Skip to main content

The Africa Trilogy - LuminaTO

A Look Behind the Scenes of The Africa Trilogy

Shine Your Eye
Written by Binyavanga Wainaina
Directed by Ross Manson

The programme and notes pose three succinct questions to frame this theatrical dialogue about Africa and the West:

Just who do they think they are?
Just who do they think we are?
Just who do we think we are?

All three plays present very different perspectives on the theme, from the white angst of Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God (by German theatre's rising star Roland Schimmelpfennig) to Amercian playwright Christina Anderson's GLO, about a young Kenyan writer in NYC, where everyone wants her to stand in for their very on African experience. (I'm doing a full review that will appear in next month's White Elephant Magazine.)

I spoke with Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, Assistant Director of Shine Your Eye about what it was like to work on this huge project.

"It's a great play," she enthuses, "the first play by (this) fiction writer. It covers a lot of really important themes. It's a 1 hour play - with a lot of complex issues woven into it." Part of its impact lies in its perspective. It was written by an African about Africans - a Kenyan writer talking about Nigeria. "In the West, we don't usuually see plays written by Africans. It's really refreshing." Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina is currently New York based.

But to deliver its message, a play first has to succeed on its own creative terms. "You can read the script, it's so rich in poetry. The challenge for us is to bring that poetry to life." The piece involves elements like the arresting projections of Germany's renowned FettFilm, (they really added another dimension to the play,) movement and even dance sequences among unexpected elements. "You'll say - I haven't seen anything like this."

In contrast to virtually any other representation of Africans that I can think of, Shine Your Eye presents a thoroughly contemporary picture of life in Lagos. "It looks at the dilemma of youth. They're living in a very high tech, Western influenced world and they're having to carve out their own identity."

The script also touches on the 419 scams, not just as a criminal activity, but a look at how it's perceived - as a way of getting back that which has been stolen from Nigeria. Profits from a foreign owned oil industry are simply pumped out  right back out of the country. "They want to nationalize oil, but they can't do that without capital," she explains. Shine Your Eye puts the issue in human terms.

The internet itself has played an immeasurable role in literally connecting Africa to the rest of  the world. "It's the age of African high tech. It counters the popular view of Africa as a Stone Age society."

While I won't give away the ending, since there is still time to see the trilogy, I will say it's realistic in that it provides no definitive "answer" or direction to what is, in real life, an ongoing story. "The future of Africa is a powerful, unfinished work."

Visual artist Wengechi Mutu, another Kenyan who's currently Brooklyn based, (and whose show recently closed at the AGO btw,)  has designed the avatar used in the story. "The aim was to involve as many artists as possible." In the script, the avatar is designed by the main character, Beka. "The main character is a computer geek, a game designer," Mumbi says. She also points out that all the actors are either first or second generation African.

Rehearsals were a whirlwind. "A lot of work was done on script development. The script changed as they went along." Naturally, part of her job was to keep track of it all. "My own role has been like something of a chameleon, putting whatever hat on I need to - assisting in communications, keeping track of script changes." And it wasn't only their own production they had to take into account. "It has been a crazy process, with three plays and a rotating team."

The notion of producing three plays rather than one already underscores the underlying message that there is more than one single story about Africa to be told - it is a continent of 1 billion people and 54 odd countries, after all. Mumbi credits Shine Your Eye Director and Volcano founding Artistic Director Ross Manson for having the vision to see the Africa Trilogy from conception to stage. "I can't think of anyone else who could've done this."

Dienye Waboso as Beka
Binyavanga Wainaina
Ross Manson with Stephen Lewis (whose 2005 CBC Massey Lectures inspired the whole project) image by Kamil Bialous

Produced by Volcano Theatre
Presented by LuminaTO in association with Harbourfront Centre
Co-commissioned by LuminaTO and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival

Shine Your Eye
Written by Binyavanga Wainaina
Directed by Ross Manson

Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God
Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig
Directed by Liesl Tommy

Written by Christina Anderson
Directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo


What Else Is Hot This Week?

