Performances amplify diverse P.E.I. voices with Pounding the Pavement
'We need to hear those voices. We need to listen to those voices and we need to act accordingly'
Changes had to be made to the Island Fringe Festival due to the global pandemic and public health guidelines when it came to gatherings and performances.
While it cancelled the usual fringe performances, a new summer presentation called Pounding the Pavement was created.
It's a series of seven short performances all put together in a single show at the Confederation Centre of the Arts outdoor amphitheatre.
The call went out and the artistic community responded. Artists who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC), LGBTQ or those with a disability will take the stage to tell their own stories in their own words.
There will be dance, spoken word, poetry, theatre and live music as the performers share their experiences and observations.
What's eating you?
It was also an opportunity for those missing the arts to get out and perform once again.
"It's important at a time like this when we are focusing on basic necessities that we realize that things like theatre, things like visual art, things like music are things that are really important to what it means to be human and a way of creating community," Jay Gallant said.
Gallant took the time during COVID closures to write a fringe-length play called What's Eating You — a selection of which will be presented as part of Pounding the Pavement.
"My play focuses on a trans man who's coming to terms with his gender identity as an adult and dealing with kind of a strange friendship and seeing if that's going to work out," Gallant said.
"And it is based on my own experience as a trans person growing up in P.E.I."
Gallant has been part of other theatre productions on the Island and has given talks about his lived experience as a transgender man, but this felt different.
"When you're acting on stage there's always a level of vulnerability, but when it's your own story I think it's an even higher level."
A short play called Blackberries was written in the past few months. It came together when Claire Byrne and co-lead Joce Reyome were talking about different racist experiences they have had on Prince Edward Island.
"I think it also speaks to what is happening in the world right now and I think a lot of people are realizing how pervasive these instances of racism are," Byrne said.
"It might just be a small comment or might just be like someone's ignorance but it does play a large role in kind of looking at the situations we're in right now."
The two worked with Screaming Beaver Productions to write the script about their experiences.
"I think a lot of people like to think that P.E.I. is this really beautiful wonderful place, and it is, but it is not immune from these racist systems that we exist in," Byrne said.
"We all have to be better and if you see yourself reflected in a way that feels negative then that's a chance for you to think about how we can be better."
Byrne said it was important to raise their voices to amplify the social movements that have gained prominence the past few months.
"Given everything that's happening in the world right now, you know, I think it's very important that these experiences are told and people start to understand what their effects are — not on the individuals that experience these things but also on our, kind of, how do we build community if this is how we see one another."
Inuk poet and spoken word artist Julie Bull from NunatuKavut was excited to step on the stage and have the opportunity to share three of her works.
"It is a call to action and so it is for all people to really sit back and listen and to understand the perspectives from all of the folks that they're going to see at this festival who are bringing perspectives that we don't necessarily hear in the mainstream," said Bull.
"We need to hear those voices. We need to listen to those voices and we need to act accordingly."
Bull said that her words may be heavy to hear but important to say and be heard. She focuses on decolonization, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and collective responsibility.
"If I see even one person in the audience make that shift — not the feeling of shame and guilt and all the things that 'Oh no, I'm paralyzed by these things. I can't do anything,' but that shift that happens when they realize deeply that they can actually do something," Bull said.
"It's not big and profound and changing systems — though that needs to happen too — we can all do something individually. Very simple things and so I think that my work can help get people to that place."
Tickets for the show have to be purchased in advance to ensure the venue follows public health measures for capacity. The show is considered to be for those over the age of 14 due to language and content.
Pounding the Pavement will play at the Confederation Centre of the Arts outdoor amphitheatre until Aug 14.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.