“It needed to be a radical gesture that was amplifying Black voices.”
With her aim squarely focused on empowering Black artists, Obsidian Theatre’s new artistic director, Mumbi Tindyembwa Otu, brings forth her first major project with the company. 21 Black Futures is a series of 21 monodramas created by Black creatives which will stream on CBC Gem beginning February 12. Otu was undaunted by the large scope and intent of the project.
“In the midst of the pandemic and the fight against racism and violence against Black bodies we are looking toward 21 Black Futures as a way to heal and imagine something beyond the moment we were in. It was an invitation to Black artists to join and wrestle with the question of what does our future look like?”
The future looks focused for the Toronto based theatre company as it enters its twenty first year of operation in 2021. Otu envisioned a bold program that would feature 21 Black playwrights, 21 Black actors and 21 Black directors, each commissioned to generate a narrative exclusive to the Black experience.
“We were at a time when all this violent messaging of the Black experience and outrage that was not coming from us but was about us. So what we are doing at Obsidian is trying to shift the lens, the gaze, and discover what do Black thinkers, writers, creators have to say about our future?”
Otu lends her talents to 21 Black Futures, directing Cavities by K.P. Dennis. Author Lawrence Hill, playwright and broadcaster Amanda Parris, Saskatchewan’s 2021 youth poet laureate Peace Akintade and trailblazing playwright Djanet Sears comprise part of the creative cabal of talent. The 21 monodramas are oftentimes outspoken, stark, emotive, mesmerizing and deftly directed works.
You began your tenure at Obsidian just as the pandemic hit. Did you have thoughts of just waiting it out and postponing programming?
“Yeah, definitely, but because of the fight against racism and the gaze was sharply pointed at us we could not wait it out, we had to do something meaningful and so the choice was not really a choice. It was an urgent call, a visceral call.”
How has this project impacted you?
“I’m blown away by the work that people have made considering the circumstances that we are in-living in the pandemic. They have really brought their full selves to the table. It has definitely exceeded our expectations. It has been a learning project, diving into a lot of unknowns. It has been an incredible opportunity to get to know over 63 black artists. It’s the most number of artists that I and Obsidian have ever worked with simultaneously. It’s been 5 years of growth in a period of 8 months!”
What impact are you hoping 21 Black Futures will have on the masses?
“First and foremost I really want members of the Black community across the country to see their stories reflected back to them. To feel seen, heard, validated, justified, surprised and radicalized. With 21 Black Futures streaming online we are able to reach audiences we would never be able to reach if we were just doing a show in Toronto. It is my hope this work meets people where they are and that there is hope generated by this daring project. Hope and fire that’s lit in people’s bellies.”
“By seeing a diversity of perspectives, thought and aesthetics that are being presented, the general public can move beyond the idea of the Black experience as a monolithic experience and move forward with more empathy and more understanding as we continue to wrestle with and figure out how to make this world a safer space for Black individuals.”
21 BLACK FUTURES will premiere exclusively on the free CBC Gem streaming service in three parts (3x70 minutes) on Friday, February 12, Friday February 19 and Friday, February 26.