Black Lives Matter on stage –a tribute and a prayer

Based on the real-life murder of Trayvon Martin that launched the Black Lives Matter movement, Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers is an exciting and emotional theatre show that tells the story of a black teenager and his experience in the afterlife.

Written and performed by Makambe K Simamba, the play will premiere in Vancouver from Jan. 20–22 at the Firehall Arts Centre as part of the 2022 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.

The boy who launched the movement

Trayvon Martin was followed and fatally shot by a neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in 2012. Zimmerman was later acquitted of the charges against him and this event marked the start of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I have been thinking about this play for a very long time. It sat in my body ever since 2012. I was still processing events so I didn’t know how to tell the story I wanted to tell,” says Simamba. “I was really inspired by my love for my little brother and what so many black families go through, losing someone to racialized violence. I literally felt like that could be my brother.”

Simamba started working on the piece in 2016, and it took her a few years to expand it into a full play. She says she got really curious about death after losing a cousin and was thinking a lot about what happens to people’s spirits when they move on. She was also contemplating the reality of black life and black death in the American context.

“The boy who launched the movement, what a weight that would be to put on a teenager who didn’t choose to be part of that movement. I did a 10-minute solo piece exploring the afterlife that would have elements of Trayvon Martin, from that, the play was born,” she says.

Body movement is an integral part of the play according to Simamba who also performs in the play.

“I wanted to explore American black male physicality of teenage boys around 2012 time. Which music was really popular? How do those bodies move? I wanted to see how to incorporate them into my piece,” she explains.

Simamba also incorporates humour into the play that draws quite a few laughs.

“Humour is the thing that gives us the room to experience the sad thing. Nothing exists without its opposites. Sometimes we need that laugh. I also think that when I think of black American culture, standup comedy of a certain brand is really central,” she says.

Making room for the next generation

Born in Zambia and raised in the Caribbeans, Simamba has already experienced a few different cultures before she and her family settled in Canada.

Makambe K Simamba performs in Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers. | Photo courtesy of Makambe K Simamba

“With moving around, I understand how different people’s languages, values and beliefs might be. That sort of childhood analysis of culture, behaviours and values ended up manifesting in my storytelling practice,” she says.

Being one of the very few black theatre students when she was in Calgary, she feels the theatre is always in need of people of colour to tell more diverse and authentic stories.

“I would like that to change in our lifetime. We need to tell the story of our own communities. There is always a need and hunger. It is so important and exciting to tackle that, so the stages can look like our neighbourhoods, our friends and our families,” she adds.

With this play, Simamba says she hopes to not only share the story of Trayvon Martin so that young black people are seen but also to create a space for the community to feel safe.

She adds that the current generation of theatre is still at a place where it is so rare for a particular culture to be on stage but if there are several black plays all the time, then the stories can dig in more into nuances and complications rather than just fighting for a place to exist.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful for a 16-year-old black person to see this as their first play? I mean, Shakespeare is amazing, but he wasn’t writing for me,” she says. “My point is that I am excited to be part of the generation to continue to build on what my predecessors have made space for. Success to me means using the work to push and push until I feel like we exist.”

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