A new theatrical production coming to Vancouver will explore the stories of Black people living in rural Canada.
Shayna Jones, a Kaslo-based oral storyteller, is the author and performer of black and rurala production that will tell the story of his life and the stories of those who played a crucial role in his journey to rural British Columbia
“Those who come to watch this play will have the opportunity to hear the real thoughts recorded from interviews with Black Canadians,” Jones said.
“It’s so valuable to create something that cuts through jargon and political discourse. And to have a piece that can try to touch the hearts of people who listen.”
Jones hopes her show will highlight the importance of listening to black stories and looking beyond assumptions of the black experience in rural British Columbia. She says people outside of the black community will also have a space to reflect during the show on the choices they’ve made about where they’ve chosen to live.
“It’s my deepest hope… [the audience] will see something of themselves and their own choice to live where they live, whether urban or rural, and wonder why and how they want to live in [those] spaces,” she said.
According to Statistics Canada, 61,760 people in British Columbia identified as black in the 2021 census, including 41,180 in the Greater Vancouver area.
“Living Close to the Land”
Born in Chicago and raised in Vancouver, Jones says 10 years ago she decided to leave her city life behind and move to a small town.
She has now lived in Kaslo, British Columbia, a town of 800 people about 70 kilometers northeast of Nelson, for the past seven years. Jones says that aside from herself and her three children, there are only two other black people living in the area.
She says her experiences in a quiet setting outside the hustle and bustle of the city have brought her and her family closer to their roots.
“[I discovered] that living in the countryside, living close to the land, close to the trees was exactly the healing I needed to discover more deeply my ancestry and my heritage. And I never turned back.”
She says the change in lifestyle fueled her storytelling and inspired her to listen to others who had made a similar choice.
“The question of why someone chooses to stay in such a setting becomes extremely interesting,” she said, adding that many of the stories she has heard are not what people would expect. .
Jones says the stories she has collected explore how black people found power by living closer to the land.
“[Those experiences trump] the discomforts, heartbreak and pain that can sometimes come from being the only black face in a sea of rural white faces.”
Richard Wolfe, director of Black and rural, says he joined the Jones project after hearing about it two years ago.
“I thought it was the kind of story I would want to see myself if I was an audience member in a theater because it felt like a completely untold story to me,” he said, adding that the show was divided into three parts featuring folklore. storytelling, personal anecdotes from Jones’ life and voiceovers from other Black Canadians.
Wolfe says showcasing artists like Jones and their stories is important in helping audiences understand the lived experiences of Black Canadians.
“Art should tell as many stories as possible. Because audiences encountering things that are unfamiliar to them can only help them grow as people,” he said.
“It can bring people together on a much more essential level because they share the space with others.”
The show, presented at the Pacific Theater in Vancouver until April 15, will continue its tour in Courtenay and Victoria this year.
Wolfe says there are plans to move production indoors next year.
Jones says it’s important to her to tour the production in rural areas, as her inspiration came from these communities.
“It’s incredibly important for rural settings to hear these stories collected from black people who live in these kinds of settings…To really honor the mandate of the spirit behind this whole process,” she said.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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