One of Vancouver’s most anticipated theatre shows will chart new territory by having two directors of different races and genders. Toronto-based Ghanaian Canadian Kwaku Okyere shares this responsibility with Vancouver’s Mindy Parfitt on Fairview. It launches the Cultch’s 50th season on Wednesday (September 27).
When Okyere and Parfitt join a Zoom call with Pancouver, both sound exceedingly happy with this arrangement.
“We were strangers before we started working on this,” says Parfitt, founder and artistic director of the Search Party. “It has really been about how do we—as two people who don’t know each other—get to know each other and work together and trust one another.”
Neither wants to give away the storyline of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play. However, Okyere discloses that it addresses the white gaze and includes perspectives of Black and white characters.
“Therefore, this is how this collaboration is born,” Okyere says. “I think it’s the perfect sort of prism—our perspective—to look through in order to really focus on what this play is trying to say or do.”
Parfitt initiated this project but felt she needed a collaborator. As a result, the Search Party formed a partnership with Toronto-based b current Performing Arts to co-produce Fairview.
“I think it’s a really solid foundation from which we are building the play—and, I think, a really exciting one,” Parfitt says.
Some might wonder about the division of directorial labour.
“That’s an excellent question,” Okyere responds. “The very simple way of answering that is when we say that we are co-directing, it’s just that. We are making all of the decisions together.”
He acknowledges that this takes more time. But after agreeing on something, it feels much better moving forward.
Fairview co-directors embrace precision
Parfitt echoes Okyere’s point that shared decision-making extends to everything. That includes the look of couch to the plates on-stage to the music being played. Moreover, it also encompasses bigger issues, such as casting, relationships between characters, and the intention behind a scene.
They’ve cast Elizabeth Barrett, Christopher Bautista, Yasmin D’Oshun, Miranda Edwards, Julien Galipeau, Nathan Kay, Lucy McNulty, and Angela Moore in Fairview. Because Parfitt is not the only one holding space as the director, she can sit back when Okyere is leading a conversation.
Parffitt says that this allows her to reflect on who she is as a director and what language she uses in this role. Furthermore, she maintains that co-directing is not comparable to being an assistant director.
“It’s a much different experience because I am responsible for the production whereas as an assistant, you’re not responsible for the production,” Parfitt declares.
Meanwhile, there’s a great deal of diversity on the production team. Amir Ofek is the set designer; C.S. Fergusson-Vaux is the costume designer; Juno-nominated soundscape artist Ruby Singh is responsible for sound design; Sophie Tan is lighting designer; and Marisa Gold did the choreography.
Okyere says that he and Parfitt are “super-aligned” in one key area.
“Part of what we share is our precision,” Okyere says. “That shared sense of rigour is incredibly important to me, especially in a play like this that demands it.”
Being Black in a white world
When asked what strengths he brings, Okyere mentions his extensive background in movement, which is a key part of the show.
“I come back to the lived experiences that Mindy and myself embody, which are embedded in the play that we are working on,” he adds. “So when it comes to the question of what do either one of us bring, I feel like it’s very much ‘we bring ourselves. We bring our lived experience.’ And that we’re able to sort of distill that through the lens of the play.”
For her part, Parfitt had already done some reading about the Black experience before pursuing this project.
“I think that work isn’t just about directing this play, but also about being human,” she emphasizes. “It’s about living, trying to be a good person in the world, and understanding each other. So yes, some of that work has been done in relationship to this play but most of that reading was done prior.”
At that point, Pancouver asks Okyere if he conducted research to learn more about how the white gaze manifests itself. That elicits a hearty laugh.
Then, Okyere becomes more philosophical in describing a snippet of Black life in North America.
“It is a white world that we live in,” Okyere says. “And in the queer Black body that I have—that I’m so grateful for, that I love being in—I’ve had to navigate that in various ways to varying degrees of success…
“At least for me,” he continues, “there’s a sense of ‘I don’t need to read up on something that I’ve had to live!’ ”
The Cultch presents Fairview by the Search Party in partnership with b current Performing Arts (Toronto). It will be staged at the Historic Theatre from September 27 to October 8, with opening night on Friday (September 29). For tickets and more information, visit the Cultch website.
In addition, the Search Party will host three ancillary workshops. For all folks: “Not That Funny” with Jesse Lipscombe from 11 a.m. to noon on September 30. For Black folks: “black like me” with Marcel Stewart from b current from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on October 1. And for BIPOC folks: “Finding Your Type In Stereotypes” with Ese Atawo from 5 to 7 p.m. on October 5. To register for the workshops, visit the Search Party website.