Like many individuals and sectors at this time, playwright and performer Samson Bonkeabantu Brown and director Tsholo Khalema, on behalf Theatre Passe Muraille, had to convert 11:11 from its intended stage format to a live-stream performance hosted on YouTube Live. As the creative team noted during the Q & A that followed the opening night performance, this apparent disadvantage became an advantage that allowed them to incorporate some of the best elements of live theatre and film in the finished production.
11:11 can be described as a supernatural coming of age tale. Brown portrays a Black, Trans boy who sees dead people. Through his youth and early adulthood, he tries to suppress his visions of ancestral spirits, and the migraines that come with them, using drugs and alcohol. Eventually, he discovers that he must find a way to integrate his mystical heritage into his identity in order to fully realize his potential and purpose. He journeys from Tkaronto to South Africa to learn to control his power, receiving lessons from guides living and dead along the way.
With all the restrictions on rehearsals and performances, now is a great time for a one-hander. However, given the complexities of character, time, and place in this performance, pulling it off is easier said than done. Brown demonstrates himself to be a versatile performer, able to leverage a variety of techniques to clearly communicate the different settings, characters, moods, and themes of the piece.
In addition to traditional monologues, Brown uses dance, masks, songs, and vocalizations to illustrate living and dead, young and old, and teacher to student relationships. Transitions into each character’s skin were so vivid that as I recall the performance today I am picturing different people in each role, even though rationally I know there was only one performer. There was truly a mystical, shapeshifter quality to the overall effect.
It is difficult to explain my reaction to the impact of camera angles on a live performance. As someone with the privilege to see live opera regularly, combined with a strong preference for the visceral engagement of live singing, I don’t have a lot of experience attending those opera movie screenings that everyone loves. But the current crisis is having the slim silver lining of forcing me out of my comfort zone.
The camera angles were at once jarring and exhilarating. For example, a birdseye view of the drama is not an effect you usually get at live theatre, unless of course, your seats are in the last row of the nosebleed section, in which case you’re watching the whole show that way. The opportunity to see the same moment from multiple perspectives, while maintaining the immediacy of live performance offered the best of both worlds.
I can’t wait to start getting dressed up to awkwardly shimmy past people on the way to my seat in those narrow rows again. But until that time safely comes, a performance like this in the comfort of my PJs was the cultural fix I needed. Add to this a spiritual celebration of finding Trans Black boy joy – perfection!
The February 12 performance is a Blackout performance, meaning that the performance is by and for Black people only. I’m not sure what impact this anti-colonial intervention will have on the performance, since it is not possible to see fellow audience members. I think it is more than likely that this choice will shift the tone of the Q & A that follows the performance.
- 11:11 is playing until February 13, 2021 on YouTube Live
- Shows run Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 PM
- Ticket prices are pay-what-you-can-afford (PWYCA) with three price points: $5, $25, $50
- Tickets are available online, or by phone at 416 504 7529
- The February 12 performance is a Blackout Night, reserved for Black theatre-goers
Photo of Samson Bonkeabantu Brown by Peter Riddihough