What is Theatre of Recovery? It is the performative act of ritually recovery one’s self; reclaiming, regaining, renaming, and restoring. It is making ritual theatre of one’s self-recovery; ritual-Black-self-recovery; ritual-feminist-self-recovery; ritual-queer-self-recovery. And what am I recovering from? I am recovering from the ongoing assault on our collective humanity that insists that I/we can in fact live without our lives.'
-D'bi Young Anitafrika - Excerpt of Keynote Address at The Canadian Writers Summit 2018
When I was thirteen years old, after completing my first and only performance in Jamaica’s National Secondary Schools’ Theatre Festival, I ran outside, looked up and saw three prominent stars lined up, one behind the other peering down at me. These were the same stars I had claimed as my own when I was five. They followed me wherever I went and so I dubbed them my magic protectors. Right there, outside of the theatre festival, I made a promise to these stars to be my very best, in exchange for a long life as a storyteller.
My name is D’bi Young Anitafrika and I am an African Jamaican (born and raised) multidisciplinary performance artist: Dub poet, monodramatist, playwright, director, dramaturge, educator and emerging scholar, who has lived for the past twenty-five years in Canada and all over the world. My art engages complex dialogues on race, class, sexual orientation, gender, ability & the overlapping intersections of our humanity. My art is heavily influenced by the performative and political environment of emerging Dub poetry in Jamaica of 1980s. I am the daughter of Anita Stewart (a Dub poet and original member of Poets in Unity), and Winston Young, (an avid community organiser). I grew up watching (and later emulating) my mother and father, and the foundation Dub poets such as Mikey Smith, Jean Binta Breeze and Linton Kwezi Johnson, who became my life-long teachers in storytelling. My mother and her contemporaries, poeticised struggles for racial, economic, gender & class equality. I am my mother’s daughter.
At fifteen years old I moved to Canada to join my parents. Over a period of twenty years, through rigorous artistic mentorship, I grew and developed my ideas around biomyth theatre, theatre of recovery, artist mentorship and the Anitafrika Method: an intersectional anti-oppressive feminist praxis utilised by artists, instigators, educators, and change-makers world-wide. The Anitafrika Method has steadily grown and expanded globally throughout the years, supporting artists in cultivating self-recovery/self-actualisation, creativity, and leadership. Emerging from Jamaica’s dub poetry and the Caribbean’s popular theatre, the method was inspired by the seminal dub theory work of my mother, pioneer dub poet Anita Stewart. The method centres around nine foundational principles of Self-knowledge, Politics, Orality, Language, Rhythm, Urgency, Sacredness, Integrity and Experience balanced by nine bodies: Beyond Body, Spiritual, Mental, Community, Emotional, Economic, Creative, Physical and Earth Body. Artists engage in reflexive questions regarding their perspectives and personal/social power, inspired by the principles and the accompanying bodies. These questions lead them through a process of negotiating and complicating their interpretations of accountability and responsibility.
Much of these ideas have been cultivated in the living-lab of artist residencies that I curate globally. From facilitating residencies in South Africa, the Bahamas, Hawaii, Costa Rica, India, Belize, the UK and Jamaica, to being heralded as a YWCA Woman of Distinction in the Arts, my artistic experience is expansive. After twenty years of making and teaching art, I have decided to pursue a PhD in Black Feminist Performance. My intention is to further develop the Anitafrika Method as a new performance praxis, founded on Dub poetry and Dub theatre, that centres the Black arts practitioner while providing an intersectional, anti-oppressive, anti-colonial, African Jamaican indigenous methodology and Black feminist epistemology, as my contribution to knowledge.
