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Black Theatre Workshop: a fairytale worth believing

by admin February 16, 2010

Black Theatre Workshop: a fairytale worth believing

by admin February 16, 2010

Black Theatre Workshop’s stage adaptation of Richardo Keens-Douglas’ short story The Nutmeg Princess is getting the school tour treatment this February for Black History Month. Like a great Disney movie, The Nutmeg Princess will make children believe in their dreams and make adults feel like children again.
Renowned storyteller Keens-Douglas wrote The Nutmeg Princess after a girl he was reading to asked him why there weren’t any stories with black princesses.

It’s tale of two children who go on a quest to find a mythical creature who can only be seen by those who prove their selflessness. Actress Tamara Brown and her two castmates from The Nutmeg Princess do triple duty at the shows. Not only do they act and sing, but they also control and lend their voices to the animal puppets in the show.
On the Isle of Spice, Petite Mama (Warona Sethshwaelo) is a feared and misunderstood islander who lives in the mountains. Agleu (Mike Payette) is a dreamer who is mature beyond his years but has a thirst for adventure. His friend Petal (Brown) isn’t nearly as daring. She tries to talk him out of speaking to Petite Mama, or even looking at her, because she fears Mama puts bewitching spells on people. “You touch her hand, you might turn to sand,” claims one island song about Mama. Agleu ventures into the jungle where he hopes to find the Nutmeg Princess, a most beautiful creature that appears on a bottomless lake. After seeing her and being in awe, Agleu convinces a nervous Petal to come with him the following morning to witness the marvel for herself.

The three-member cast put a lot of heart into all of their performances, with each portraying more than one character in the play. The Caribbean accents were fun and the songs upbeat. The sets were simple, but the curtain-like sheets with brown and green fabrics sewn-on made for a believable jungle. Simple, bright-colored sheets were used for home facades. Even a coat hanger was decorated to pass as a cotton silk tree. While it is clear that BTW’s The Nutmeg Princess is “theatre on a budget,” as Brown put it, it really does not take away from the performances or the story’s resonance.
“The idea that being a princess has nothing to do with marrying into royalty or being rescued by some prince,” Brown said, “that’s a really cool message.” This, along with believe-in-yourself messages, is what she thinks audiences are responding so positively to.

A good time is sure to be had by grown-ups if they can suspend their belief for the play’s one-hour duration and let their imagination run wild like it used to not so long ago.
As BTW celebrates its 40th season, artistic director Tyrone Benskin hopes the school tour will introduce a new type of audience to theatre and make youth regular theatregoers.
Part of the celebration has included the recent launch of its completely redesigned website. It’s meant to double as an online archive of the group’s long history, chock full of digitized original newspaper articles, pictures of stage shows since the “60s, as well as videos and interviews from founding and current members of the group.
President Jacklin Webb stated that she hopes the website raises awareness about BTW. “Not just a workshop anymore,” said Benskin of BTW at the launch party for the troupe new website. Benskin, who first got involved with BTW 30 years ago as an actor, believes the group owes its success to the commitment and the efforts of everyone involved. Webb seconded that, and spoke about everyone’s dedication, “because I know it’s worth boasting about.” This commitment and dedication shine through in this production.

With all his experience, “instinct” is what Benskin credits for picking which play will be featured by BTW. He does not need to read a whole play to know if it will resonate with audiences, if it “strikes a chord,” he’ll know from the very beginning.
BTW, the longest-running troupe of its kind in the country, prides itself on featuring up-and-coming Afro-Canadian playwrights’ works. Writer George Boyd’s “Wade in the Water” started off at BTW, and his “Le Code Noir” was on the Segal Centre’s mainstage last year. This is the kind of success story Benskin wants to see more of at BTW.
The troupe’s next big project is hopefully moving its operations to NDG’s Empress Centre sometime in the near future.

