I'M JUST SITTING AT THE DERBY WAITING FOR MY SHIP TO COME IN written and performed by Anne-Marie Woods. Presented as part of Omiala at the Harbourfront Centre's Lakeside Terrace, 235 Queens Quay West. July 24 and 25, Saturday 5:30 pm, Sunday 4:30 pm. Free. 416-973-4000. www.harbourfrontcentre.com
Anne-Marie Woods is sharing a bit of her Halifax hometown history with Toronto audiences. In the appropriate setting of Harbourfront Centre's Lakeside Terrace - where else can you get so much water in T.O.? - she's remounting her Fringe hit I'm Just Sitting At The Derby Waiting For My Ship To Come In, as part of Omiala: A Festival of New Black Culture.
The concept of home is the first-time multidisciplinary festival's connecting theme.
"As a teen in Halifax, I noticed that all these American navy men would swarm the city," recalls the actor/ singer/dancer. "Suddenly, women would appear, too, and the clubs and streets would fill up with couples.
"Why, I wondered, would women date sailors - people they wouldn't see beyond a few days?"
While in university, Woods, whose family came from Trinidad, dated Caribbean students. Then, after graduation, she found herself not dating at all. There were no prospects in sight.
And then she realized why those women had gone for the sailors.
"I'd been mulling over the idea for a few years, while I was doing one-woman shows at schools. Then I spent a year at a black theatre school in Philadelphia where I saw that audiences didn't rush to see works by Shakespeare or black playwright August Wilson. Instead, they were attracted to what were called chitlin-circuit plays, popular theatre works that spoke to a grassroots audience."
I'm Just Sitting is in the same vein, a largely improvised piece about a lonely woman.
"I guess for some people the show isn't very funny," says the radio and stage performer, who's been in Toronto for three years and appeared in the remount of The Adventures Of A Black Girl In Search Of God.
"But the fact is that the chromosome base in Nova Scotia just doesn't seem to produce enough black men. It's a serious issue, especially for black women, but there's no black male-bashing intended by the show."
Woods got an enthusiastic response from women, though, and the premiere production - a combination of song, movement and text - was an audience favourite at the Atlantic Fringe.
She's written five one-woman shows, including a follow-up to I'm Just Sitting called Still Sitting At The Derby, in which her character returns as a 75-year-old.
"And let me tell you," she laughs, "I'd never thought about senior citizens seeing themselves onstage. They loved it and came in busloads."
Convoluted titles seem to be a Woods specialty. Her latest show, to be workshopped here and in Nova Scotia this summer, is True Confessions Of A Single Woman While Waiting For Her Big Break: The Off Off Off Off Off Off Broadway Musical.
But it's not just commercial success she's after. Woods's solo school performances deal with black history, peer pressure and bullying, topics she's eager to speak about.
"It's important for a woman of Afri-can descent to be in the schools, talking to kids about things I've been through or understand.
"I feel like a teacher without a teaching degree; my curriculum has no boundaries. I've also run a young company in Nova Scotia called Imani Women's Artistic Project, an interdisciplinary training group for women of African descent. I hope to start a similar company here."
Woods is only part of the theatre contingent at Omiala. Also worth checking out are Nicole Stamp's better parts, a stream-of-consciousness social commentary that draws on spoken word, song and comedy, and New York performer Michelle Matlock's satiric The Mammy Project, inspired by Nancy Green, the first black woman who played pancake icon Aunt Jemima.