Cuba Re-Opens To International Tourism

From a media release:Cuba Re-Opens To International Tourism
October 2020Cuba adapts to the “new normal” and announces the re-opening of international tourism in most of the country.After controlling the pandemic, local authorities announced the country is embracing a “new normal” for most of the country’s provinces except: Havana, Ciego de Avila and Sancti Spiritus (Which still have some cases of local transmission).All international airports are already open, except Havana Airport, which will remain limited to humanitarian and cargo flights for the time being, and Cayo Coco airport, open only for tourism due to the current situation in the province of Ciego de Avila.The Minister of tourism, Mr. Juan Carlos Garcia Granda, said that “air only” passengers will be able to enter the country through all the open airports, with the exception of Cayo Coco Airport, which will continue to work as before (Holiday package: air and hotel).The Minister noted that foreign tourists will be able to st…

Jazzy Pop: Shihori - Soul Trip (Independent / 4 September 2020)

Jazzy Pop:
Shihori - Soul Trip
(Independent / 4 September 2020)New York City based singer and songwriter Shihori's new single Soul Trip is atmospheric and ambient. Interesting rhythms and interwoven melodic vocal lines showcase jazzy harmonic progressions in a slow groove mode. 
As a songwriter, she uses electronic effects with impeccable musical taste. As a singer, her flexible vocals range from a sweet soprano to a strong mid-range.A veteran of the Japanese pop scene, Shihori moved to New York City in 2018, a move she talks about in a media release."I was so surprised when I came to NY for the first time. Independent and strong women are respected and there are lots of different preferences in music and style. I thought, 'oh my God! This place really accepts uniqueness and freedom! I didn't know there is a place like this totally different world that allows you to be yourself. Everybody looks so different. So many races, colors, cultures, fashion, ideas...I am so happy…

FACTORY presents World Premiere ACTS OF FAITH November 19 to 28 2020 - Free Livestream

From a media release:World Premiere
FACTORY presents 
Directed by Nina Lee Aquino
Starring Natasha Mumba
November 19 – 28, 2020 @ 7:30PM
Streamed live for 6 performances
Free of charge
TORONTO (October 19, 2020) - To kick off its groundbreaking 2020/21 season, Factory presents the world premiere of acts of faith, by multi-award winning Asian Canadian playwright David Yee, directed by Nina Lee Aquino, and starring Natasha Mumba. Written specifically to be performed for a digital platform, acts of faith will stream live to audiences at home for six performances, November 19-28, 2020. 
Thanks to the generous support of the TD Bank Group, admission is being offered entirely free of charge to audiences across the country and beyond.acts of faith tells a story about the power of faith, the inescapable persistence of our online identities, and the nature of truth in a digital age. The story follows Faith, a young woman who gets mistaken for a prophet. When a questionable r…

Alt Country | Doc Straw & the Scarecrows: Get on By (Independent / July 31, 2020)

Alt Country
Doc Straw & the Scarecrows: Get on By
(Independent / July 31, 2020)Stream it on SpotifyClever lyrics that tell a story and an appealing acoustic bounce give the new single by Doc Straw & the Scarecrows a classic modern folk vibe. The vocal harmonies are pleasing and the words are an upbeat ode to persevering during tough times.
It's a timely message, and Doc talked about it in a release."I wrote this song after getting off of a 3-hour long phone conversation with my sister, Jessica, and a lot of our conversation that evening  centered around some of the tougher things in life and how we were dealing with these struggles. If a person lives long enough then at some point they will experience these trying seasons. I've learned that it's important to pay attention during those times because that is when we have some of the best opportunities to grow."It has a nicely haunting harmonica line and builds to an emotional peak. Virginia based Mike Straw is…

Vancouver Art Gallery Fall Exhibitions | Victor Vasarely, Op Art in Vancouver & Uncommon Language October 17, 2020 to April 5, 2021

From a media release:Vancouver Art Gallery New Fall Exhibitions
Victor Vasarely, Op Art in Vancouver & Uncommon Language
October 17, 2020 to April 5, 2021To book tickets: Visit vanartgallery.bc.caOctober 17, 2020, Vancouver, BC – This fall, the Vancouver Art Gallery presents Victor Vasarely, a selected survey of paintings, sculptures and prints by the Hungarian-French artist Victor Vasarely (1906–1997), internationally renowned for his colourful abstract patterns and playful, and visually engaging aesthetic.  Victor Vasarely, OERVENG, 1968, tempera on wood composite board, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift of the Estate of Kathleen E. Reif, Estate of Victor Vasarely/SOCAN (2020), Photo: Ian Lefebvre, Vancouver Art Gallery The exhibition focuses on his artistic production from the 1960s and 70s, at the height of his popularity. With the most extensive collection of Vasarely artworks in Canada, the Gallery offers a unique opportunity for the public to discover this influenti…