A Kaslo performance artist is creating a theatre piece with stories of Black people who, like her, live in small towns and rural areas.
Using her skills and experience as a singer, drummer, actor, and dancer, Shayna Jones is creating a one-woman performance piece with their stories.
Jones calls the project Black and Rural, and to develop it she recently received a BC Arts Council grant and one of four artist residencies sponsored by the Civic Theatre in Nelson. Jones will also document her work on her website at https://www.wearestoryfolk.com/.
The new piece will be similar to a style of performing she has been developing for years, but with different subject matter.
“I tell folktales,” she says. “I do it in a West African oral storytelling style where I involve the audience a lot. I do lots of singing with the audience and on my own, in between stories and within the stories, and I drum.”
She will weave together the contributed stories “with Afro-centric movement, rhythm and melody … to give voice to the experience and wisdom of Black folk tucked away in the countryside.”
Jones grew up in Chicago and Vancouver, and despite the cultural diversity of those places, she says, the only Black person she knew well was her father.
She uses the metaphor of grafting, as in grafting a fruit tree branch, to describe her work.
“This project is a way for me to graft myself onto my heritage, to graft myself into a sense of place in my heritage, a sense of place in my skin.”
Jones is equally committed to rural life and to her Black heritage. She wants to fully experience both together, and she wants her home-schooled kids, age six, five and three, to do the same, in a small rural place, not in a big city.
“I want to raise my kids close to the rhythms of the earth and the rhythms of the land.
“Wanting them to have a strong sense of their Blackness – they are mixed race – in addition to their European heritage, I want to stand and know where I am in my Blackness, so that they have something real to draw upon.”
Her desires to inhabit her Blackness and live on the land each involve slowing down.
“My quest to be authentically and richly connected to my heritage … has everything to do with just slowing down and being close to this land and to the earth.”
She understands why wanting to be “intentionally tucked away in the countryside” might seem strange “in light of what’s been happening socio-politically in the Black community. There is so much push and pull and story-creating about what it is to be Black.”
Her story is not one we will see in popular media, she says.
“It’s not the sexy story that is on television or on the front pages of newspapers.”
In addition to a performance piece, Jones has decided to create a photo and video exhibit to be shown in the entrance to the concert space, featuring the contributing storytellers and the communities they live in.
She hopes we will be able to attend the event in 2022.
Meanwhile, Jones invites Black people living in the countryside, anywhere in the country, to contact her through her website.