Cue a pun about these four featured writers having a flair for the dramatic, because the Black Writers’ Series continues today with a feature on Black playwrights. These four are multidisciplinary writers / directors / actors, among other talents, and their accompanying works in this post interrogate both historical and contemporary Black life in incisive, compassionate, and gripping ways.
The writer: Meghan SwabyMeghan Swaby is a first-generation Jamaican-Canadian actor and playwright based in Toronto. Her play Venus’ Daughter was produced by Obsidian Theatre in 2016 and was included on The SureFire List (Playwrights Guild of Canada) as one of the top 23 recommended plays in Canada. She has participated in various playwriting residencies over the years, with companies such as Nightwood Theatre, Obsidian Theatre, Diaspora Dialogues, Playwrights Workshop Montreal, and the Stratford Festival. Her work has been performed internationally and was included as part of 50in50: Writing Black Women Into Existence at the Billie Holiday Theatre (Brooklyn, NY). Meghan’s writing was included in the anthology Black Lives, Black Words (Oberon Playwrights Press 2017). Meghan is a graduate of University of Windsor (Acting) and alumni of Shakespeare Globe (UK). She currently has several works in development including commissions with Myseum of Toronto and The Stratford Festival, and a podcast about Caribbean folklore.The book: Venus’ Daughter (Scirocco Drama/Shillingford Publishing)Venus’ Daughter looks at society’s obsession with the Black female form over the centuries, starting with “The Hottentot Venus” – a South African woman named Sara “Saartjie” Baartman who was taken from her home to be put on display in London in the early 1800s. After she died, her body continued to be on display at the Musee de l’Homme until as recently as 2002. Swaby’s play follows Denise, a young woman looking to love herself and her own body amid this historical obsession that persists to the present day.
The writer: Donna-Michelle St. BernardDonna-Michelle St. Bernard, a.k.a. Belladonna the Blest, is an emcee, playwright, and agitator. Her main body of work, the 54ology, includes Cake, Sound of the Beast, A Man A Fish, Salome’s Clothes, Gas Girls, Give It Up, The Smell of Horses, and The First Stone. Works for young audiences include the META-nominated Reaching For Starlight, The Chariot, and Rabbit King of Kenya. Opera libretti include Forbidden (Afarin Mansouri/Tapestry Opera) and Oubliette (Ivan Barbotin/Tapestry Opera). She is co-editor with Yvette Nolan of the Playwrights Canada Press Refractions anthologies, and editor of Indian Act: Residential School Plays.The book: Reaching for Starlight(Playwrights Canada Press)In this play for young and old audiences alike that combines both acting and dance, Reaching for Starlight follows Reenie, a young Black girl striving for a coveted solo position among her dance classmates for the year-end recital. She notices that another Black girl in the class, Maia, is not being held to the same standards as the rest, and orchestrates a plan for justice – but is it really what Maia needs? When asked about how justice and Black liberation informed this work, St. Bernard said: “In any culture where voices have been silenced, all storytelling is legacy work. My work should be a place where Black people feel seen, heard and valued.”
The writer: Andrew MoodieOntario-based actor/playwright/director Andrew Moodie began his playwriting career in 1995 with his first play, Riot. Since then he has been a mainstay of Canadian television and theatre, both as an actor and a writer. His directing credits include For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, the Corner, and The Real McCoy. His television writing credits include an episode of Drop The Beat and his radio credits include Afghanada (WGC award) for CBC.The book: The Lady Smith (Talonbooks)The Lady Smith is set in Toronto’s historically Black community at the intersection of Bloor and Bathurst. It’s a sexy dramedy where blues singer Sylvia, having been cheated on by her husband, ends up moving in with “the other woman” implicated in ending her marriage. As the “other woman” starts to confide in Sylvia about her misgivings over the affair, things only grow more complicated for the roommates. Marnie Smith, the first person to have recorded a blues song, provides both Sylvia’s musical inspiration and the title of the play.
The writer: Shauntay GrantShauntay Grant is a Canadian playwright, poet, performance artist, and children’s author. She is an associate professor of creative writing at Dalhousie University, and former poet laureate for the City of Halifax. Her work examines Black Nova Scotian and African diasporic history and folk culture, as well as contemporary approaches to literature and performance. Grant’s other honours include a Joseph S. Stauffer Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts, a Robert Merritt Award from Theatre Nova Scotia, a Best Atlantic Published Book Prize from the Atlantic Book Awards, a Poet of Honour prize from the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, and a Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre for Africville (Groundwood Books).The book: The Bridge (Playwrights Canada Press)Centring around the difficult relationship between two brothers and one of their sons in a rural Black Nova Scotian community, The Bridge is a tight knot of secrets and long-held grudges that are revealed to the audience one at a time. The small-town setting lends a gospel element to the play, in the form of three gossips who comment upon the play’s revelations in song. In The Bridge, bridges can certainly be burnt; but can they also be rebuilt?