Praxis Theatre is currently on hiatus! Please find co-founders Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler at The Theatre Centre and SpiderWebShow, respectively.

Category: The Africa Trilogy

October 14, 2011, by

Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God - Tony Nappo, Kristen Thomson, Tom Barnett and Maev Beaty. Photo by John Lauener

by Michael Wheeler

I realize it is a little strange as the Co-Artistic Director of Praxis Theatre and Editor of to publish a blog post about the best play I’ve worked on so far and for it not to be a Praxis Theatre show – but there’s PR and then there’s an attempt at truth. Hopefully people read this thing because we appreciate the latter over the former in this space.

Shine Your Eye - Dienye Waboso. Photo by John Lauener

Over the past three years, with the generous support of two grants from Theatre Ontario, I have been a participant in Volcano Theatre‘s  The Africa Trilogy – which premiered last year at Luminato and became Another Africa this year at Canadian Stage.

This participation has taken number of forms; first as Artistic Producer Trainee with artistic and producing duties on all three productions, which I blogged about extensively on in a seven part series, and then as the creator and curator of The Africa Trilogy Blog.

Both of these experiences were immensely rewarding. In terms of gaining an intimate detailed understanding of how an ambitious international collaboration goes from idea to reality (praxis) they were invaluable.

There could be no better education in creating original plays than the opportunity to experience directors Ross Manson and Josette Bushell-Mingo, cast, dramaturge, choroegraph and stage new works by new voices in theatre.

In particular, seeing Shine Your Eye, the first dramatic work by Binyavanga Wainana, (just pronounced this week by Forbes magazine as one the 40 most powerful celebrities in Africa) come to life as a thoroughly contemporary African perspective on Africa, expanded my understanding of theatrical potential.

The majority of my work over three years and seven (yes seven!) rehearsal processes was as Assistant Director working alongside director Liesl Tommy and choreographer Heidi Strauss on Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Peggy Pickit Sees The Face of God.

Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God - Maev Beaty, Kristen Thomson. Photo by John Lauener

Developing a World Premiere of a Schimmelpfennig text over 2008-2011 has inspired two extremely vibrant emotions in me:

1 – Pure inspiration: I remember walking home from a read-through of the play sometime in the second workshop in 2009 with a deep suspicion that, assuming we are still here on earth, this text will be performed in fifty years by Norweigan high schoolers, community players in Austin Texas, and subject to a number of revivals.

There’s nothing quite like being sure what you are doing is important and may possibly outlast you.

2 – Absolute dread: As an artist literally in training to have responsibilities connected to the success of this a once-in-a-lifetime text was intimdating to say the least. When I found myself rehearsal director of a workshop to review blocking and camerawork from Luminato with new Canadian Stage cast members Tom Barnett and Kristen Thomson in April, it was frankly the most pressure I have put on myself.

I watch enough sports to know sometimes guys make The Stanley Cup in their rookie year and that’s the only shot they ever get.

Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God - Maev Beaty, Tony Nappo, Kristen Thomson, Tom Barnett. Photo by John Lauener

If you can’t tell, I am immensely proud of this play and there is a week-and-a-half left to catch it. You can get some seriously cheap tickets: Under 30: $12.50, PWYC Mondays, and $22 Arts Worker opportunities are all in play.

Click here for full details on cheap tickets, and click here for the Another Africa show page.

If you enjoy new performance that pushes the potential and form of live storytelling I hope you will come. Don’t make it one of those shows you meant to see but things were crazy in the fall, yadda, yadda, yadda. If you come this Friday October 14, Volcano Theatre General Manager Meredith Potter will be talking in more detail about creating the production in the second floor lobby at 7:15pm before the 8pm curtain.

That’s it. That’s my pitch. Thanks to Volcano Theatre for the unprecedented trust and opportunity and to director Liesl Tommy for giving her assistant director real things to do. Hope you can make it.

June 15, 2010, by
1 comment

(l-r) Maev Beaty, Muoi Nene, Araya Mengesha, Dorothy Atabong, Trey Lyford and Milton Barnes in Glo by Christina Anderson directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo

(l-r) Maev Beaty, Muoi Nene, Araya Mengesha, Dorothy Atabong, Trey Lyford and Milton Barnes in Glo by Christina Anderson directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo

If I promise to incorporate “World Class City” into my lexicon can we keep making shows like this?

by Michael Wheeler

I have been working on this show for a long time.

I started in late 2008 as Artistic Producer in Training with Volcano – and then later as Assistant Director of Peggy Pickit Sees The Face of God by Roland Schimmelpfennig and Social Media Coordinator for the whole Trilogy. These different roles have afforded me a really broad perspective on a how a major international collaboration comes together – in the office, the rehearsal studio, and in the theatre. Thanks Theatre Ontario.

