In January, actress and playwright Marjuan Canady took the warmth of the islands to the Washington DC winter when her play Callaloo: A Jazz Folk Tale opened at the Ellington Theatre. Callaloo, which features the music of Etienne Charles' album, Folklore (2009), is a jazz, dance play telling the story of a young boy named Winston who travels to Tobago to visit his grandmother. On the trip Winston learns a lesson about balance in life as he becomes entrapped by folkloric figures such as Papa Bois, La Diablesse, the soucouyant and the douen.
Canady was inspired to write the piece when she saw Charles in concert in 2012.In a recent e-mail to the T&T Guardian she explained: "I immediately saw a story to his music. He performed a song called Duenne and the musicality and richness in story and character inspired me to create the play to his music. It was not very difficult to see the connection between Etienne's music and dance and theatre." Within three months Canady began researching the work and crafting Callaloo. She read academic journals and books and studied art, music, dance and documentaries dealing with folklore. Canady also carried out numerous interviews with her relatives and other Trinidadians based both in the US and T&T who "believed and knew personal experiences of the folklore." These interviews were a crucial part of her research. "This was very important as these folkloric traditions have survived because of our ancestors. They have also taken on new forms and meanings with the migration of Caribbean peoples throughout the world. Callaloo is the story of how a first generation Caribbean-American boy understands the importance of these stories in his contemporary life," she said.
As a Washington DC native with a Trinidadian mother and black American father, Canady was closely tied to the subject matter and saw herself as Winston (she also plays Winston in Callaloo). "I am that Caribbean-American kid who identifies with being Caribbean in an American atmosphere. I grew up in DC but practiced Caribbean customs, and for most Caribbean-American kids growing up in the States, you develop a dual identity. You belong and don't belong at the same time," she added. This was an identity her co-performer Vanessa Evans, who is Jamaican-American, also understood. Evans plays the grandmother while both she and Canady split the roles of the folklore characters evenly. Also on board were director Natalie Carter, choreographer Maresa D'Amore-Morrison and costume designer Winston Black.
The story became even more important when Canady realised that many of her Trini family members did not know much about T&T. "Through migration and assimilation many of my Caribbean relatives forgot their history or chose to not remember. I see this to be detrimental to preserving our history and culture. I think this is why telling the stories of T&T's folklore was so important to me. There was power in the story. The story is what got us through slavery, made sense out of chaos and allowed us to be free and creative in a constricted world." This very important story will be performed in July at the Performing Arts Marathon Festival featuring Charles and his band live. Canady is also working with an illustrator to produce the Callaloo children's book to be published later this year.
For more information about Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale visit: www.marjuancanady.com andwww.callalootheplay.com