APPLEWAY: PART B by Dian Marie Bridge, directed by Djennie Laguerre. Presented by Bridgo at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. August 4 at 11 pm, August 6 and 12 at 6:30 pm, August 7 and 13 at 5 pm, August 8 and 11 at 9:30 pm. Rating: NNNNN
Playwright Dian Marie Bridge is from the 'hood and knows it well. Now, with a passion for storytelling she's had since her childhood in Jamaica, she's bringing her tale to SummerWorks audiences.
After directing two back-to-back Fringe plays, Diary Of A Bra and the emotionally rich Thank You, Bridge comes on strong with Appleway.
Set in the Victoria Park/Lawrence community where Bridge grew up in the late 70s, it's a breakaway script for the writer, who's primed to move to the forefront of young black theatre artists. It also gets her back to her roots.
"When we moved from Jamaica to Scarborough in 1978, Trudeau was in power and our neighbours were Irish, English, Persian, Tanzanian and Bajan," recalls the soft-spoken Bridge. "I didn't give any thought to the fact that everyone played together. It was only years later I realized that how close you are to other people and other cultures affects everything about your life."
What's new for the children of immigrants, Bridge argues, is how they see themselves.
"A lot of people my age and younger think of themselves as hybrids - part African or Caribbean, part Canadian. We draw our experiences from several sources, which is something that's different and constantly evolving. We can't be put into boxes."
For SummerWorks, Bridge is staging the middle section of the three-part play, in which twin sisters try to stop a derailing train in its tracks. Still, the author thinks it would be cool at some point to present the whole multimedia piece environmentally - in the neighbourhood where it takes place.
Want some choice in your theatrical experience, even after you've decided which play to see? Bridge is your playwright. She's planned the full-length, poetry-tinged Appleway as a choose-your-own-adventure piece. It's modelled on 1980s mystery books where the narrative elements intersect and a reader can select which character to follow.
Sitting in the office of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, doing a 9-to-5 desk job that she feels complements her stage work, Bridge is cool and focused despite the 30-plus temperature outside.
An artist whose quietness hides an appetite to create, she knows that contributing to the theatre community means understanding what goes on behind the scenes, not just being in the spotlight.
Over the past few years Bridge has been paying her dues in several areas, from administration to assistant directing, from writing to working as a SummerWorks house manager. Even last year, when she co-wrote and performed in the Cric Crac Collective's Tell Tale, Bridge did SummerWorks duty as front of house manager. Lucky that she can be more physically imposing than her 5-foot-5 height might suggest.
"There was this 6-foot-4 latecomer who was upset that I wouldn't let him into a show," she recalls with a laugh that lights up her face. "He rushed the doors, and I had to throw myself into his path.
"That kind of physical exertion aside," she says, getting serious again, "I know that any theatre work I do - administrative or artistic - is important. I want to be an artistic director, and that involves more than the art. You have to understand all aspects of how a company works."
To that end, in 2002 Bridge apprenticed with black theatre troupe Obsidian and shadowed artistic director Alison Sealy-Smith. She was assistant director on Sealy-Smith's production of The Piano Lesson, and later assisted on the Mirvish production of trey anthony's 'Da Kink In My Hair, helmed by Weyni Mengesha.
But it was her time in Vancouver after graduating from university that shaped Bridge's working style. Part of the art collective 4large Heads, she helped stage party/happenings in Vancouver.
"That do-your-own-thing kind of work resulted from hanging out with people and sharing ideas rather than trying to produce a show. I wish there were more artistic opportunities like that in Toronto, but everything here is so geared to getting a show up. People are always go-go-go; they network, and don't socialize.
"That's so much more stressful and less creative than just getting together over a meal and sharing ideas about the kind of art we each want to make. And I think it's too bad, because" - and here she giggles - "we got so much more accomplished by watching the sunset on Vancouver's Wreck Beach."
Working on 4large Heads showed her that every element in a production - video, art installation or script - had to stand artistically on its own.
In Fuzz, one of her Vancouver scripts, she played with an idea that's resurfaced in Appleway.
"Fuzz suggested that our generation has been socialized and developed a sense of itself through TV and music videos. I'd compare TV and videos to the hygiene films of the 50s that taught kids how to behave."
Bridge has worked music videos into the second part of Appleway, but the SummerWorks production won't be able to give them full value.
"If I had $200,000 to spend," she smiles again, "the music video component would be enormous. My inspiration is 40s and 50s musicals, with 200 dancers and huge choreographed numbers."
Beneath the flash, there's no lack of insight into how a neighbourhood's composition resonates for those in it.
"The sisters in Appleway are new to Canada and live in a densely populated, multicultural area," she says. "They're babysat by TV. They'd be totally different if they were part of the only black family in Pickering."
Bridge acknowledges that good theatre comes from active storytelling. She grew up with stories in Jamaica, and her part of last year's Tell Tale adapted a moral tale she heard at home. Like music videos and TV, she argues, stories are a way of socializing a younger generation.
"Words conjure up magic. Anything and everything is possible if you just allow it to be possible in your art.
"It's the artists, in fact, who are the historians of our times. They take the liberty of crafting our past and handing it down."
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