‘We Were Here’ puts historical contributions of Black New Brunswickers in the spotlight
SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- The stories of eight Black New Brunswickers who made historical impacts, both near and far, will be featured in an upcoming stage production called ‘We Were Here.’
“My goal is simply to allow Saint Johners to be proud of their history,” said playwright and director Clyde Wray. “The history was just buried, it’s there.”
Wray has been preparing the production since he was named the Saint John Theatre Company’s artist-in-residence last fall. While the play has faced challenges from an evolving pandemic situation, a three-night virtual presentation has been scheduled for Feb. 25, 26, and 27.
Wray said the production may be one of the most important art pieces he’s ever worked on, mentioning how there are no memorials or murals honouring these legends.
“Include us, and I’m talking about all of us,” said Wray. “Because we all have history and it should be a shared history of Saint John.”
Performers will deliver monologues from the Saint John Theatre stage, portraying stories from the lives of:
- Abraham Beverley Walker: The first Black lawyer in New Brunswick and the second in Canada (performed by Timothy Christie)
- Lena O’Ree: A ground breaking local radio show host and activist (performed by Joanna Daramola)
- Dr. Constance A Timberlake: A local activist and professor who championed education (performed by Olive Ozoemena)
- Cornelius Sparrow: A local community leader, entrepreneur, and businessman (performed by Neil S. Clements)
- Georgina Whetsel: A local businesswoman and entrepreneur known as ‘The Ice Lady’ (performed by Tanya MacPherson)
- Eldridge Eatman, aka ‘Speed’: A world sprint champion and First World War veteran (performed by Damon Levine)
- Edward Mitchell Bannister: One of the first prominent Black artists in North America (performed by Tallas Munro)
- Josiah Henson: The creator of a vocational school in Ontario for fugitive slaves (performed by Gordi Munro)
Clyde said choosing whose stories to feature was a challenge, but writing them wasn’t.
“The characters were so interesting that I don’t think I found it difficult to write,” he said. “It was just finding different voices for each of the characters.”
Damon Levine, who will portray Eldride Eatman, said he felt a deep sense of responsibility to tell stories that should be more widely known.
“The stories of Black people, Black Canadians, were not considered important by the mainstream… school systems that were run by white people,” said Levine. “It’s an uncomfortable fact.”
“These people did great things when they were alive during their time. People who knew them knew of the great things they were doing, but over time they fall by the wayside because we’re not in those positions of power to make the decisions to carry on the legacies of these people.”
Levine, who is also the program developer at PRUDE Inc. (Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education) said progress is being made.
“Luckily there’s been a lot of great, diligent Black Canadians over the past few decades doing the work to bring the stories of the people back to prominence where they belong,” he said.
Clyde said he hoped the production would encourage people to learn more about their local history, with a goal of being more inclusive.
“So that you perhaps will be curious enough to find other people,” he said.
Tickets for ‘We Were Here’ can be purchased online or by phoning the Saint John Theatre Company.