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Who Are We Now? Theatre Alberta Essay Series – Kijo Eunice Gatama

Brave Girl – Lunchbox Theatre
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Who Are We Now? Theatre Alberta Essay Series – Kijo Eunice Gatama

Curiosity Liberated The Cat

Kijo Eunice Gatama

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, I think it actually liberated it and gave it the satisfaction of learning something new whether that was pleasant or not.

Hello, I am Kijo, and I am a huge cat lover and so this play on the proverb was expected of me. Purrfectly fitting for the topic I want to explore in this dialogue. Curiosity is what broke the cycle of doubt for me. It calls you to question things, to be inquisitive, and what happens when you lead with curiosity in your theatrical experience is that you begin to notice the gaps in your learning and education, and discover the gems in your personal practice, and can begin to own your experience.

Growing up my family were and still are the kind of people who challenged their circumstances, who overcame many hurdles, and are  resilient but with all of those great qualities comes the feeling of hopelessness and exhaustion. I followed this path of world-building and story-telling because I want to tell a story that wasn’t about Black/African folks in a crisis. However, in my educational experience and program, I kept getting pigeonholed to roles that constantly had me portray racialized humans in a crisis. I noticed all my characters were coloured the same, and it made it difficult to unpack them because I deeply understood their struggle. I live it.

And it hit me in comparison to my white counterpart classmates. They were treated as a blank slate, given a paintbrush and told to go forth and paint their experience however they please. While I had teachers who would say things like “You’re going to have to be black,” or asked “Do you want to be a black character?,” or observe “You’re not like the others, you do your hair and things differently,” and I go “What is a black character to you? What does that consist of and how come you don’t go to your other students and say the same thing?” I am black on and off stage, I don’t get to hang my skin on the coat rack in my dressing room, and go home as a different person. I carry the weight of that experience everywhere I go and I feel it, especially in white-centred spaces. They will constantly remind you of what they perceive, without acknowledging the ignorance and harm that their perspective does to racialized students’ capacity to grow. They didn’t see me, they saw my colour. 

I did learn one thing from all the characters I was cast in from the 1920s to the modern-day, and it was that not much has changed—it is merely concealed slightly differently.

Curiosity made this over-achiever push back against the gatekeepers. Curiosity made this over-achiever create outside of the paradigms of these institutions. It was after my second year of the program that I began creating more in our gig economy. I knew I wasn’t going to become the artist I wanted to become in school, and that I had to discover what that is outside of it. I did learn one thing from all the characters I was cast in from the 1920s to the modern-day, and it was that not much has changed—it is merely concealed slightly differently. And I wonder why.

This led me to become more curious about the reimagination of the Afro experience. I began reading different types of plays written by folks who wrote with afro-futurism in mind and sci-fi/fantasy books from Octavia E. Butler to Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bones, a really cool Game of Thrones-esque book based on Western African folklore and mythologies which explores heroism, and obstacles through intelligence and imaginative gaze. And within that research, I wrote my play A Hyena’s Trail.

It was from a need to explore ranges of my culture and experience and hope for a fantastical future filled with imagination and possibilities for creatives like myself. I came back to school that semester with a new sense of purpose and vigour. I no longer put on the blackness for the white gaze and agenda. I already am, I just need to be and focus on the playfulness of exploring the needs of my characters. Curiosity killed my doubt, and empowered me to be authentic and unapologetically myself in theatre.

Therefore, we cannot advocate for liberation of marginalised folks while also prioritising white comfort. It's ironic how equality starts feeling like oppression for those who have been benefiting from it for so long.

My word of advice for emerging artists is to lead with curiosity in mind especially when you feel stuck. I also think it’s fantastic to build a different perspective as the community is opening up more doors to folks who aren’t white and able-bodied. The movement right now for equity and diversity is paramount to shifting our biases, and breaking this  cycle, and with every movement it needs to move. Therefore, we cannot advocate for liberation of marginalised folks while also prioritising white comfort. It’s ironic how equality starts feeling like oppression for those who have been benefiting from it for so long.  To my emerging creatives in this community go forth. Be BOLD, be CURIOUS and be YOURSELF. Like one of my fave artists once said if they say the sky is the limit then buy a cloud!

Kijo Gatama

Kijo Eunice Gatama is an Edmonton-based theatre performer, actor, clown, dancer, and emerging artistic director. Co-curator and producer of Fear The Festival (alongside Ghostlight Theatre company), a horror film festival centring around elevating explorations by self-identifying members of IBPOC artists, as well as co-founder of Shakespeare’s Hunnies, an emerging artist blog. As a playwright, Gatama strives to create theatre that explores more Queer Afro-Canadian experiences and story-telling. Most recently, Kijo played Annette in God of Carnage, directed by Pat Darbasie. Other select theatre credits include The Lobbyist in Expanse Theatre Festival, Magpie The Conqueror a satirical clown piece in Play The Fool featured films, Titania in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Antonio in Twelfth Night, and Phoebe from a re-imagination of the amazonians by Danielle LaRose in Amazonomachy with Tiger Heart’s Collective. Kijo Gatama will be graduating from The University of Alberta’s BFA-Acting program in 2022.

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