BOSS Magazine Article Feature “The Voices of We”

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

boss mag p 1It 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

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URBANOLOGY REVIEW of “Known to Police”

Known To Police – One of the realest plays yet

July 1, 2012

Powerful, thought-provoking, intense, triggering. A play that displayed such resilience, hope and unity. An ensemble brave, courageous and real enough to talk about the things that society often pushes under the rug, turns a blind eye to or deems unimportant. That is what I experienced Saturday night as I watched the theatre play Known To Police. 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.

Put on by Nomanzland, with a cast made up of all young people it felt as if I was taking a journey into my everyday world — sitting on the outside looking in — all in 90 minutes.

Whether you have been a victim firsthand to police brutality, or witnessed it with your own eyes, Known To Police told a story that those of us who grew up in the ’hood know all too well. Automatically being targeted because of where you live. Broken down neighbourhoods. Police profiling. Police corruption. A mother’s frustration with keeping her kids safe from the very same people that are supposed to serve and protect them. Oppression and poverty. That’s just to name a few. The daily struggle. Like rapper/actress Lola Bunz says in a song she performs in the play, “We minority living in priority… And even though we tryna live the good life, we always stuck in the ’hood life.”

I was immediately blown away by Dalmar, a cast member, who narrated throughout the play as she painted such intense, vivid pictures through her storytelling and spoken word. She told stories of our ancestors who slaved and worked with bloody and blistered hands, to provide a better life for us. This was all amidst heartfelt scenes which told stories like that of a mother who begged her son not to go and watched him turn and walk away. The same mother, who later heard an impatient knock on the door, answered and heard the words, “Sorry to inform you but your son was killed today by a gunshot wound to the head. The police shot him.” Chills ran through my body, as I experienced sudden flashbacks of my own experiences and encounters with crooked officers and thoughts of my loved ones who fell victim to police brutality surfaced.

We minority living in priority… And even though we tryna live the good life, we always stuck in the ’hood life.” – Lola Bunz

Known To Police touched on the importance of unity, but even more importantly it explored the mindset that has allowed us to beef with our own people, just what the police want us to do. Pin us against each other while killing us off one by one. It pushed questions like, “why are we killing of each other when we need to be rising together to rise above police corruption?” That’s a good question actually.

“Me haffi fight government and haffi fight him to,” says character Patrice. She is the Jamaican mother of 18-year-old Dante who was street involved, and sadly shot to death by crooked officers, leaving the community to mourn and in an uproar with anger. That isn’t the only showcase of police brutality in the production. When two youth are arrested and searched without reason, they are beaten and banged up during interrogation at the police station. I’m sure many of us have heard stories from our friends of their own personal encounters, if we haven’t experienced it ourselves.

Each scene of the play had me anticipating what would come next as so many important social issues that youth face daily were weaved into its context. The flow was on point. Through spoken word, singing, rapping and monologues the ensemble creatively pieced together powerful messages and storytelling using words in a way that so clearly penetrated my ear drums as they spoke with aggressiveness but not intimidation.

Brave enough to speak the words so many of us are afraid to, the young actors/actresses challenged us to not only think, but act, outside the box. They really put the harsh reality into perspective, personally giving me a wakeup call. If we want to enforce any sort of change it needs start with us rising above together and resisting temptation to seek physical revenge on the very same people that have done so much injustice to us: the police.

The play ended with lit candles and a vigil in memory of those known to police. Quotes were shouted out as the characters rose together. “Yeah, he was known to police, but at the end of the day he was a good guy,” they said. “Fuck Ford, fuck Harper, the streets of Jane and Finch shall rise,” they chanted. And of course my favourite saying of the night, “Free the streets, lock up the police!”

After the play, which was given a standing ovation, I looked around the Young People’s Theatre, wondering if there were any police in the audience and how vital it would be for them to be there. The stories shared on stage were real. And they needed to be there to witness firsthand the effects police brutality and corruption has on our young people and the communities left to pick up the pieces. Politicians and those in power period need to know. I’ve watched many plays in my young lifetime but Known To Police by far is one of the best plays I’ve watched in years. The fact that days later I’m still reflecting on what I watched as well as my own personal thoughts… Mind blowing.

Words By. Michelle Green

Original Post: http://urbanologymag.com/um/known-to-police-one-of-the-realest-plays-yet/

Basics News Review of “Known to Police”

Originally Post: http://basicsnews.ca/2012/06/play-review-known-to-police-by-nomanzland/

Play Review: Known to Police by Nomanzland

Review by Noaman G. Ali / Photos by Steve da Silva

Rating: 4/4

Last week I sat in a meeting called by a councillor in one of Toronto’s “priority neighbourhoods,” populated by immigrants and working-class folks.

