. Were you surprised at how many of these actors and playwrights were attending these productions or collection of productions?
Peter: No it is a wonderful thing to hear that and especially seeing it. This is my first time participating in it and I actually applied over a year ago. So when Natasha (Natasha Adriyana Morris – Theatre Producer, Toronto) told me that they were bringing it back, I was thrilled. To see the talent assembled and their work ethic in promoting this event and their passion about it is one of the best things about Black Men In Theatre.
For more information on Black Men in Theatre visit their website.