Rising Tide: Surfacing POC Artists

By Ana Sofia Hibon
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017

Photo by Cesar Ghisilieri

On April 9th, the first edition of Rising Tide: Surfacing POC Artists was held at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. At this event, 13 emerging people of colour (POC) artists electrified the audience in the jam-packed auditorium through theatre and dance, film, and spoken word performances.

Rising Tide sought to empower the voices of emerging Toronto-based POC artists and support them in connecting with professional art communities. The stage was open for selected artists to present 10 minutes of their work.

The richness of themes and the vulnerability with which stories were told made this showcase relatable and thought-provoking. Through captivating performances, the artists transported the spectators across moving – and sometimes humorous – takes on mental health, race, identity, self-empowerment, isolation, and human relationships, among other topics. The showcase featured 11 pieces:

  • Ceremony – Kanika Ambrose & Virgilia Griffith
  • The Green Line – Makram Ayache
  • Xiety – Alia Ettienne
  • A Different Kind of Sentence – Rachael Henfrey
  • Michael – Warren Kang
  • Waterworks – Kemi King
  • [decoherence] – Slone McGowan
  • The Negroes are Congregating – Natasha Adiyana Morris
  • The HIStory of the World; And Some Coloured People in Between – Rouvan Silogix
  • 心月于: Three Tales in English and Broken Mandarin – Angela Sun
  • you, without – Ammarah Syed & Ty Sloane

Photo by Cesar Ghisilieri

Some of the artists took this opportunity to share their creative processes and speak about their experience as POC in the arts. Others expressed interest in finding sponsors and mentors to help them further their work.  

Following the show, Luke Reece, Artistic Director at Little Black Afro Theatre and co-organizer of the event, highlighted the importance of opening up spaces for young POC artists to develop and present their craft. He thanked the audience for demanding that untold stories be given a space on mainstream stages: “You being here and staying through the show means that this is a priority to you.”

I spoke to Jedidah Nabwangu, organizer of this event, to find out more about the process behind Rising Tide. As a 2017 Social Connectedness Fellow, Jedidah explored the ability of local theatre groups to build belonging among established and aspiring artists, their audiences, and surrounding communities.

How do you draw the links between the arts and social connectedness?

For me the whole topic is very intrinsic. Growing up, theater and performance were my happy place, a place where I could heal. I remember thinking: I can’t be the only one that experiences this.

There are so many benefits that come out of watching an artistic piece. It is very much a euphoric experience. There is a type of escapism that comes through the arts, and we often reach out to creative fields to better ourselves. Art can act as a reliever. It strengthens individuals while nourishing a healthy sense of community which as a result builds connectedness.

Jed’s research drew from the work of theatre groups such as Black Theatre Workshop, a Montreal-based project focused on empowering black voices within the arts.

Why did you choose to focus on local artistic groups? What is the importance behind initiatives like these?

They are telling stories that are primarily erased from mainstream narratives. In the case of Black Theatre Workshop, for example, they are telling the truth of the black experiences: “S” because there is not one but many stories, and oftentimes one story is all we get. Art not only empowers artists themselves, it also builds a sense of empowerment for audiences, through representation.

Why is it important to build dedicated spaces for POC artists to showcase their work?

There are artists of color that struggle to find platforms that support their work and visions. Unfortunately, even when these types of initiatives exist, they are not always easily accessible to artists that are not “regulars” in the scene. That needs to change. If you feel isolated, there is very little growth (creative or not) that you can experience. We must create opportunities for people who have historically been excluded from accessing mainstream platforms.

Was this creation of space for POC artists discussed during the preparation for the event?

Some of the artists mentioned that surprisingly, this kind of space [one that gives the stage to POC artists], does not happen very often, even in a huge city like Toronto, which is the biggest and perhaps the most diverse city in Canada.

During the preparation, I felt such an instant sense of community, such a sense of endearment, as if we had worked together for months, even if we only met in person weeks before the event. It was a beautiful thing to see, because it translated into the magic and confidence that unfolded on stage.

This event was presented by TakingITGlobal and Little Black Afro Theatre, with the support of Obsidian Theatre’s Darktown and The Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness. Through events like this, we can work towards fostering inclusion and connectedness among members of the arts community who wish to express themselves creatively, as well as for those who wish to learn about narratives different from their own.

Rising Tide might be coming to other Canadian cities in the coming months. Stay tuned to our website for more information!