He talked about how the police run drop-in programs for youth so that they can get to know them, and keep an eye on them, so that they can easily question youth about other youth who they are running with and get them to snitch.  When these youth grow up and maybe get into trouble, police will know who they are beforehand. The youths will be “known to police.”

“Known to police” is a phrase that gets tacked onto mainstream media reports about a lot of crime and violence. “Known to police” is supposed to mean that the persons involved were already suspicious, shady, irresponsible to begin with. Isn’t this what they said about Ahmed Hassan after he was shot dead at the Eaton Center on June 2, or Nixon Nirmalendran, who died of his wounds over a week later?  Maligned, not mourned.  What the media didn’t tell us was that one of the main reasons Nixon was known to police was for witnessing Alwy Al-Nadhir’s murder at the hands of police on the night of October 31, 2007.

For those of us who don’t live the daily reality of police terror in this city, Jane and Finch’s resident people’s theatre troupe, Nomanzland, offers us a glimpse into what it’s like to be “known to police”:

It’s about neighbourhoods that are systematically ignored, neglected and oppressed. It’s about youths who have no job options, even when they get university degrees, because of their race and class status in a system where there’s a lack of jobs overall. It’s about families trying to make ends meet and build community in difficult conditions. It’s about politicians and developers trying to make a quick buck off of the land on which poor people live through “revitalization.”

And it’s about treating children and youths as criminals or potential criminals — about dealing with problems through racist and oppressive policing rather than through building communities and providing opportunities to the people there.

‘Known to Police’ doesn’t try to hide any of the problems of the hood. It lays them out for us to see — it revolves around two beefing youth, Dante and Kelvin, who are involved in criminal activities. But it also shows us the lived realities of the peoples involved, and that the problems aren’t with individuals but with the system that they live in.

We meet a group of women who are organizing against politicians’ and developers’ attempts at “revitalizing” — that is, gentrifying — the neighbourhood. We meet an OG revolutionary who resolves the beefing and seeks to unify the hood to build a revolutionary movement. We meet mothers who are single-handedly raising their families and keeping their kids on the right track. We meet people who tried to escape the violence of their homelands (caused by Canada and other Western powers’ imperialism) only to find themselves facing violence in the hood.

We see the cops killing yet another youth in the hood, and getting away with it – a likely reference to Junior Manon’s murder on York University campus on May 5, 2010.  We also meet an undercover cop entrapping youth in a web of violence by selling them the same guns that they’re banging out on each other.

All of this is put in the context of world revolution — the uprisings of working people in Egypt and Tunisia are our backdrop. Rhymes, raps and songs are dropped throughout the play — all of them written by the actors themselves. And the acting is amazing, it’s easy to forget that we’re watching a play. (No doubt, because so many of them are from the neighbourhood.)

The play was raw enough to provoke an older, white audience member to ask which parts of the play are based on actual events? “All of it. All of it” – answer a number of cast members, almost in sync.

In the end, the youth of Nomanzland tell us that there are no easy solutions to the problems — and that we certainly can’t rely on politicians of any party. Instead, just like the peoples of the Arab uprisings, communities have to organize to build self-reliant organizations and build their own power to take on the cops, the politicians and developers.

They tell us that we need a proper revolution.

Known to Police was performed at the Young People’s Theatre, June 15-17. Hit up Nomanzland and get them to perform the play in your hood.

Save our Schools WordPress Blog – Known to Police Review – “our struggle”

Known to Police – our struggle

Published in:on June 16, 2012 at 10:45 am Comments (4)  on Save Our School Blog

Last night I attended Known to Police the production of Nomanzland at Young People’s Theatre.

This community theatre group working in my community, Jane-Finch, usually does not occupy a traditional stage. It is usually community groups that get to see their skits.

But here they put on a full scale production.

And it works.photo

It shows the struggles of a community in a working class area of Toronto against violence, the police and the world.

It is a moving spectacle.

OK, this is community theatre. Do not expect clearly enunciated words coming out of Stratford trained actors. But you cannot help to be taken away by the story, the monologues and the ensemble pieces.

One thing that impressed me was that our local Save Our School campaign that stoped the TDSB from closing Shoreham Public School, was mentioned as an example of local resistance.

The whole piece started with a community meeting using the whole audience as the community mirroring the ARC meeting that we shut down.

Our action then not only kept a community school open, it inspired other movements.

Now that is satisfying.

Resisting a school closure can help in resisting all the austarity that is so popular among the plutocrats in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and the world.

Projections of the Arab Spring during the production showed that the actors, who wrote the piece, understand there connection to struggles world wide, from Montreal to Cairo.

So keep fighting school closures.

It ain’t just about schools.

THIS WEEKEND June 15-17

Original Post: http://saveschools.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/known-to-police-our-struggle/

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.