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Drama Canadian

Moving the Centre

Two Plays: Small Axe & Freedom Singer

by (author) Andrew Kushnir & Khari Wendell McClelland

Initial publish date
May 2022
Canadian, Monologues & Scenes, Gay & Lesbian
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2022
    List Price

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Moving the Centre explores the work of two theatre artists who dare, fumble, and persist in bringing audiences into a space where we can all listen differently. The two plays it includes — Small Axe and Freedom Singer — lean into the problems and possibilities of verbatim theatre to engage questions of justice and identity and the complex history all around us. Originally developed and produced by Toronto’s socially engaged theatre company Project: Humanity, these plays explore the power of recorded “real-life” encounters as a way for artists and the public to re-examine our defining narratives.
Small Axe charts the quest of a queer white playwright, Andrew Kushnir, who – because of an unsettling moment with a friend – feels a pull towards investigating homophobia in Jamaica. What starts as an artist researching an injustice to which he feels some kinship, evolves into a startling excavation of self and the stories we claim of others. To whom does an injustice “belong”? Through a constellation of exchanges – with activists, refugees, priests and ministers, journalists, fellow artists, Pride Festival revellers, and many Black queer people, Small Axe invites us to sit with our differences in order to discover how intricately connected we are.
Freedom Singer is a musical/verbatim theatre hybrid, constructed from hard-won archival material and family lore, documenting playwright Khari Wendell McClelland’s search for his ancestral grandmother Kizzy and the songs she may have sung during her escape through the Underground Railroad. For him, the “songs are like maps” leading back to the past, the enduring impacts of slavery and our capacity to lovingly reunite with denied histories.

With an opening essay by Kushnir and a concluding essay by McClelland, the book’s literal centre (between the plays) is a verbatim dialogue where the two discuss the white gaze vs. Black “looking back,” theatre-as-a-practice, and how centring caring and equitable relationships is what can make this kind of challenging theatre more ethical, more viable, and more truthful. Governor General Literary Award-winning poet Cecily Nicholson provides a powerful foreword.

About the authors

Andrew Kushnir's profile page

Vancouver-based artist Khari Wendell McClelland, originally from Detroit, has over the past decade become a darling on the Canadian music scene for his distinct mix of soul and gospel. Since 2016, Freedom Singer – a multidisciplinary work of theatre, history, and music – has had a life on stage, in concert, on television, on radio, in an album, and now in publication. Its live iteration has had three Canadian national tours. A much sought-after facilitator and teacher, Khari leads workshops around the globe fostering community, the arts, and justice through values-based creative facilitation.

Khari Wendell McClelland's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Moving the Centre is a stirring, philosophical, and challenging read. I wish I could tackle it in a classroom or even a book club—there’s so much to chew on, from the technical aspects of the form to the exploration of the ways racism intersects with art, history, power, and purpose. It examines the connection between intention and outcome, between creator and consumer, between ancestor and descendent." – Plenitude Magazine

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