It has been a wild ride – I don’t think anyone involved in the show would argue it’s been an easy process. Ethically, theatrically, collaboratively, creating three new works of theatre that all deal with the contemporary nature of the relationship between Africa and the West has been a challenge that has pushed some top international and domestic artists to reanalyze themselves and their process. There have been few simple questions – so along with that has come complicated answers. From dramaturgy, to casting, to design, to scheduling, to marketing, to ensuring three separate works are having a contemporary conversation with each other – virtually every decision had to be made weighing the consideration of a huge number of factors.

Nothing will melt your mind faster than a production meeting with three directors, three assistant directors, six designers, four stage managers and two production managers.

Nothing will melt your mind faster than a production meeting with three directors, three assistant directors, six designers, four stage managers and two production managers.

Sipping my morning coffee on Opening Night Day it has really hit me how much I’ve learned from this process and how much I’m willing to stand behind this production. I am a much more knowledgeable artist because of it and I want to continue to be involved in projects like it:  productions that combine top international artists with the best from Canada. I have a track record of being heavily critical of Luminato in the past – specifically because of the lack of opportunity the festival initially held  for Canadian artists – and frankly it seems a little strange to be a physical embodiment of a change I was arguing for, but I’ll take it.

The words “World Class” and “City” get thrown around a lot here. It might even be fair to say we are unhealthily obsessed with whether or not Toronto and these words have a positive relationship. Certainly Luminato was born out of the sense it could contribute to this definition. Separate from whether the critics deem this show a hit or a miss in the days to come – shows like The Africa Trilogy are most likely to put Toronto on the map in terms of international culture. If we really want to play with the big boys and girls on the world stage it requires these kinds of resources both financially and in terms of the people we can attract to work with us. The surest way to become “World Class” is to make shows WITH other World Class artists.

If you haven’t been over to The Africa Trilogy blog yet, let me take this opportunity to invite you over to learn more about the show, the people who created it, and the ideas it has been addressing. There are a number of great posts by various authors with vastly different roles in the production including new content by inFORMING CONTENT Workshop Leader Deborah Pearson on the challenges of making socially relevant theatre, Lucky Ejim on being an actor who tells African stories in the West, and Mark Sealy on the contemporary representation of Africa through visual images.

Here’s to an awesome opening night for The Africa Trilogy and the many other Africa Trilogy-like projects to come.

May 7, 2010, by

Deaf Community Consultant, Jamilla Ross, details how Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing patrons can attend sign language interpreted performances of The Africa Trilogy in this video shot by Karyn McCallum.

For more detail on this video, ASL performances at Luminato, and all sorts of other online media about the show check out  The Africa Trilogy Blog.

March 30, 2010, by

Muoi 2

My Kenyadian Experience

A3 imageThe Africa Trilogy cast member Muoi Nene has released a three-part series on the experience of being an African Canadian involved in the many of the early development workshops of two of the three plays in the Trilogy.

His thoughts on the creation process of both Shine Your Eye and Glo, what he learned, what he contributed, the ideas and concepts that in his mind have informed the production, and his hopes for the Trilogy can all be found below on The Africa Trilogy – Online Media Site:

Click here to read part 1 of My Kenyadian Experience

Click here to read part 2 of My Kenyadian Experience

Click here to read part 3 of My Kenyadian Experience

February 2, 2010, by

Tony 2

A3 image

Tony Nappo and Maev Beaty continue their discussion on The Africa Trilogy Blog of the issues and ideas that have arisen through the process of workshopping the trilogy with a post titled: Theatre Versus Rice and Beans.

Click The Africa Trilogy Image to go to the blog and read the whole post.

January 12, 2010, by

Binyavanga Wainaina, author of Shine Your Eye, describes the ideas that motivated him to explore the relationship between Africa and the West through The Africa Trilogy.

December 23, 2009, by

Africa Trilogy assistant director Deanna Downes has been ruminating on the project from her secret lair in Philadelphia.

Africa Trilogy assistant director Deanna Downes has been ruminating on the project from her secret lair in Philadelphia.

Africa Trilogy Set for a Smooth Landing in The States?

by Deanna Downes

David Mamet’s new play Race is playing on Broadway. A New York Times review calls it “a play that examines the self-consciousness that descends on American white people when they talk about, or to, black people.”

Fela, a play about the revolutionary creator of Afro-pop, Fela Kuti, is also on Broadway. When talking about his production of Fela, director Bill T. Jones says Fela’s life brings about, “questions like creativity, transgression, rebellion, sensuality, history, race, power.”

It would appear, the theatrical runways are being paved for a smooth landing of this multi-national but Canadian birthed trilogy about Africa and the West.

Click here to read the rest of this post on Deanna’s blog…

November 13, 2009, by

A3 Directors

Left to right - Josette Bushell-Mingo, Ross Manson, and Liesl Tommy are each involved in separate presentations in Toronto this weekend.

Trilogy directors invade Toronto this weekend

Through sheer coincidence, all three directors of The Africa Trilogy are mixing it up in the T-dot this week:

  • Josette Bushell-Mingo, director, Glo

After directing the RSC/NAC original production to widespread critical acclaim, Bushell-Mingo has been mentoring directors working on Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad as part of Nightwood Theatre’s Directors Summit.

