The 36th Rhubarb Festival – Young Creators Unit Preview
by Bailey Green
I met with the Young Creators Unit (kumari giles, Faith-Ann Mendes, Andre Prefontaine and Brian Postalian) at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre to learn more about their individual upcoming performances as part of the 36th annual Rhubarb Festival.
The four artists, along with YCU director, theatre-maker Evalyn Parry, and myself sat around a table in the Buddies Antechamber to discuss the challenges, origins and highlights of their individual creations over a 5 month-long process. Identity, ancestry and memory are some of the common themes that weave their way through the four distinctly different pieces of theatre. The following is drawn from the transcript of our conversation.
BG: Tell me about your piece, where it began and what it’s about.
Faith-Ann Mendes – Justice Spelled with V(engeance)
“I’m working on a show about a young, black woman and her experience at college. It’s a coming of age story about my character, Mia. She starts off trying to fit in, and then it turns into her seeking vengeance. She comes from my time, past and present, at Queens [University] – Super white, super wealthy, and it’s almost comical how extreme it is. I had this feeling like, this can’t be real. And it’s also very violent. I wanted to talk about that and what I would want to happen in a very “theatre” way. [The piece] explores fantasy, rape on campus and the culture of white privilege.”
Brian Postalian – There Was and There Was Not
“My piece started from a place of me not being sure of my history as an Armenian. There was a genocide in 1915 and over a million Armenians were massacred by the Turkish. My grandfather and grandmother were survivors of this genocide. My grandfather was a young orphan who was brought over from Lebanon to a farm in Georgetown, Ontario. However, my grandfather passed away before I was born. My grandmother also passed away when I was young. I didn’t know what the family stories were. The piece has been an exploration of this history that I feel I have been bereft of… that is lacking. It’s changing constantly, but at the moment it’s exploring the relationship between two Armenian orphans in Lebanon who are trying to make sense of the haunting the genocide has left and how they can recover, if they can recover.”
kumari giles – things i cannot speak
“My piece is about what happens when you listen to and uncover body memory. The story comes through a character named kumari, which is also my name, and their grandmother atchcha, their great-grandmother and a mysterious boy who comes in to play. It’s inspired by my own journeys of listening to different things in my body, the people who come to reside in them and spirits who reside around me. The messages that get passed through blood and body and the messages that get passed through voices when they can’t be passed through your body. It relates to queer history, as well as ancestral history, and a longing to find home in an in-between place.”
Andre Prefontaine – (mE)dith Piaf
“My piece is about… how does one find their artistic voice when they spend so much time listening to others? And when life presents you challenges do you succumb to them, or do you rise above? So I paralleled instances in my life to that of Edith Piaf. She’s like a guardian angel that shows up at the very end and gives a sense of purpose to it all. It’s about living your life in a way to find the true sense of your voice, living with no regrets. And then embracing the past, because it’s what gave you your present tense voice and how you use it to then shape what your future will be.
I asked the four artists to describe to me what has been some of the challenges and highlights of this intense creative process. Andre expressed his initial intimidation, coming from a slam poet background as opposed to a theatrical base: “It was equally as exciting because all of my comrades came in with nothing but ideas. Over the past five months it has been so encouraging to see the amount of growth. I’m not in this by myself. I see their pieces grow and that’s the strength I want to have for myself.”
Brian chuckled and revealed to me that Andre is the group’s resident astrologist: “He gives us our moon and star readings for the week.” All four artists smiled as Andre nods and laughs. “It’s nice to know you’re not alone,” Brian continued, “other people have been there and are still going through it. The energy we’ve all brought to the room on a consistent basis just reflects on each other.” Brian emphasized how comforting the shared energy of the group has been in supporting the creative work.
kumari cut right to the core of their challenges: “The whole process is challenging because you have to write a show in five months. I’m grounded in movement, so it was very challenging for me. When text is spoken out loud there’s the challenge of what folks are expecting and what you want out of it.” kumari discussed how in their personal movement practice they often write text, but then the words are translated into pure movement and therefore the writing is never revealed to the audience. For kumari, the most exciting part was meeting with the group and finding solace in shared experience as they delved deeper into the ever-growing, ever-changing work. “Putting this show on its feet and discovering more about the story while workshopping it has been very exciting,” kumari nodded.
Faith-Ann stared at the ceiling as she considered her challenges. “I guess…” she began before cutting herself off with a firm, “no, I know.” The group burst out laughing and I couldn’t help but notice the mutual respect and support shared between the group. Faith-Ann described her biggest adjustment, which was transitioning from a solo process to a collaborative process, with a full-fledged professional company on top of it all. Faith-Ann concluded the interview by saying, “Writing can be such a solitary practice, but theatre is so collaborative. To have that kind of impetus to come together and compare other voices makes my writing better. Less isolated.”
The 36th annual Rhubarb Festival runs from February 11th to the 22nd at Buddies & Bad Times Theatre.
For more information about the Rhubarb Festival’s Young Creators Unit and the dates & times for each of these performances, please visit their website.