28 Nov 2005

An Interview with playwright and producer Joan M Kivanda

Stori –ya…bring the stories, bring the lies, and make it all sound sweet….hadith njoo, Uongo njoo, utamu kolea. It’s the african reply to a request for a story that begins with the fairy tale innocence of once upon a time.  But for Maria Msondo, the main character in Stori -ya, her story is bittersweet.  She begins by welcoming you into her home, offering you something to eat as you take your seat.  She’s having a farewell party and you are her invited guests.

Today her home is being repossessed and she wants to leave with dignity and pride.  There are so many stories in her home.  Before she goes, she wants you to hear those stories.  She speaks of early childhood memories, sexual abuse, growing up as the child of a rape victim, and struggling as an adult to find love in a world that does not seem to love her back.  Full of tragedy and heartbreak, it’s almost hard to believe Joan Kivanda, a young playwright who recently graduated from Guelph University’s theatre program in June 2005, writes the story.

“The story really started when I was asked to give my opinion on abortion during an improv debate in school,” says Joan.  “When I stood up, I realized I wasn’t sure what side to choose.  I wanted to look at how complex this issue was depending on the situation you were in.”

A native of Tanzania, Joan weaves her cultural heritage into the story.  She tells us of  Mwali, a traditional celebration for a girl who enters adulthood, and Funga karomo, the Nyamwezi song, meaning shut your mouth, traditionally sung during one’s wedding day to keep meddling mother-in-laws in their place.

It was a conscious choice for Joan to include the Nyamwezi language, one not familiar to many.  “I wanted to include something people wouldn’t understand, so they wouldn’t make assumptions.  You think you know Maria but you really don’t,” says Joan.

The play was originally part of a workshop for the rock.paper.sistahz festival 4 earlier this year.  Fresh from it’s debut at the Summerworks Festival, Stori –ya, was recently picked up for Harbourfront’s Hatch Festival series showcasing emerging playwrights.

As a member of the r’Aiz’n the sun ensemble, Joan has been able to work with talented mentors such as ahdri zhina mandiela who directed Stori –ya, and Rhoma Spencer who played Maria.  In addition to writing Joan enjoys acting as well.  She has recently performed in the fringe hit Mad 5/Still Alive , and will also be performing in downtown, a dance performance in the Summerworks festival.

A talented, emerging, playwright, Joan will certainly have many more stories to tell.  She quotes a very fitting passage from Langston Hughes in her playwright’s message for Stori –ya,  “…someday, somebody’ll stand up and talk about me, and write about me, black and beautiful, and sing about me, and put on plays about me!  I reckon it’ll be me myself!  Yes it’ll be me.”

Stori –ya is currently playing at the Summerworks Festival.  It is also scheduled to play at the Harbourfront Hatch festival November 7-13 th at Harbourfront Studio Theatre.

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