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Feb 06, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Story of civil rights leaders brought to Swansea stage

Bloor West Villager

Human and civil rights activists Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. never met.

Imagine if they had?

In fact, playwright and screenwriter Jeff Stetson did just that. His play, ‘The Meeting,’ will be presented by the African Theatre Ensemble as part of a joint presentation of the Swansea Town Hall and Swansea Memorial to commemorate Black History Month, on Thursday, Feb. 7. The play, a free event, will take place at the Swansea Town Hall in the council chamber at 6:45 p.m.

Founded in 1998, the African Theatre Ensemble, a touring company based in Toronto, presents theatrical works inspired by the African experience, according to its artistic co-ordinator Modupe Olaogun. Impressed by Stetson’s breadth and depth of work, which includes TV, film, stage plays and a novel, Olaogun said she chose ‘The Meeting’ for its exploration of an idea.

“It’s an imaginary exploration of what could have happened if Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had collaborated, had the human rights and civil rights activists been contemporaries,” she told The Villager.

The two were aware of each other, but came from radically different backgrounds and upbringings, said Olaogun.

“It’s an artistic interpretation,” she said of the play. “It looks at the position of the two men, where they were coming from, what shaped their positions.”

Malcolm X came from a family that had suffered tragedy. Malcolm X lost his father to a hate crime, when he was allegedly pushed from a train and killed, yet the incident was deemed an accident, said Olaogun.

“He had a harsh childhood; his mother became the sole provider and suffered a mental breakdown. Malcolm X committed petty crimes as a young person – he was schooled on the streets,” she said. “These were two people coming from two different backgrounds being shaped by their religious exposures. Malcolm X had been a Muslim, Martin Luther King was Christian.”

The play debuted in 1987 and resonates beyond its 1960s time period, said Olaogun, who chose the play in part because it does not ask its audience to choose between the two men.

Its “sterling cast” features a Stratford festival favourite Roy Lewis, film-theatre cross-over Aeiron Munroe and York University Alumnus Tomi Dipo. The story is set in 1960s America and the two men’s perspectives of the world are shaped by the turmoil of the era: Malcolm X’s house has just been bombed while King has recently been released from a Selma prison where he had been held for advocating voting rights. Then, comes a message from a child that changes everything.

For more information on the show, visit www.africantheatre.org

Swansea Town Hall is located at 95 Lavinia Ave.

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