b current performing arts, a theatre company producing work by and about the Black and Brown diaspora, based at the Artscape Wychwood Barns, welcomed Catherine Hernandez in 2017 as its new Artistic Director. We chatted with Catherine about her experience taking the reins and the company’s current season, Rebirth.
What’s it like becoming the new Artistic Director of an established company like b current?
It has been a fantastic experience. I’m focusing on us doing fewer things, but doing them really well. There are always challenges with a small company—not enough staff, not enough room in the budget—but we’re working with what we have to grow the company and turn the page to a new chapter of b current’s development.
You recently announced your emerging artist performing ensemble. What’s in store for this group of emerging artists?
This is a really exciting initiative. Everyone accepted to the ensemble is from the black and brown diaspora, and has had the experience of being racialized in a larger theatre or other educational institution. Everything about our program will ensure they are honoured for the way they are telling stories, using their bodies and in general sharing cultural experience as they advance their work. There are two streams to our bcHUB program: Emerging Artists, and the youth ensemble at St. Margaret Public School in Scarborough, which we connected with originally through the East Scarborough Storefront. This is a fantastic school in need of an arts curriculum; we’re looking at working with Grades 6 and 7 on storytelling. The program will take whatever shape the participants give it—we’re there to listen to what the community wants. Based on the community’s priorities, the program will have an inter-generational focus, with participants interviewing and interacting with elders in the community, doing theatre and improv work to tell stories, incorporating objects, recordings, mask work and anything else that is interesting to them.
Tell us about your Long Table Series — a dinner party to support b current?
Long Table is about raising funds for b current while creating outreach to the community. We kicked off Long Table for Black History Month 2018, inviting B. Denham Jolly to discuss his memoir My Life in the Black in which he writes about his career as a publisher, broadcaster and civil rights activist. I made a huge gourmet dinner for 30 people, seated at one long table. We talked about what it means to be an activist in the black community and how to find the fire to keep going. It was an amazing night and helped us to raise funds for our St. Margaret PS program. We plan to have two or three of these events per year.
Why is your current season called Rebirth?
B current has a 26-year history, which really is a beautiful dream come true for the company’s founder, ahdri zhina mandiela.
With Rebirth, I wanted to distill our season to one to two productions, a residency program and a youth training program. We have moved away from the company’s past rock.paper.sistahz festival format and we’re embracing a new rock.paper.sistahz artist residency model under the mentorship of Banff Playwright’s Lab’s Brian Quirt, to ensure that artists have a prolonged amount of time to develop their work. So far, the feedback has been great—our last residency artist, Makambe K Simamba, was from Calgary and felt truly supported. Since her play deals with police brutality against Black youth, we were thrilled to support this emerging Black theatre artist by paying for her time to develop her work alongside the award-winning Audrey Dwyer.
Catherine Hernandez, Artistic Director of b current, is a theatre practitioner and the author behind M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book and the award-winning, Scarborough. To learn more about b current and its upcoming productions, visit bcurrent.ca.