Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, the new artistic director of Obsidian theatre, poses for a photo in her Toronto neighbourhood on Oct. 9, 2020.

Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

In 2021, Obsidian Theatre will turn 21 years old – and its brand-new artistic director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu is not letting the pandemic keep her from planning a big, cross-country party to mark the occasion of its hitting the international age of majority.

21 Black Futures is the name of Otu’s first major project since becoming the leader of Canada’s foremost theatre company dedicated to the Black voice in July.

She has commissioned 21 Black playwrights from coast to coast to coast and different generations to write monodramas in response to the question, “What is the future of Blackness?”

Story continues below advertisement

These one-person plays will be performed by 21 actors under the direction of 21 directors –­ and filmed for a virtual premiere on a to-be-announced national streaming platform in February.

Any newly installed artistic director’s mission is to think of the future – and so Otu already had a version of the question at the centre of 21 Black Futures in her mind even before COVID-19 displaced Obsidian’s immediate production plans and a renewed protest movement against anti-Black racism hit the streets.

But the roiling uncertainty of the times impelled Otu, who is fresh off a Dora Award win for her direction of The Brothers Size at Soulpepper, to throw the question out to as diverse a group of Black artists in Canada as possible. “On a personal level, it felt like a way to heal was through new Black stories and through connecting to Black artists and to giving them a place, and a way to respond,” she says.

The writers she signed up for 21 Black Futures include major figure Lawrence Hill (The Book of Negroes) and Djanet Sears (Harlem Duet), as well as a number of significant playwrights who are, like Obsidian, based in Toronto, such as Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, Tawiah Ben M’Carthy,Joseph Jomo Pierre and Amanda Parris.

But the project as a whole has also attempted to draw on as much of the breadth of the Black experience in Canada as possible – and includes Miali Coley-Sudlovenick, a Inuk-Jamaican writer based in Nunavut; Stephie Mazunya, a francophone theatre artist from Montreal; and the Halifax-based playwrights Shauntay Grant and Jacob Sampson.

Since its founding in 2000, Obsidian has always had a national mandate – but Otu says the pandemic presents an opportunity to really lean into it. Her lived experience of having moved to Victoria from Kenya as a teenager and being one of the only Black students in her school made her particularly want to reach out to and include artists such as the young poets KP Dennis in Victoria and Peace Akintade in Saskatoon.

“Researching them and talking to them, I was truly thinking back to like what it’s like to grow to be in a place like that that’s not Toronto-centric, where you’re not surrounded by so many other Black artists doing so many different things,” Otu says. “For me, the Black experience is local, and it is global.”

Story continues below advertisement

As she has been going over the first drafts, Otu has been struck by how different these visions of the future of Blackness have been; some of the plays are very personal, others depict utopias or dystopias, and the settings vary from Canada to China to outer space.

“We have to be all in the same boat right now in terms of fighting for racial justice, and we want a better future… but in terms of the pieces, I wouldn’t say that they’re, you know, Kumbaya pieces,” says Otu. “They’re complex and they’re very diverse in terms of their lens into the future … That’s what’s exciting: No one is writing about the same thing.”

While the coming months for Obsidian will focus on this future digital project, Otu is also thinking about the actual physical, in-person future of her company, which does not have its own venue, but rents theatres for its productions.

Back in June, the Parliamentary Black Caucus, which includes members of Parliament and senators from various political parties, released a statement on systemic racism that included a call for capital investments in Black Canadian cultural organizations. “The most stable and successful cultural organizations in our communities are those which own the buildings where their activities are housed,” the statement read.

Otu says she is in agreement with the Parliamentary Black Caucus, noting that “space is power.” “Until we have our own venue at Obsidian, we cannot be truly free to create the work we want to create, when we want to create it,” she says. “Without having our own space, we have to continue to depend on historically white institutions that own venues to determine where we might fit into their programming agenda.”

There’s nothing to announce yet, but Obsidian is in conversation about a “few different partnerships” that could see the company have its own venue in the “near future,” says Otu.

Story continues below advertisement

More information about 21 Black Futures including its lineup of actors, directors and streaming platform will be announced later this year.

Keep up to date with the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this article, a photo caption incorrectly stated Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu's title.
Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

Follow related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies