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July 21, 2021

Soulpepper Perspectives: Natasha Adiyana Morris, Academy Member

Let me tell you, I was not ready for the rollercoaster ride that was: second semester. Upon acceptance to the Soulpepper Academy, us members were told that we would be doing a site-specific project in Toronto called Awakenings. I had seen the incredible short film Esie Mensah had created with A Revolution of Love at Fort York and was excited to do my own take on the project. 

Somehow I had imagined choosing my own site, and my mind went straight to Blackhurst. The Mirvish village neighbourhood of Bathurst and Bloor was nicknamed Blackhurst because it was historically home to Black immigrants as far back as 1860—and it’s where my dad grew up in the 70s when he immigrated from Jamaica. I also thought the project would be filmed but I was thrown for a loop when I came to understand that there were 10 designated historical sites in Toronto, I was to choose one, and it would be a public facing performance. Okaaay.

Let’s backtrack a bit. The first trimester of the Academy, a mere eight weeks that felt more like eight months, was nothing short of magical. We wrote our own solo plays with the guidance of faculty including Djanet Sears, d’bi.young anitafrika, Ausar Stewart, and Lorenzo Savoini to name a few. As a playwright, I was in heaven, receiving in depth dramaturgy, revising, imagining set design, and reveling in a supportive Zoom bubble with my peers. As with anything, especially during a pandemic, the process had it’s hiccups, but I was ready to kick butt the following term. 

Fast forward, I selected the Market Gallery as my site, located on the second floor of the St. Lawrence Market. I was drawn to the North American Convention of Coloured Freeman that had taken place in 1851 in Toronto, a movement to organize freedom seekers in the United States to escape from the Fugitive Act and find safety in Canada. The funny thing is that the event took place at the St. Lawrence Hall on the corner of King and Jarvis…not St. Lawrence Market. Hence, I was back at square one, trying to find a connection to a site that once held city council chambers but was now a gallery displaying the City of Toronto’s art collection. 

Needless to say, I was struggling with the assignment. “Where was my in?” I kept asking myself. “Why should I care about this space?” These were the same questions an audience would face and I had the challenge of figuring it out. So I decided to revisit my original idea of holding a contemporary Freeman Convention and remixed it—I had to have audience participation and it had to be meaningful. 

The idea that I am now riffing off of is to hold a mock city council, inviting every day residents of diverse backgrounds and experiences to make informed and responsible decisions in the interests of their community, in this case the community at large is the City of Toronto.

In an era of deep political polarization, I believe that this is an opportune time for the public to honour their individual rights to effect change, as well as to value their responsibility to serve their community (and not just the people we agree with). Long story short, this is a sneak peek into my creative process, the often messy dramedy of emotion, push back and timely aha moments.

Pray for me as I enter semester three: collective creation!