Toronto Star Review of “Known to Police”

Fiorito: Nomanzland put stories of Jane-Finch neighbourhood on stage

The actors of Nomanzland, a Jane-Finch theatre group, have been working on a play whose themes are torn from today’s headlines.
By:Columnist, Published on Fri Jun 15 2012

The actors were working cue-to-cue, hitting the tops and bottoms of scenes the way a stone skips over the water. They are young. They are from Jane-Finch. They are known to police.

No, they are not.

Their play is “Known to Police” and it is a production of Nomanzland, a theatre production group working in Jane-Finch.

Did you flinch?

If you did, you don’t know that neighbourhood, and you can’t unless you live there, as these young actors do. They think — they feel it in their guts — that you should see what they see, and hear what they have to say. Why would you not if you live in Toronto now?

They are whip-smart, acute, fierce, poised in stillness and on fire at the same time. Their play is a pastiche of art, song, dance, rap, and good, old-fashioned acting, pegged on a story line as topical as the Eaton Centre shooting.

The narrative involves the struggle between two young men who are, yes, known to police; the ripples of the struggle widen out to include family, friends, neighbourhood, the city.

Yes, there is a shooting.

But this is about the stuff you mostly don’t see or read in the news, and it will ripple out to you if you let it.

Sashoya said, “My character is a single mother of two kids. Her life is drama, drama, drama. She has a son on the streets, she has to bail him out every time, and she ends up neglecting her daughter.”

Anike said, “We all wrote it.”

We were talking in a room off the main stage at the Young People’s Theatre, and just as I was about to ask more questions, the whole cast was called.

I waited in the wings.

Maryama said, in an actual stage whisper, “It’s a reflection of Jane-Finch, the community, what’s happening. It’s an opportunity to bring all these stories from the community to people who only see us in the headlines; they don’t see full life.”

A young woman, Lola, rapped while characters moved painted flats in the background. Her rap: “Trying to live the good life, stuck in the hood life.”

The director said, “You guys are killer on transitions.” Someone replied, “We’re known for our transitions.”

And then there was a lull, and we continued the discussion. Sashoya said, “There are 70 languages spoken in our community.”

The actor known as The Real Sun said, “Jane-Finch is the most multicultural place in Toronto.” Maazia said, “It’s the same struggle, it’s from many different areas; we’re opening eyes to adults – what we feel, what our youth see.”

I threw the obvious question at them, about what they felt when they heard about the Eaton Centre shooting. Maryama said, “I’m Somali. I felt one of my brothers died. He was known to police.”

That phrase, again.

“It made me feel like they were criminalizing my community.” And then they all started talking, all at once: “When a young black man dies — I don’t defend the s— he did — it cheapens their death, you put labels on — known to police, it could just mean you got carded.”

And they said, “I know someone in my neighbourhood who died. Three others got shot. The story just died out. He was a student, he worked for a delivery company, he gets gunned down, just another black man shot, the story died.”

There is more to the story.

I rarely urge. I do so now. See this play. It is a key to the city today. “Known to Police.” Young People’s Theatre. 165 Front St. Friday, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday 7 p.m. Sunday 2 p.m. Ages 14 and up.

Language advisory.

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