Toronto·Our Toronto

Haitian-Canadian student brings her culture to the stage with directorial debut

A University of Toronto student is making her directorial debut, while also putting Haitian history in the spotlight. Abigail Whitney says when a friend showed her the script for Les Frères, she felt an immediate connection to the characters.

Les Frères runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 at the George Ignatieff Theatre

Abigail Whitney is studying theatre and performing arts at the University of Toronto. (Paul Borkwood / CBC News)

A University of Toronto student is making her directorial debut, while also putting Haitian history in the spotlight.

Abigail Whitney says when a friend showed her the script for Les Frères, she felt an immediate connection to the characters.

"I read the script, I loved it, I said, 'Full on, yes. I really want to direct this play,'" Whitney told CBC's Our Toronto.

Watch Talia Ricci's interview with Abigail Whitney on Our Toronto Saturday and Sunday at noon, and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV. (Paul Borkwood / CBC News)

Les Frères explores the story of three Haitian brothers who are forced to deal with their family trauma following the death of their father. The play runs from Nov. 29 until  Dec. 1 at the George Ignatieff Theatre at University of Toronto.

The script was written by New York-based artist Sandra Daley-Sharif — who not only encouraged Whitney to bring the story to the stage, but was also comfortable allowing the student to put some of her own personal touches on the piece.

"The brothers have to face each other, face their father who is dying and have to deal with all the troubled memories that emerge from that reunion," Whitney said.

Les Frères explores three Haitian brothers who are forced to deal with their family trauma following the death of their patriarch. (Submitted)

It was the personal connections she felt to the script that drew her in.

"One of the characters comes back from Haiti and talks about his dad doing relief work in Haiti. My mom did relief work in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake," Whitney said. 

"That hit close to home."

Another topic that resonated for Whitney was depression.

"We've dealt with suicide in my family and the way the characters describe the topic of suicide was how I felt at a very young age," she said.

The theatre and performing arts student is no stranger to being onstage or in front of a camera. Currently, she's at the centre of Sephora Canada's natural beauty campaign.

Whitney said this time she's excited to be behind the scenes to shine a light on the Haitian culture.

Haitian history in the spotlight

Whitney said while the story focuses on the relationship between the brothers and the struggles they encounter, Haitian history and culture is woven into the dialogue. 

"The audience will be able to see the complexities of Haitian history, untangled in a domestic family dynamic," she said.

Actors Kato Alexander, Kwaku Adu-Poku and David Delisca play the three brothers in the play. (Nabra Badr)

The director said she's looking forward sharing her culture with a Toronto audience.

"For the majority of the audience it'll be their first time witnessing a play about Haitian culture and seeing Haitian characters onstage," she said.

"This play also really talks about past and present enslavement of Haitians."

So far, Whitney says the response has been positive.

"People really do want to see it. That tells me there's a need for more work like this."

Watch Talia Ricci's interview with Abigail Whitney on Our Toronto Saturday and Sunday at noon, and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.

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