February is Black History Month, a four-week-long commemoration that provides copious opportunities to celebrate the achievements and legacies of Black Canadians. While there are several ways to participate in honouring their contributions to our country’s rich history and culture, Myseum of Toronto offers an unforgettable digital experience.
Myseum’s theatrical presentation of 1851: Spirit & Voice transports the 1851 North American Convention of Coloured Freemen to the present. The convention once brought together historical abolitionists who fought against slavery in the United States whilst advocating for the Black people fleeing to Ontario.
The engaging online presentation, which explores perspectives on these historical and contemporary issues, takes place on February 17 and 24. The event is free and guests can register here for the presentation on February 17 and here for the presentation on February 24. It was created in partnership with Soulpepper Theatre Company and the Ontario Black History Society.
1851: Spirit & Voice takes a playful spin on the serious topic and invites history enthusiasts and culturally curious folk to immerse themselves in the fictionalized digital conference, where present-day hosts are visited by ghosts of conventions past.
Conversations across the centuries ensue, reigniting emotionally charged debates about settling in Canada, 19th century journalism, segregation and the racism that communities still face today.
“I’m not usually a fan of ‘historical re-enactment’ pieces so I wanted to have fun with it,” says Luke Reece, playwright and associate artistic director at the Soulpepper Theatre Company. “I wanted to show people like Mary Ann Shadd, Mary Bibb and Frederick Douglass having a good time while reminiscing about the important history rooted at the St. Lawrence Hall.”
The nuanced characters will make virtual audiences laugh just as much as they’ll encourage reflection on issues of past and contemporary racism.
Virtual attendees will act as delegates of the present-day conference, witnessing the unfiltered thoughts of historical figures. They’ll also have the opportunity to interact with fellow delegates and speakers, who will be discussing topics such as historical representation, using artistic expression to spark change, and contemporary issues like racism and microaggressions.
There’s also no prior knowledge required to understand the powerful voices and perspectives of the contributing Black artists. However, attendees will be given resources ahead of the program to better understand the historical context.
“The goal was to create a piece that I would have enjoyed learning in school as a child but also something I can still enjoy as an adult, without diminishing the impact it has on Black Canadians today,” says Reece.
With dramaturgical help from Lisa Karen Cox, a Toronto-based actor, director and producer, Reece was able to write a theatrical presentation that’s humorous and educational.
The event will also include a talk – On Safety, Glass Ceilings and Feminism – by Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae, followed by a live Q&A with Reece, Dr. Keleta-Mae and Natasha Henry, president of the Ontario Black History Society.
For more information or to register for one of the online presentations:
1815: Spirit & Voice – February 17, 2022