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/By / Jun 17, 2021

Intermission is hosting creative and critical responses to select shows from Soulpepper’s Around the World in 80 Plays as a part of the Taking on the World mentorship program for emerging IBPOC artists and arts writersTaking on the World is a partnership between Intermission, Soulpepper Theatre Company, Brock University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Windsor, with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

CONTENT WARNING: This response contains themes and mention of violence and coarse language.

Art, like water, is constantly changing its shape. It can create or it can destroy. It hydrates. On the surface, you can look through like a window into a new world, or like a mirror that forces you to look at yourself. In She Mami Wata & the Pxssywitch Hunt, I heard a story of a world in which everyone can see themselves. We are gifted with a series of living and breathing characters that take turns in the body of d’bi.young anitafrika as their storyteller. As their story is broadcasted for radio thanks to the sound design (or set design) of Mohammed Rowe, though each one is unique in how they understand and speak with the world around them, I felt each one was sitting at an intersection where they must choose what path to take moving forward. I looked over the edge, passed the wall where our world is divided from the characters in the play, and dived headfirst because I saw my reflection take shape as Michael sitting at the bottom of the pool. Under him is a raging storm of identity and faith, and as someone who wants to be chosen, he is our Noah that receives a message from his God which he must deliver if he is to colonize a new world for himself.

This play is a queer narrative for every ear, not just in the story itself but in the way it communicates using the symbol of water and the impending flood as an image that represents the feelings that come with the realization of one’s queer identity. The choice you make when you see a glimpse of your queerness (whether that be from a nightmare or a dream) is whether to embrace it for what it is, to build a ship that keeps you from touching it, or to sink like a stone and anchor yourself to something that keeps you safe. Taking inspiration from the way d’bi.young anitafrika is intertwined in the stories she tells, I put myself in my piece. Like Michael, I saw myself sinking comfortably; not drowning, not swimming, but realizing that the longer I stay static, I will eventually run out of breath. For me, the flood itself is oxygen. It’s the impending act of “coming out”, or even better, “coming in” to your own and reminding yourself how to breathe. 

There is no choice in being queer, and for some, the act of being out can be a dream, a nightmare, or even a death sentence. Dreams are a common theme in the Bible. Sometimes you get dreams about a king, sometimes you get dreams about a baby, and sometimes, you get dreams about a flood. Noah’s God spoke to him in the form of a dream, and in GENESIS_VI, we’re privy to two prophets who are trying to decipher what it is their God’s have chosen for them. Paul had a dream that this rain started, and then he woke up on the road. Wet. Michael, who had just left the Pxssywitch Club after running into Niki, got into his ark, started driving, and chose to offer a seat towards salvation for their mate. Two by two, we go with them as they are shown visions of worship, water, and rainbows. Life doesn’t always give you a choice. In response to She Mami Wata & The Pxssywitch Hunt, [GENESIS_VI] similarly shows a world where when the flood comes, the choice is up to you whether you think we drown, sink, or swim. Do we find new land, or are we doomed to idly float on the water while we thirst for something, anything other than to drift? As you play the video game, you get to choose your answer. By the end, we’ll go through a genesis where what we create together will be your unique understanding of what happens once the flood resides. It’s not really a dream or a nightmare. It’s more of a trip and you decide your destination. Before you hit play, know there is no winning or losing. You can’t escape the flood. You can only choose to embrace it with open arms, or to try and swim against the current.

The process of development for this piece was completed in large part due to the patience of Signy Lynch, my mentor, Elena Reyes, my collaborator, Soulpepper Theatre, Intermission Magazine, and SSHRC-CRSH. Big thank yous to the whole team for the opportunity and space to create.

Around the World in 80 Plays runs until June 30 on Soulpepper’s website. For tickets and more information, click here.

Paul Smith

Paul Smith

Paul Smith (he/him) is a Thursday-born artist from Stittsville, ON., on the unceded lands of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation within Treaty 27, using his positionality to foster non-hierarchical spaces for emerging queer voices and voices of colour. With a current focus in acting, directing, and casting, he is passionate about the symbiotic relationship between theatre and film, is exploring how narratives that centre marginalized bodies can be adapted into stories of reclamation, innovation, and protest, and is developing his art practice through the principles of Sankofa. While completing his BA in Drama at Queen’s University in Katarokwi/Kingston, ON., Paul was blessed to work with groups like Queen’s Players, The Kick and Push Festival, 6AM Productions, Redacted Performance Co., and has recently collaborated with Obsidian Theatre Company’s #SeedingTheFuture project in his piece titled “EXODUS_VIII”. Today, Paul feels grateful for the chance to discover what theatre could become in our evolution as a medium and is probably listening to Frank Ocean right now.



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