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Black and Rural by Shayna Jones touring Kootenay Region in April

Stage play examines the experiences of Black folks living in rural areas
Kootenay artist Shayna Jones, above, will perform her play Black and Rural at Key City Theatre in Cranbrook on April 6. The play blends African folklore with the real lived experiences of Black folks living in non-urban areas. Photo courtesy of Pi Theatre.

Kootenay folklorist and storyteller Shayna Jones shines a light on the experiences of Black people living in isolated non-urban areas through her new stage play Black and Rural.

Her one-woman show features real-life contemporary stories from interviews she conducted with Black Canadians living in rural communities, and draws inspiration from African diaspora folklore and nature.

Fact and fiction are wound together in the performance through singing, dance and storytelling, giving the audience an inside look at a piece of Canadian culture that is often overlooked.

Jones said she would like to open her audience’s mind to make them aware of “the lives and people around them,” and their “relationship to nature.”

Jones resides in Argenta, just north of Kaslo and Nelson on Kootenay Lake. She has found that her relationship with nature has strengthened her connection with her African heritage.

Growing up, her father read her African folkloric tales, and one story that resonated with her rural experience was about trees being sentient beings. She incorporates this idea into her performance, showing nature as a lively thriving world that humans are intimately connected to.

While Jones has a strong connection to nature, she said that Black culture has historically been connected with urban living, so the stories of those living in rural settings have often been overlooked.

“Because Black life is so often associated with urban settings, Black folks are alienated from being able to access this closeness to land because we’re not expected to dwell in these kind of rural places. [They] miss out on this close relationship with the land and the healing that can come from that,” she said.

“It is my hope that [Black folks], they will come to recognize and maybe even be inspired by and see themselves deepening their relationship to the land. My hope is to open their eyes and deepen their understanding.”

Jones spent two years interviewing Black people from across Canada on their experiences in rural areas. She connected with people from B.C, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and the prairie provinces. Their voices are a part of her performance.

“I knew that in collecting these contemporary stories, I would have some kind of spoken word storytelling offering,” she said.

She didn’t initially intend for these stories to become a theatre performance, but when she connected with Pi Theatre in Vancouver, it morphed into something more. Award-winning director Richard Wolfe helped bring her written work to life.

The play embarks on a Canada-wide tour on March 21, starting in Victoria, and passing through Kelowna, Vernon, Nelson, Cranbrook and Toronto, among many places. It shows in Cranbrook on April 6 at Key City Theatre and in Nelson at Capitol Theatre on April 11.

About the Author: Gillian Francis

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