Author: Stephen Weir | Date: 18 October 2018
Live theatre in Canada usually mean that the audience sits quietly and watches while the actors tell them stories about things they probably don’t know. Not so for Oraltorio, now in its final week of performances at the Soulpepper complex in the Distillery District.
Clap, stand, dance, and give shout-outs to the two performers on stage. That is how ticketholders react to singer/poet Motion and DJ L’oqenz in this 80-minute coming-of-age musical mash-up. More an musical event than a play, it is all about being young, female and part of Toronto’s evolving hip-hop scene.
“This is so so dope,” said the young woman sitting beside me in the near filled Soulpepper Theater. For her it was all about the music – the two performers channelled everything from flag waving Soca singers to lyrical Jamaican market callers.
And for me? It sure was “dope”, but for a different reason. This was the first play I have seen where my own personal memories merged with the storyline playing out in front of me on stage. The sound mix includes a brief newsclip from a fatal shooting I was professionally involved with.
DJ L’ogenz stands behind a mountain of equipment and turntables provided a steady stream of sampled music and meaningful radio clips. I went from passive watcher when she played a brief new radio sound tag from an event that I worked — a man had been shot dead by police. I had heard that clip on my radio while I was at the Caribana parade. I was working at the festival (press relations) and arrived at the crime scene shortly after the 911 had been called. Hearing it again ripped me from the dream world of a dark safe theatre to what can be a very Mean Street in the 6Six. Oraltorio got my full attention – something that hasn’t happened to me before.
“On this stage we channel it all,” say the show’s two creators. “The music reflects the times, with sounds of the ancient talking drum, to rebellious punk to modern day trap, revealing the common thread between all genres. The seeds of Oraltorio were born in our city’s loud reverb, the characters on every corner and in every record shop, the rhythm on the dance floors, and the migration of culture that echoes in our DNA. Remixing theatre, we embody the drum, the sound system, radio frequencies, turntables and APC - analog to digital.”
Motion sings and acts as she tells the story of the evolution of black women in contemporary music and life. DJ L’oqenz, stands in the background singing harmony and magically scratching and spinning a wall of sound from the start to the well deserved Standing O finish.
Oraltorio was first performed at the Queen St. West Theatre Centre in early 2016 and subsequently showcased in Ottawa and Montreal. This is now the second go-round for a play this is being reborn jointly by two theatre companies.
Soulpepper and the Obsidian Theatre Company have orchestrated this remount. Because of circumstance, this is proving to be the perfect time, place and team to bring Motion and DJ L’oqenz back into the limelight.
For Soulpepper, the company has gone through turmoil after firing their artistic director – Albert Schultz – because of well-publicized Me Too scandal. During the run of Oraltorio: a Theatrical Mixtape, Soulpepper welcomed in their new boss Weyni Mengesha. She is the original director of Da Kink In My Hair and is now the first black woman to run a non-profit large-scale theatre company in the city.
Obsidian, which is passionately dedicated to the “exploration, development, and production of the Black voice” is using Oraltorio to launch a new and expanded 2019 season in a new location. They have moved over from the nearby Canadian Stage, where attendance was weak, to Soulpepper that so far is delivering strong numbers and rave reviews – like this one!
The last performance is Saturday night (October 20th). The theatre is located at 50 Tank House Lane in the Distillery Historic District.