Friday, February 24, 2023

Anne-Marie Woods aka Amani: Award-Winning Playwright, Womanist, and Multi-Disciplinary Artist

 Amani is an award winning multi-disciplinary artist.  She is a womanist, arts educator, producer, playwright, director creative consultant with roots in London, England and Trinidad, who spent her formative years in Nova Scotia. She received a Talent Trust scholarship in 1996 to attend a nine-month residency at Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia in 1997, one of the oldest Black Theatres in Pennsylvania. That residency changed her career path forever.  Describing herself as a British Born Trini with Scotian Overtones, Woods’ work and creativity always has multi-disciplinary style storytelling with original penned songs and compositions. She is also credited with introducing Spoken Word as an art form to Nova Scotia in the mid 90’s.

        Photo by Linda Marie Stella      
Anne-Marie Woods’ life and career have always challenged boundaries and blended multiple genres or styles. In 2001, she held the honour of being the first African Canadian to have a featured play Waiting to Explode at the National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina.  Voted as one of 100 Black Women in Canada to Watch and the 2013 winner of a BBPA Harry Jerome Award for Excellence in Entertainment, she has performed and presented in the UK, Trinidad, and the World-Famous Nuyorican Café in New York City.  Scotian Journey is the second of her plays to have a World Premiere at Black Theatre Workshop in Montreal.  The first was her Theatrical Rhapsody She Said/He Said in 2016, which had a very successful World Premiere at the MAI.  Her other play The Three Friends that focuses on African Canadian History and race relations, was originally written for Black History Month Celebrations for the City of Barrie in 2017.

Acclaim for Anne-Marie Woods’ plays:

“The Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts is honoured to present The Three Friends as part of the 2018/2019 Education Series. The feedback from the first presentation in February 2017 was so overwhelmingly positive, which was the primary factor to present the show again next season. In addition, Imani Enterprises has been a joy to work with to make these presentations happen. The RHCPA will gladly work with Anne-Marie Woods of Imani Enterprises on future projects, if invited to do so." 

-  RHCPA Theatre Manager, Michael Grit

 “Anne-Marie Woods is a talented writer. It was a wonderfully collaborative experience when we produced her play She Said/He Said back in 2016, and we are looking forward to touring local schools in Montreal with Scotian Journey a beautiful piece on the history of Black Canadians in Nova Scotia.”

-  BTW’s Artistic Director, Quincy Armorer

 For the past five years Woods worked temporary full-time positions for the City of Toronto. First as a Cultural Outreach Officer for the Department of Economic Development and Culture, she now holds a permanent position as an Educator for Outreach and Public Programming for the City of Toronto Archives as part of the City Clerk’s Division.  With full time work she realized she could not do as much performing or producing, but she could still write.  Still identifying as a self-made artpreneur, she is familiar with the struggle of self-producing shows and events on her own and of coming up with innovative ways of marketing her work.  Her more-than 25 years in the industry and her work ethic, tenacity and perseverance are finally paying off.  Woods’ youth play Scotian Journey, written in 2001 was produced in 2019 by Black Theatre workshop in Montreal where it toured over 30 schools in Quebec and reached over 10,000 students.

Woods credits learning Black History and the performing arts with changing her path as a troubled youth. “I will continue to write the history that is not in the curriculum,” she says. “I can remember the day a presenter, Robert Upshaw came to speak to us at Dartmouth High, his presentation changed my life.” Woods has included the same part of his presentation in her play The Three Friends and has seen this section of the play have the same impact on the students in the audience. This play was co-produced with her company Imani Enterprises and was presented for over 1000 students at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

Four the Moment at 
NS Music Week      

It’s been a very busy season for Woods, who in December shared her latest script in development Why Black Women Whisper to a virtual audience that included Ce Ce Birt, a Theatre and Music professional based in Philadelphia PA.  Her singing group Four The Moment recently received the Polaris Heritage Music Prize winning over such names as Kardinal Official, Lillian Allen, and Leonard Cohen. And right after that recognition, she was off to Cape Breton, to receive the Recognition of Excellence Award as part of the Awards Gala at Nova Scotia Music Week. The award was accompanied by a moving musical tribute that included daughters of Kim and Delvina Bernard, original Four The Moment members. Anne-Marie Woods joined Four The Moment to go on tour in1988 (the year they recorded We’re Still Standing) and sang with them until they hung up their mics in 2000. They have since then intermittently reunited for special commemorative events, awards ceremonies, and Canadian Honours which included opening up for Maya Angelou, a Burnley Rocky Jones Commemorative Concert and opening up for American activist, Angela Davis in 2018 at her Alma Matter; Dalhousie University. 

