« Kanika Ambrose is no stranger to attention; as a playwright and librettist, Ambrose has already debuted original work at stages in Canada and the United States, and as a screenwriter she is enrolled in the Canadian Film Centre’s Bell Media Prime Time TV Program.
So it might be surprising to note how excited she is on a Wednesday evening for a show already on its second night. But for Ambrose, this performance has special significance.
« I wanted Black folks to see themselves in opera and have space to enjoy opera, » she said. « And I hope that’s what happens tonight. »
At that moment she was at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts for a special showing of Of The Sea, an original opera she conceived of and wrote — created through a partnership between Obsidian Theatre and Tapestry Opera. And as the story she developed focuses on enslaved Africans who fell or were tossed from ships during the Middle Passage, organizers set up a performance specifically for a majority Black audience.
While everyone was welcome, the goal was to invite Black theatre-goers into a space they had not typically been welcomed into, catered to or had their stories told onstage.
« It’s an audience we don’t typically see in theatre, » Ambrose said, explaining why they organized their Black Celebration Night. « We’re missing the friends, the fans, the people who want to see those people on stage, and also the nuance of different lived experiences that can bring so much to an art form. »
That idea was the driving force behind Of The Sea, which also boasts an all-Black cast and creative team aside from composer Ian Cusson, who is Métis. But it comes alongside a wave of other productions that have begun to do the same: the Canadian Opera Company is soon debuting Aportia Chryptych — itself about Portia White, a legendary Nova Scotia opera contralto, and the first Black Canadian concert singer to achieve international fame… »