A one-person play is bringing the conversation surrounding the violence that Black men face to the Conrad Centre in Kitchener.
Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers, written by and starring Makambe K Simamba, was originally inspired by the 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida. Zimmerman was later found not guilty of second-degree murder.
“I felt deeply in my spirit that I had to [do the play] and decided to allow myself to follow that impulse,” said Simamba.
The production, which first ran in 2019 at Toronto’s b current theatre, is a co-production between Tarragon Theatre in Toronto and Black Theatre Workshop in Montreal.
The play follows 17-year-old Slimm, who finds himself in his first moments in the afterlife. The 70-minute performance tells Slimm’s story as he reconciles with the fact that he has just died, while also reflecting on the life he lived and his death.
Through the play, Simamba reminds audiences that each Black person killed because of racism is more than just a headline or a hashtag.
“Each name represents an entire life, meaning hopes, dreams, frustrations, good memories, bad memories, plans for the next day, a favourite breakfast cereal, a TV show they were in the middle of watching, etc. We remember these folks for the deaths they didn’t choose, rather than the lives they lived, and I want us to hold space for the validity of those lives, and allow ourselves to feel whatever emotions emerge as we process our relationship to issues on a larger level,” she said.
Kitchener’s Green Light Arts is aiding with the local stop in the four-city tour. Producer Matt White said theatre is one way to start conversations that need to be had around social issues.
“There are too many young Black men being killed [because of] the racialized violence that is a reality for these young men and for these men in general. This character Slimm was killed because he was walking in a neighbourhood that someone deemed he shouldn’t have been and part of it was because he was Black,” White said.
“A lot of these young men and boys and older men are facing the reality of having to navigate the world differently….because of their skin colour,” White added, noting the play is a high-quality production.
“Sometimes people might think that a one person show is just the person standing there on stage talking to an audience or talking to the imagined world. But this is so heightened in the sense that there’s this beautiful sort of projection that [Simamba] interacts with. There’s a floating book, there’s a lot of theatrical magic and especially also with the integration of the choreography that it really is a tour de force performance,”
Although the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 and the events that followed caused the show to resonate differently with non-Black audience members, Simamba has not changed her approach to her performance.
“George Floyd’s murder was a wakeup call for a lot of non-Black folks about the violence that is frequently perpetuated against Black bodies. But for myself and the Black folks I am in community with, it wasn’t much different than the stories that came before and the stories that came after. And that’s the point,” she explained.
Simamba created the show “first and foremost for the Black community.”
“I consider it less of a play, and more of a prayer for Black life. The piece centres the experience of Blackness in all its nuance, grief, and celebration. It’s a space for Black folks to feel whatever they want to feel. Allies are always more than welcome, but I ask them to understand and support the primary intention of the space if they choose to attend and take part in the experience.”
Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers runs until March 11, with tickets ranging from $15-$30. There is a “pay-what-you-can” performance on March 5 at 4 p.m.