Photo by
Anne-Marie Woods

In July of 2022, Woods embarked on a self-directed fellowship that she entitled “Hot Writer Summer” where she travelled to places that nurtured her creative spirit and she virtually worked with actors and several youth production assistants on her new play Why Black Women Whisper. One of her first stops was to Nova Scotia where she met with Andrea Urquhart, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Talent Trust to discuss the creation of a new Travel Scholarship for emerging Creatives from the African Diaspora. The rest, as they say is HERstory because the announcement was made during the Nova Scotian Talent Trust Virtual Awards Ceremony in December 2022.

The Anne-Marie Woods/Imani Enterprises African DiasporaTravel Scholarship will award an African-Nova Scotian, Black, Caribbean or youth of African Descent, based in Nova Scotia $1000 towards travel to present, teach, perform or take part in professional development through a residency, internship or working with a mentor; provincially, nationally or internationally. The Award will be available in 2023 and 2024 for disadvantaged Black youth between the ages of 18 – 35 who are working on an artistic career in Spoken Word, or Theatre Arts.  Eligible emerging artists can express interest in applying via the online scholarship application. Artists who have expressed interest will be contacted with further instructions regarding how to apply for this special Travel Scholarship.  For more information, please see the PressRelease.

Virtual reading of
"Why Black Women Whisper"

Woods is presently continuing the work on her new play Why Black Women Whisper. Working with Dramaturg, Alison Sealy-Smith and Assistant Music Coordinator, Rudi Quammie Williams, Woods will spend this year penning the original songs for the soundtrack and finishing a final draft of the script made entirely of spoken word.  She is now in the process of writing more grants and seeking the funding for stakeholders to support her work for a staged public reading in 2024 and a World Premiere in 2025.

For more about Anne-Marie Woods, please visit her website.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Shauntay Grant: Stitched Stories and celebrating Black History

Shauntay Grant is an author, poet, playwright, and multimedia artist whose art is inspired by her roots in Nova Scotia's historic Black communities. Her honours include a Joseph S. Stauffer Prize in Writing and Publishing from the Canada Council for the Arts, a Poet of Honour prize from the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, a Robert Merritt Award for her stage play The Bridge, and a Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award for her picture book Africville with illustrator Eva Campbell. Africville was also a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards.

Shauntay's Stitched Stories: The Family Quilts installation was recently featured in Visual Arts News with her beautifully written article that celebrating her grandmother's life and art. Shauntay talks about the impact her grandmother Alfreda Smith had on her life, and in the Arts community: "A lesser-known trailblazer in the local arts community, she ushered the movement of African Nova Scotian quilts from community homes to gallery walls. She was a poet, storyteller, songwriter and—as I discovered going through her writings when she passed—a playwright! Ever grateful for her inspiration and encouragement over the years, and for the opportunity to share her work now." Click here to read the full article.

Pictured: Shauntay and her grandmother Alfreda in front of Winter Quilt which was created by Grant’s great-grandmother (Smith’s mother) Annie Simmonds.

Shauntay has published several books, including poetry collections and children's books. Her work often explores themes of identity, heritage, and the experiences of Black Canadians. In 2009, she won the Atlantic Book Award for Best Atlantic Published Book for Children for her book "Up Home," which is a collection of stories and poems about life in a rural Black community in Nova Scotia.  Shauntay has released 7 children's books to date, and will be releasing 4 books in her "Let's Play Outside" series.  The first two books in the series, "Sandy Toes" and "Snowy Mittens" are now available for pre-order.

Shauntay Grant is an associate professor of creative writing at Dalhousie University, and a member of The Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. She shares her blend of words and music internationally at festivals and events, and collaborates with visual artists and art galleries to create poetry-themed artworks, installations, and exhibitions. A former poet laureate for the City of Halifax, her poetry for children and adults has been published in educational resources, anthologies and literary journals.

