As your artistic spidey-sense has already told you the Next Stage Festival kicks off on this Thursday, January 6, 2016. The 10 day theatre fest brings a selection of the best from Toronto Fringe artists, and provides a fab opportunity to see shows that you may have missed or shows that were so dynamite, you need to see them again. One of the must-sees is All Our Yesterdays, written and directed by Chloé Hung, and starring two brave and determined actors who portray two of the approximately 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from their school in Chibok, Nigeria on April 14, 2014.
The characters of Hasana and Ladi are fictional (ie. not based on real people), but as we know, the Boko Haram kidnapping is not. Boko Haram, a terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria, invaded a girls school in Chibok, Nigeria and kidnapped approximately 276 girls, sparking international outcry and the #BringBackOurGirls media campaign. To date 219 (number unconfirmed) are still captive.
It was this kidnapping – and the unthinkable nature of it – that stuck with Hung, and compelled her to write about it. Hung, a Chinese-Canadian girl born with privilege (her words), took great care when writing about girls in Nigeria who come from varying degrees of poverty, and where education for girls can be more of the exception than the norm. Receiving an education for anyone is exciting; it opens the mind and provides hope for opportunities and a better life; it is because of this that the kidnapping for Hung, seemed additionally tragic: “men kidnapping girls from school seemed extra invasive; school is a safe place to learn about the people we could become. The lucky ones are able to go to school and its almost like [the girls] are being punished for it.”
To create the show Hung immersed herself in research and drew on her experience teaching to illustrate the importance of education – particularly on those with special needs. One of the girls in the play, Hasana, has undiagnosed Autism, and it is through her intellect that we see how crucial learning is, and it is through her behaviour that we see the mess and the power of love between family. Armed with two equally hard-working actors, the play does it’s best to pay homage to the bravery of the kidnapped girls.
I haven’t seen the play; I’ve only read it. But the words on the page evoked enough raw emotion for me to know that this play will do what theatre does best: explore a story that doesn’t allow you to look away – despite your discomfort – and through this close proximity we learn about the world and, consequently, ourselves. It shouldn’t be easy to look away from these calamities, and Hung is doing her part to ensure that we don’t.