Growing up in Kingston Jamaica, the first person I recognised as a performer was my mother, when I was five years old. The opportunity to truly embody what I observed of her, came in the form of Trey Anthony's Da Kink in My Hair which toured Hackney Empire Theatre in 2006. The play is a Black feminist drama, in the tradition of For Colored Girls by the late Ntozake Shange, featuring monologues by seven Black womxn. I burst onto the Toronto theatre scene in 2001, playing the role of Staceyanne; an incredible little girl, experiencing childhood sexual assault. As an incest survivor myself, this character gave me permission to navigate my own self-recovery and the healing of my communities who suffer from childhood and adult sexual assault. It was here that I began to grasp the work of the early Dub poets and their commitment to storytelling for social change. It was here that I embarked upon a life-long relationship with my communities through art-making. Storytelling and education are intrinsically and sacredly linked for me.
After the Da Kink began its journey, I went on to writing and performing Blood.claat, my first published monodrama, with childhood sexual assault as its central focus. The play garnered five Dora nominations and won in the categories of Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance. Bloodclaat is the premiere piece in The Sankofa Trilogy, which also features the second play Benu and the third, Word! Sound! Powah! My second triptych entitled The Orisha Trilogy featuring Esu Crossing the Middle Passage, Mami Wata and the PussyWitch Hunt and Lukumi: A Dub Opera traverses the past, present and future landscape of the triangular journey of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Throughout my work I am engage themes that explore the impact of colonisation on African peoples generally, African womxn specifically and Afro-Jamaican womxn micro-specifically. By focusing my energies on Black feminist thought and art production, I intend to produce a performance technique in the form of the Anitafrika Method that is truly radical and transformative.
Arts education has played a significant role in my own development as an artist. I began running arts workshops in high school at Jarvis Collegiate in the late 1990s, while participating in a political youth radio show called U-Talk at CKLN 88.1fm. In the summers I received foundational anti-oppression training at Fresh Arts Summer Program in Toronto Canada. A paradigm shift occurred when in 2008 I was asked to design a summer youth program at Art Starts which resulted in a devised production entitled PN Numero Uno: Jinch Malrex. These powerful young people impacted my life so profoundly that by the end of the program I promised to create an ongoing arts-leadership residency for them. It is here that I began conceptualising the Anitafrika Method during the birth of The Watah Theatre (FKA Anitafrika Dub Theatre), Canada’s only Black focused performance art school which offered tuition-free professional development programs from 2008-2018. Change-makers such as Amanda Parris (CBC’s The Exhibitionist), Kim Katrin Milan, Natasha Adiyana Morris and Colanthony Humphrey were among my first artists-in-residence. Since then I have facilitated the growth and development of not only my art but the art of hundreds of Canadian, international and Jamaican artists including Canadians Bahia Watson (The Handmaid’s Tale), Che Kothari (Manager to Machel Montano), Raven Dauda (Star Trek Discovery), and Randell Adjei (Rise), Mriga Kapadiya (Nor Black Nor White Fashion House); Nigeria’s Titilope Sonuga; Zimbabwe’s Rudo Chigudu; Britain’s Ria Hartley; Trinidad’s Soca King Machel Montano; and Jamaica’s Julene Robinson and Webster McDonald.
Along with Watah, I also founded Spolrusie Publishing, a micro press in Toronto Canada, to publish the work of Black emerging writers who are generally not supported by mainstream publishing houses. The press provides a platform for emerging artists to archive and canonise their works, circumventing reluctant mainstream presses. So far, Spolrusie has produced three drama anthologies, three books of poetry, two children's books, one book of photography and a deck of cards illustrating the Anitfarika Method.
The world has indeed been my lab, which calls me to now contextualise and theorise the practical work I have been conducting for the past twenty years and organise it in the form of a PhD in Black Feminist Performance Praxes. Engaging in a PhD will provide me with a rigorous and critical environment to research from an intersectional, anti-oppressive, and decolonialist lens in order to expand my work. I desire to be a part of a radical scholarly community who are committed to asking key questions and finding solutions through creative collaborative analytical processes, grounded in storytelling, theatre, performance practice and learning. My ultimate aim is use my PhD work to link theory to practice and practice to critical pedagogy; serving a new generation of storytellers who see ourselves reflected in institutions of higher learning, and who understand that those spaces are for us to grow and to develop into whole human beings.
Current & Upcoming Interests