ROCK.PAPER.SISTAHZ: CELEBRATING BROTHAZ a festival of new one-act black theatre works. Presented by b current at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). Runs to May 8, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $12. 416-504-7529. this time around, the annual rock.paper.Sistahz festival is letting the boys in to play. In organizing this fourth version of the fest that develops new theatre work from the Canadian and international black diaspora, artistic director ahdri zhina mandiela wants to involve brothaz as well as sistahz.
Not just involve them, actually, but also honour them.
"Black male voices aren't often heard on our stages, despite the work of playwrights like Andrew Moodie, Michael Miller, Donald Carr and a few others," offers the thoughtful, dedicated mandiela, whose b current performing arts presents the festival.
"I want to encourage a variety of male voices, offer what they consider important and also how they function with each other and the rest of us. There's more to talk about than the stereotypes."
Of the 16 shows being workshopped during the three-week fest, mandiela's programmed six diverse pieces by male writers both new and established.
In the former category is Kimahli Powell , SummerWorks' new co-artistic director, whose play Only You examines sexual identity both inside and outside the black community.
"Kimahli looks at two guys steeped in hiphop, what their friendship is about and where it goes. It's about self-love in respect to identity."
There's another hiphop angle in Joseph Pierre 's Born Ready , presented in collaboration with Obsidian Theatre , which looks at gangsta rap, black men and guns. Visiting from Montreal's Black Theatre Workshop, Cattle Call by Sandip Bhat and Chimwemwe Miller examines the pitfalls of being an ethnic actor at an audition.
But mandiela wants not only to encourage seedling writers but also to nurture well-rooted ones. That's why she's chosen a piece by writer/actor Donald Carr, who's been on the Toronto scene - and collaborated with mandiela - for decades.
" House Of Dust , adapted by director Colin Taylor from Donald's writing, penetrates the mind of a storyteller caught in a personal creative space and trying to break out of it," says mandiela, who recently directed Cast Iron for Obsidian and soon helms works by Trevor Rhone and Anthony Winkler .
"Donald's not gotten the attention he deserves; people look at him as a performer. This is our attempt to focus on his writing and see where his creative ideas come from."
But don't think that this new injection of testosterone's going to change the heart of the festival. Mandiela's "own personal creative focus" has always been working with black women, and there are plenty of female voices in this year's festival, including Rebecca Fisseha 's choreopoem The Exhibition Of Love , spoken-word artist Afrikaren Nile 's Building Blocks and mandiela's own re/grannie , a dance piece she calls "a dispensation on reparation."
Another constant in mandiela's art is connecting with other artistic groups, especially black groups, locally and nationally. Remember that Obsidian and Black Theatre Workshop have a finger in this year's festival, and other works have come from SummerWorks (John Blackwood's Jamaica Man ) and Buddies' Rhubarb! (Francisca Zentilli's The Colour Of My Heart/El Color De Mi Corazon ).
"I'm trying to look at a national network of black artists and companies, so that a work gets a mounting beyond its premiere," says mandiela. "We often consider individual artists, but there's a huge contribution that could be made through a joint effort, through the collectivism of black artists and the infusion of their work into the larger scene.
"I want our hands to be intertwined and for people to see that there's something worthwhile in those links."
Mandiela imagines those links connecting contemporary groups but also reaching into the past and the future.
"B current's 15th anniversary crept up on me. This company needs to stay around at least another 15 years, continuing the development and production of scripts and training of a new generation. I know you can't pass on a legacy in five years, but you can in 30, and that's my goal.
"If we don't learn about the past and apply that learning to the present, then the future is blank."