Wednesday, May 12, 2010

El Numero Uno; adventures in the West

EL NUMERO UNO played from 31 January to 21 February, closing a week early because box office sales were so sparse. I'm still trying to figure it out. The reviews were good, and all the folks, the children especially, who came to see it absolutely enjoyed it, as Walter Borden, who played Chef, recently said. I went to 5 or 6 performances and that was certainly true on each occasion. But only half of the seats were filled, all told.

It doesn't happen that often in the diasporic community: a play for young people, with Caribbean content, a black playwright, black director, black cast, black stage management, slated for a month long run (some 35 performances), and in Black History Month, to boot. I think the last one was more than ten years ago.

Bad mind people will say keh-keh, but in many ways, the person this concerns least of all is me, a ole lady who soon dead. El NUMERO UNO is a good play, a funny play, hilariously funny in parts. It will be staged again – if only because there aren't many plays for young people in the Caribbean or the diaspora. But the implications aren't encouraging. Professional theatre survives on its box office after all, and if investment of time and effort in plays like this won't garner support...

But maybe I oughtn't to be surprised. I just read an online interview in which Owen Percy, a PhD student at the University of Calgary, in a discussion with with Griffin prizewinner, Christian Bok, says to the poet, "You sell more copies of Eunoia than there are theoretically people who read poetry in Canada..." Eunoia at the time had sold more than 17,000 copies.

This may well be the seminal comment in an interview well worth the read. If you haven't seen it, look for it at:

Its context is Canadian but it raises issues about juries and prizes and poetry itself that we've considered before and I'd promised to get back to again.

I'm making a wild leap here, but if, in a population of 33 million people, fewer than 17,000 read poetry, then perhaps in a population of 2.5 million (Toronto), it's silly to think that twelve thousand people would want to see a Caribbean play for young people... Seems to me though that something is rotten in the state of – English-teaching? Education in general in schools, college, universities?

What am I going on about? THE GUARDIAN newspaper in the UK is to be reduced to 'Twitter-sized' bits! I tell you it's the end of the world.

We visited the grandchild at the end of February, and then I took off for the Canadian West in March, to revisit Emily Carr University and read there in its great On Edge series, with Salimah Valiani. Rita Wong is a wonderful hostess, and it was a treat to meet for a pre-reading dinner with Salimah, her aunt, the fabulous couple, Fabiola Nabil Nagib, artist, poet and activist, and her husband, philosopher Rajdeep Singh Gill. The reading went well, and I was off shortly after that to Calgary, where Jamaican-Calgerian, Howard Gallimore and I read DE MAN, my two-hander poem/verse play about the crucifixion for the third time in that city and the second time at St Stephen's Church, an amazing congregation in downtown Calgary.

I preached the Easter Sunday Service at St Stephen's as well. I'll tell you more about DE MAN, and our visit to St Stephen's, and a second reading in Vancouver tomorrow, if God spare life. Walk good meantime.


Jdid said...

interesting. Sorry that more didnt go see the play. I'm not big into theatre myself but will make an effort to support the Caribbean community if there is something going on and usually find them enjoyable.

I think its alot to do with that twitter sized bits comment. Everything is rush rush rush and folks cant take time to read or write full sentences and develop thoughts.

clarabella said...

jdid! Howdy. Good to hear from you. Your ears must have been going ding-dong, for I was just thinking about you. Sorry I didn't get round to direct mailings to all and sundry about UNO, but you know how it is... One does what one can mange. And it's not just UNO but the theatre itself that deserves support. Lorraine Kimsa is a great place, not just for developing and mounting a full season of plays each year, but for its drama school, community outreach and for its colour-blind eye. I saw a production of a stage version of "Jacob Two-Two meets the Hooded Fang" (this is Mordecai Richler's suff – you don't get more mainstream [please read four sets of scare quotes] than that) in which Jacob was black and his brother, Daniel, Asian. In the Çaribbean, this would hardly be a matter of note (except perhaps for its gossip potential) but Yee Jee Tso, the actor playing Daniel, commented on his website in Fall 2003: "My thanks go out to LKYTP for being imaginative enough to cross-cast the roll..." jujube mandiela, ahdri's daughter, who was one of the cast in UNO, spoke recently of her having grown up in the theatre school at LKYPT. I better stop, jdid. Maybe I'll follow this up in a post. Just really good to talk again, and thanks for stopping by. pam

FSJL said...

Pity the play didn't do better. I'd certainly have gone to see it were I in Toronto.