The Nutmeg Princess plays at the MAI (3680 rue Jeanne-Mance) on Feb. 20 and 27 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5.
For more information about Black Theatre Workshop, visit www.blacktheatreworkshop.ca

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Black Theatre Workshop’s stage adaptation of Richardo Keens-Douglas’ short story The Nutmeg Princess is getting the school tour treatment this February for Black History Month. Like a great Disney movie, The Nutmeg Princess will make children believe in their dreams and make adults feel like children again.
Renowned storyteller Keens-Douglas wrote The Nutmeg Princess after a girl he was reading to asked him why there weren’t any stories with black princesses.

It’s tale of two children who go on a quest to find a mythical creature who can only be seen by those who prove their selflessness. Actress Tamara Brown and her two castmates from The Nutmeg Princess do triple duty at the shows. Not only do they act and sing, but they also control and lend their voices to the animal puppets in the show.
On the Isle of Spice, Petite Mama (Warona Sethshwaelo) is a feared and misunderstood islander who lives in the mountains. Agleu (Mike Payette) is a dreamer who is mature beyond his years but has a thirst for adventure. His friend Petal (Brown) isn’t nearly as daring. She tries to talk him out of speaking to Petite Mama, or even looking at her, because she fears Mama puts bewitching spells on people. “You touch her hand, you might turn to sand,” claims one island song about Mama. Agleu ventures into the jungle where he hopes to find the Nutmeg Princess, a most beautiful creature that appears on a bottomless lake. After seeing her and being in awe, Agleu convinces a nervous Petal to come with him the following morning to witness the marvel for herself.

The three-member cast put a lot of heart into all of their performances, with each portraying more than one character in the play. The Caribbean accents were fun and the songs upbeat. The sets were simple, but the curtain-like sheets with brown and green fabrics sewn-on made for a believable jungle. Simple, bright-colored sheets were used for home facades. Even a coat hanger was decorated to pass as a cotton silk tree. While it is clear that BTW’s The Nutmeg Princess is “theatre on a budget,” as Brown put it, it really does not take away from the performances or the story’s resonance.
“The idea that being a princess has nothing to do with marrying into royalty or being rescued by some prince,” Brown said, “that’s a really cool message.” This, along with believe-in-yourself messages, is what she thinks audiences are responding so positively to.

A good time is sure to be had by grown-ups if they can suspend their belief for the play’s one-hour duration and let their imagination run wild like it used to not so long ago.
As BTW celebrates its 40th season, artistic director Tyrone Benskin hopes the school tour will introduce a new type of audience to theatre and make youth regular theatregoers.
Part of the celebration has included the recent launch of its completely redesigned website. It’s meant to double as an online archive of the group’s long history, chock full of digitized original newspaper articles, pictures of stage shows since the “60s, as well as videos and interviews from founding and current members of the group.
President Jacklin Webb stated that she hopes the website raises awareness about BTW. “Not just a workshop anymore,” said Benskin of BTW at the launch party for the troupe new website. Benskin, who first got involved with BTW 30 years ago as an actor, believes the group owes its success to the commitment and the efforts of everyone involved. Webb seconded that, and spoke about everyone’s dedication, “because I know it’s worth boasting about.” This commitment and dedication shine through in this production.

With all his experience, “instinct” is what Benskin credits for picking which play will be featured by BTW. He does not need to read a whole play to know if it will resonate with audiences, if it “strikes a chord,” he’ll know from the very beginning.
BTW, the longest-running troupe of its kind in the country, prides itself on featuring up-and-coming Afro-Canadian playwrights’ works. Writer George Boyd’s “Wade in the Water” started off at BTW, and his “Le Code Noir” was on the Segal Centre’s mainstage last year. This is the kind of success story Benskin wants to see more of at BTW.
The troupe’s next big project is hopefully moving its operations to NDG’s Empress Centre sometime in the near future.

The Nutmeg Princess plays at the MAI (3680 rue Jeanne-Mance) on Feb. 20 and 27 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5.
For more information about Black Theatre Workshop, visit www.blacktheatreworkshop.ca

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