Article Published in BOSS Magazine – Winter Issue 2012 on p 31-32: http://www.bossmag.biz/documents/Boss-Winter-2013-Web.pdf
The Voices of “We” – Our Nomanzland Story
It seems like just the other day a bunch of us were brought together by fate and created a talented community theatre collective called Nomanzland. The birth of Nomanzland started 6 years ago in a small room with loud, rambunctious,
complex, creative people and a deep flow of ideas. In 2006 we started under the name CAST, a program for youth from local high schools in Jane-Finch (Westview, Emery, C.W. Jeffery’s). We were brought together by Greg Thomas, who at that time was a staff member at CMSD at Eddystone. This program ended but the energy continued on, and in the midst of the conflict and violence that was happening in the community, we became the space between war, we became Nomanzland.
For a long time we had a hard time finding a home. Some spaces welcomed us, some treated us like criminals, but in all cases we found ourselves constantly having to move around from place to place, from Eddystone, to The Spot, ANC office inside Jane-Finch Plaza, 15 Tobermory, and now we are in a space to reclaim as our own at the West-Side Arts Hub inside Yorkwoods Public Library.
When we look back on our journey we remember the days when we only had donuts and water and our love of theatre to keep us going. But we always kept going, because we were on a mission. A mission to be a voice for the community and speak out through our art on issues that affected us such as poverty, oppression, racism, violence, police brutality and profiling, to name a few. We had a mission to stand up for oppressed communities, including Jane-Finch, our base and our home.
Since the inception of Nomanzland we have grown, and now some of our members are also from other communities across the city from Jane-Finch to Rexdale, downtown and beyond. We have also grown in our capacities, skills, and talents and have performed and delivered workshops throughout the City of Toronto and around the GTA in schools, community centers, universities, theatre companies, and various venues. Our performances target social justice issues, including the systemic oppression we face in the community, schools and institutions and from government, police and teachers. We also shed light on how abusive situations, violence and poverty affect us, our friends, and families. We have worked in solidarity with many other groups to also address issues such as refugee rights, gender-based violence, and elder abuse – the list goes on. In every case, our strongest point as a group is telling real life stories, stories that relate to us on a personal level, stories that challenge stereotypes in mainstream media, stories from neglected voices in our community. We use various art forms such as spoken word, poetry, acting, rapping, singing, dancing, and drumming.
Some might wonder, “What else happens in Nomanzland outside of performing?” Well to be honest, we talk a lot of shit, get at each other, argue, make-up, eat, plot our plans for taking over the world… and at the end of the day, its all love, we’re family. The space in which we’ve created provides us with a support system that we can confide in, many of our members have identified Nomanzland as “therapy”. Whether we’ve had a bad or exciting day, whether we’re hurting or full of joy, we share our stories and receive love and comfort when needed. But complexities are common, and each one of us are finding our ways through life, with many ups and downs guaranteed. No one said it would be easy. Nomanzland is a channel, it’s a place where we translate our thoughts and matters of the heart into truth, into art.
In early June of this year we embarked on our biggest project yet, our first main stage production called Known to Police, brought to life in partnership with Young People’s Theatre. In Known to Police, we addressed issues of economic injustice, gun violence, community resilience and police brutality. The play weaves the storyline of a vibrant community building revolution as well as mourning the loss of one of their young men who was known to and killed by the police. This was all placed within the context of current situations in the hood right here at home along with the socio-political conditions that have led to political unrest and change around the world. Using images from the 2011 Egyptian Revolution we connected the realities of Jane-Finch to that of Tahrir Square. The stories told gave voice to the experiences of mothers, sisters, brothers, elders, youth, revolutionaries and people in the struggle. The script was based off the lives of our neighbours, friends, loved-ones, and strangers who became comrades. The issues displayed throughout the play stirred the hearts of our audience, tears were shed, eyes were opened, and memories awakened. Michelle Green of Urbanology Magazine stated “There were times where I sat at the edge of my seat, moments where I laughed and others where I had to take a deep breath and refrain from walking out of the theatre, because shit got real”.
Known to Police signifies a turning point in the lives of many of our members, and a huge transition point for the collective as a whole. After this experience, our aim is to focus more on social change and building our community, our team, for others it is to pursue a career in various artistic fields, and some have moved on to different paths with different dreams. One of our members quoted “Nomanzland has made me spiritually connect with my soul and others too.” We’re here to make a change in our own lives as well as reaching out to others. Nomanzland isn’t just a group; we are the many faces of our community, not afraid to speak out for justice, revolution, and change. We will continue to grow, love, dream, stay true to our roots and build our family, with our complexities, trauma, drama, dysfunctions and all. And we will continue to rep for the community, telling our stories of truth, struggle, and resistance.
You can find us every Thursday 4-7pm at the West-Side Arts Hub, talking shit, keeping it real, and creating art. We are Nomanzland. Real Life, Real Drama, Real Theatre.
For more info please contact us via www.Nomanzland.com or NMLbookings@gmail.com
Written by Sashoya Simpson and The Real Sun