Saga Collectif was formed in 2012. We came together to create from an experiential place, digging deeply into the lives of three young men to confront issues of race, sexuality, and gender through a complex and passionate exploration of Blackness and masculinity in raw and unapologetic terms. Using the safe space of the Black Boys project, we each bravely challenged ourselves to face the unknown to discover personal truths. In a climate of continued violence against the Black male body and in a culture where artists of colour are still severely underrepresented, Saga Collectif says, we are here and we are resilient.
Our process began as a conversation about our experiences as theatre artists and the kind of performances we weren’t seeing on stage. Since then, this project has become a significant part of our artistic practice and personal journeys. As we have shaped this piece from the lived experiences of Tawiah, Stephen and Thomas, both Virgilia and Jonathan have been welcomed to speak to their experiences as a Black female of Caribbean heritage and as a cis gender male of European descent. While the piece is called Black Boys, our collective has always welcomed every member to bring their whole selves to the project, our differences a tension alive in our group and a site for reflection and interrogation. For Virgilia, who brought a necessary female perspective on Black masculinity, working on this piece meant looking at herself as a Black woman and acknowledging that some of the same traumas and challenges are embedded in her own experiences. For Jonathan, the only white person in the collective, this meant attending to blind spots and inherited privilege in the male-dominated theatre industry and in the Eurocentric patriarchal Canadian society. With understanding and generosity for each other, working on Black Boys has opened our eyes and our artistic processes up to diversity in a real way. We are grateful and humbled because this project has transformed our lives and our work.
We needed to form our own company because determining our own vibe allows us to go further, and the diverse collection of artists with varying identities we have brought together for Black Boys is the catalyst that informs our decision-making and our creative process. We believe our company Saga Collectif and this, our first production, demonstrate an integrated intercultural process of artistic creation where collaboration is key. To our minds, this is the only way forward. Indeed, our approach challenges the conventional structures of theatre production; our process is one that responds to the needs of the piece over any hierarchical stratification. The fundamental value of this project is that the queer Black male perspective has primacy.
Working from the outside and supported by dramaturge Mel Hague, who has provided necessary perspective, context and consideration, Virgilia and Jonathan have used their craft to realize our vision as fully as possible, responding to the sensitivity of the subject matter. It was important to capture each creator’s unique style and rhythm in our effort to liberate the Black male body, acknowledging history and traumas while expressing the power and beauty of the Black experience. Our goal was to bring Thomas, Tawiah and Stephen to the stage in a way that is risky, honest, and innovative, collectively imagining a healthier Black narrative.
It is very important to us that this production of Black Boys brings young queer people of colour into the theatre. As we have discussed in our creative process, the racism that is felt against the Black body within mainstream society and the LGBTQ+ community continues. This experience, which is shared by many POCs (people of colour) and QPOCs (queer people of colour) is not recognized by our community at large, much less represented in our theatres. With this project, and through our Outreach and Accessibility programs, we want to engage an audience that does not go to the theatre, because too often they do not see their lives reflected, and when they do, people of colour are not the ones telling the stories or signing the cheques. This time is different.
We hope to offer ourselves as examples of those who see limits and choose to transcend them, and we want to encourage our audiences, especially QPOCs, to connect with their own agency and imagination. The time is now for people of colour to regain ownership over their skin, hearts and minds, and through Black Boys, Stephen, Thomas, and Tawiah are doing that exact thing. Through this co-production with Buddies, a Black queer perspective is found on the main stage of a Toronto theatre at a time when it is deeply needed.
— The founding members of Saga Collectif are Virgilia Griffith, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy, Thomas Olajide, and Jonathan Seinen.
I just heard the interview on Q with Thomas Olajide. I would love to see this play. Not only that, but I want the island to see this play. We need you! Please come further east!