Sound of the Beast is a challenging, powerful work now on stage in Toronto
Theatre Passe Muraille‘s mixed-media production Sound of the Beast takes us on an intense, challenging journey that moves from Tunisia to Toronto and back. Solo performer Donna-Michelle St. Bernard uses a well-crafted mixture of rap, song, spoken word, and story to share her experiences at the intersection of race and institutional power.
This unusual show isn’t for the politically faint of heart; St. Bernard is forceful and direct in her condemnation of racist cops, racist power structures, and our racist society. But her message is so strong, and the issues she discusses are so important, that I found the show to be very rewarding.
Rather than following a linear storyline, Sound of the Beast is structured as a series of largely unconnected moments built around themes of Blackness, community, and protest. My friend Jenna and I particularly enjoyed the rap segments of the evening, which were wonderfully performed.
Sound of the Beast calls on the audience — who, on the night I attended, all happened to be White with the exception of myself and one other person — to take a hard look at our own internalized racism. Early in the show, St. Bernard tells a memorable story about being “slow-cruised” by cops. This was my favourite and most uncomfortable moment of the evening. As someone who has never been slow-cruised, I had to work hard to be emotionally connected to the story, and this made me very aware of my privilege.
Sound of the Beast frequently makes such demands on the audience, which I think is a crucial reason the show is so urgent and important. Another very memorable moment along these lines was the “an unarmed person was shot today” piece. I don’t want to give the details away, but it’s an excellent example of St. Bernard directly trying to get the audience to realize something about themselves. This kind of self-examination isn’t comfortable, but St. Bernard insists that it is necessary.
Although Sound of the Beast was mostly a solo show, Jenna and I also enjoyed the ASL segments performed by Tamyka Bullen and the powerful dance piece by Shakeil Rollock. I wish they had been a little more integrated into the show as a whole, but this show wasn’t about an integrated story, so the fragmentation was part of its aesthetic. I admire St. Bernard’s stamina — it is no small feat to perform a 100-minute show mostly by yourself. However, Sound of the Beast did feel a little long; a few of the segments could have ended sooner with no harm to their message.
Inevitably, Sound of the Beast is on-the-nose in terms of its style and message. There isn’t much subtlety here, but there is real suffering and intense, emotional storytelling. If you are invested in social justice, political activism, or simply haven’t forgotten your outrage at the recent high-profile police shootings of unarmed Black people, then I recommend this show to you. Go experience this intense, memorable constellation of storytelling — you’ll be the better and the wiser for it.
- Sound of the Beast is playing until May 7, 2017, at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave)
- Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30 pm, with an additional matinee on Saturdays at 2 pm, and a matinee on Sundays at 2 pm
- Ticket prices range from $17-$33, with special pricing for students, seniors, and arts workers; details here
- Tickets are available online or through the box office at 416-504-7529.
- This production uses fog/haze effects.
Photo by Michael Cooper