The public presentation of this work occurs November 15 at 3pm and 6:30pm, Dancemakers Studio Theatre.

  • Ross Manson, director, Shine Your Eye

Having toured Rwanda with Volcano’s Edinburgh Fringe-winning production of Goodness, Manson presents a retrospective of the experience at University of Toronto.

November 15th at 7pm, the George Ignatieff Theatre, U of T campus.

  • Liesl Tommy, director, Peggy Pickett Sees the Face of God

Fresh from the New York Times declaring her production of Eclipsed running at the Yale Repertory Theatre a “harrowing portrait of women fighting to retain their dignity and a sense of self-worth under extreme duress”, Tommy appears on two panels and teaches a Master Class also as part of Nightwood’s Directors Summit.

The Director’s Toolkit, Master Class: November 16 and 17, 10-1pm; The Agony and Ecstasy of Staging New Work, Panel: Monday November 16th @ 6:30pm; Staging Africa, Panel: Tuesday November 17th at 6:30pm.

For full details on price and location of Nightwood Theatre events visit their webpage.

October 16, 2009, by

"The map on the seat-back screen. I realized that I was flying over places i had never heard of before..."

"The map on the seat-back screen. I realized that I was flying over places i had never heard of before..."

Volcano AD Ross Manson on touring Goodness to Rwanda

An Africa Trilogy purist could quibble that this is not strictly an “Africa Trilogy” related post. This quibbler would point out that Volcano Artistic Director Ross Manson blogging about his experience touring the Edinburgh Fringe-winning production of Goodness he directed to Rwanda, is about an entirely different production and creative team (save for Manson himself).

Fair enough, but the stated dramaturgical goal of the Trilogy is to create a piece of theatre that examines the relationship between Africa and the West. In this regard, the detailed and passionate record he has been keeping about touring a Western-created play on the nature of genocide to Rwanda is pretty much a perfect fit.

You can read the blog complete with comprehensive photography here:

Goodness In Rwanda

You can listen to him be interviewed about the experience here:

Ross Manson’s interviewed from Rwanda on CBC’s As It Happens

(Click play on “Listen to Part 3 of As It Happens“)

July 30, 2009, by
1 comment

Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God – Maev Beaty and Tony Nappo #1

This post is the first of several discussions that took place over email between Africa Trilogy actors Maev Beaty and Tony Nappo. Click here to read the introduction to Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God.

The Human Problem of “What Do I Do?”



Mr. Nappo, a pleasure to be having this “e-discussion” with you.  Let me ask the first question…we’ll start light. We’ve done two workshops of this play now…has your perspective on the West’s relationship to Africa changed?


I am not sure whether or not my perspective has changed. It’s just expanded, I suppose. I think at the heart of this play, there seems to be some kind of statement about our choices as human beings to get involved or not in any kind of human crisis. Are we obligated morally to help if we can, and will our help, ultimately, make any difference at all after a crisis reaches a certain point-and, at what cost to us as the individual?

It makes me think, historically, about the Holocaust and, contemporarily, about the Tamils. It seems that people want such atrocities to stop or never to have existed, and rightfully so, of course, but the natural instinct to survive and self preserve would dictate that one doesn’t actually physically get involved which becomes easier the farther removed, geographically, one may be from any given situation.  So is desire for change strong enough to create a pull towards action?

It’s one thing to be appalled by what is happening and quite another thing to do something about it when something isn’t directly affecting your day to day. Like Bono sings in that Christmas song- “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” That is one of the truest, saddest lines ever sung. And that sadness seems to permeate Roland’s piece. So, I am thinking, and answering, I guess, in more human terms than factual or political terms. But I am playing Frank, who makes the choice not to help but live his own life- as the actress playing Carol, you must have had to search for the part of yourself that would go- would have to go and at least try to make some difference. What surprised you or didn’t about yourself in this regard?

Photo 36


Yes, Carol is a puzzle, as far as the original impetus (or courage?) to go and ‘help,’ but now it seems she’s left with a dismal sense of futility and loss and, I sense, some resentment. It reminds me of a book that Josette mentioned in our Glo workshop which I am now eager to read titled Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is A Better Way for Africa. I here confess that I had, of course, heard arguments that aid was not getting to where it needed to go and that it was often sucked up in corruption. But I had always, in my gut, believed it must still be ‘helping.’ From what I’ve read about the book, the author claims aid has made things much worse on the continent.

Carol’s journey feels a bit resonant of this (particularly in relation to Annie – and theatrically, Annie as a metaphor. Did she, in fact, exacerbate the cruelty of Annie’s circumstances?) This relates to the human problem of “what do I do?” And of course, this is theatre, so we are only going to ask lots of questions – not provide answers. But I DO think A3 has a responsibility to open up the questions to everybody. I’m really hoping there will be a way for audiences to immediately (like, in the lobby) respond to the work, ideally on computer (who even remembers how to write with pencil and paper anymore?), with live posting capability.  And I hope there will be lots of resources available for some ongoing relationship/dialogue to the issue.

Click here for an overview of the project and process.