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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Portia White: A Trailblazer in Nova Scotia's Music History

February is Black History Month, and it is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black individuals in our communities. One such individual is Portia White, an icon in Nova Scotia's music history and the catalyst for establishing the Nova Scotia Talent Trust. 

Born in Truro, Nova Scotia in 1911, Portia White was a singer known for her powerful contralto voice. Despite facing racial barriers and discrimination, she persevered and rose to national and international fame as a performer. In 1944, White became the first Canadian to perform at New York City's prestigious Town Hall.

In addition to her musical talent, White was also a social justice advocate, using her platform to raise awareness about the challenges faced by Black Canadians. White faced significant barriers as a Black woman in the classical music world, but her talent and determination won her recognition and accolades. She was a trailblazer for future generations of Black classical singers and musicians, and her legacy continues to inspire others to pursue their passions and overcome obstacles. 

Today, Portia White is remembered as a pioneering figure in Canadian music history, and her legacy continues to inspire future generations of musicians. The Portia White Award, established in her honor, is awarded annually to an emerging vocalist in Nova Scotia who demonstrates exceptional talent and potential.  This legacy award is generously supported by the Dalhousie Music in Medicine HEALS Program.

As we celebrate Black History Month, let us take a moment to recognize and appreciate the contributions of individuals like Portia White who have paved the way for future generations. 

In 1944, members of the Halifax Ladies Club, along with voice teacher Dr. Ernesto Vinci, successfully advocated the city of Halifax and the province of Nova Scotia for unparalleled financial support towards her studies in New York. Portia White ascended to become one of the best singers of the 20th century. 

The province recognized the difference their support made in Portia White’s career and founded the Nova Scotia Talent Trust on May 2, 1944, to help other deserving and talented Nova Scotians succeed. 

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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Adam V. Clarke: Building a Musical Bridge between Europe and Canada

Adam Vincent Clarke is a contemporary music and sound artist from Nova Scotia who is now based in Antwerp, Belgium. In 2015, he received a Talent Trust scholarship for composition and went on to win the Kenneth Elloway Award.  In a recent interview on Eastlink Magazine, Adam spoke about the impact the Talent Trust had on his journey to become an established artist: 

"As a direct result of the Talent Trust, I ended up getting my first official commission as a composer just after graduation and it opened up the opportunity of me moving to Antwerp in Belgium.  Without the Talent Trust's help, that wouldn't have happened.  It wouldn't have given me that start."

Adam recently returned to Nova Scotia with his project Est-Ouest, a musical presentation that brings together the folk traditions of Canada and Bulgaria and fuses them with contemporary classical compositions. Together with fellow composers Svetlin Hristov from Bulgaria and Liam Elliot from Canada, the trio created three works for the Silakbo Ensemble  based on the musical traditions of each other's country, combined with their own contemporary perspectives of Canadian and Belgian folklore. 

The Canadian tour of East-West launched on Nov. 1 in Montreal at Jeunesses Musicales Canada’s Joseph-Rouleau Hall, with a perfomance in Ottawa on Nov. 3, and Toronto on Nov. 5 and 7.  The tour concluded with two Nova Scotia performances on Nov. 10 in Wolfville and Nov. 13 in Halifax.  Est-Ouest was performed by the Ensemble Silakbo, which includes Adam Vincent Clarke playing Bulgarian bagpipes, Mikko Pablo on cello, Angelina-Ogniana Gotcheva on clarinet, Yoanna Bozhkova on soprano, Bogdan Ivanov on piano, and Edgar Gomes on violin.

During this tour, Adam was interviewed by Eastlink Community TV for Eastlink Magazine:

Adam is the co-founder of the music and dance-theatre company Âmok/Âmok. and has collaborated with the Royal Ballet of Flanders and Spanish choreographer Daniel Domenech.  He is also composer-in-residence with Ensemble Silakbo and was nominated for the 2022 East Coast Music Award for Classical Composer of the Year. For more about Adam, his works, and performances, please visit his website.

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The Talent Trust would like to acknowledge the support of Eastlink Community TV in providing the above video, and for airing our Special Awards Ceremony each December/January.  Thank you!