Intergeneracial defines themselves as a “Black youth oral history theatre project.” Fiona Raye Clarke founded the collective in 2015. Last Thursday, Intergeneracial performed “From their Lips” in Hart House’s Debates Room. Directed by Amanda Nicholls, the performance involved stage readings by Dena Henry, Gabrielle Caresquero, Katasha Andrea James, Isiah Lea, Bianca Morgan, and Jaymie Sampa. The script was composed entirely of monologues by Black elders. The stories engaged with the meaning of Blackness, including issues of stereotypes, police brutality, and other various forms of racism.
Before I go any further, I’d like to reveal that I feel underqualified writing about the subjects raised in this performance. As a white woman, I will never understand the Black experience and won’t pretend that I do. But during this performance, I was offered a glimpse into the effects of anti-Black racism, and how it’s still a prevalent issue, even in our progressive society today.
“From their Lips” illustrated this burden through a dramatic adaptation of the elders’ stories. Reading from their scripts, the performers assumed the roles of the elders as they read their powerful stories. Each tale depicted a different experience of Black identity.
One story focused on a young man’s dream to become a hockey player. During a climactic moment in one of his games, he scores a goal and feels confident and proud. At least he does until someone calls him the n-word, causing him to give up on his dream.
Another story depicted a Black trans woman, who entered a gallery to submit her artwork. The curator looked at the artwork, then at the woman, and asked if she knew the real artist.
The following story portrayed a mother’s grief when she learns that her son was shot and she must identify the body. She explains her rage at the caller’s insensitive choice of words— “The body?” she screams. “Call him by his name!”
Most stories didn’t end with a peaceful conclusion. How could they when racism still exists?
The performers moved through the space with choreographed motions, yet their actions felt natural. During some moments, they sat in chairs or on the floor. Other times, they stood or paced. Lea struck the African bongo during several pieces, allowing the beat of the drum to punctuate his words. He also digressed into a rhythm on several occasions.
One movement stood out to me after Lea finished reading a story. When he stopped, he cupped his hands in the air to mimic the gesture of holding a large sphere. Caresquero entered onto the stage floor. Lea pretended to pass the weight into Caresquero’s hands as he walked off. Caresquero held the figurative weight for a moment, and then began reading a new story.
Some pieces were read separately, while others were read in conjunction with each other, like a dialogue. Nonetheless, the pieces meshed together into a unified statement about Black identity. The performers often faced each other as they spoke. Other times, they addressed opposite sides of the audience with their backs turned to each other.
The performance concluded with a song. The cast clustered together in a group of chairs. Sampa rose from the group and retrieved a ukulele from Clarke, who was sitting in the front row of the audience. Lea played his drum while Sampa strummed. In a beautiful, resonant voice, Sampa began to sing about freedom. Soon after, the other performers accompanied her. The group rose from their chairs and filed out of the room, still singing and playing music.
After the production, the cast welcomed the audience to engage in discussion. A supporting member of the production read questions prepared in advance by the Hart House Committee. The questions sought commentary on issues of sexuality and queerness, rage, the Black artistic community, and religion in the performance. After the Hart House Committee questions concluded, the floor opened to questions from the audience.
A general theme expressed by the group was a feeling of disconnect between the white and Black communities, which is perpetuated by the media and negative stereotypes. Each member spoke eloquently about their connection with the performance. One of the most crucial messages they discussed was the importance of listening to elders, regardless of your race. Older generations hold wisdom and stories that oftentimes, they wish to share with younger generations. “From their Lips” allowed this older generation to share their history.
The evening offered an inspiring depiction of the Black community, including all forms of identity and experience. While I may not have a personal connection with these stories, Intergeneracial offered me an opportunity to understand and witness these experiences, if only just for a moment.