We're back with Tawiah M'Carthy and Brad Cook for a second round of Maanomaa, My Brother!
In this edition of CS Grid, Paul Smith—the Education & Outreach Coordinator of Blue Bird Theatre Collective—gathers some unique insight from the co-creators about the life lessons we can learn through the characters, Anne-Marie Donovan's contribution to the play, and more.
What do you think Will and Kwame learn through their self-discoveries? What is left to explore?
TM: A part of Kwame is running away from his past. He leaves Ghana, moves to Canada, and doesn't go back home—there’s a need of separation. There is also a bit of fear in opening that can of worms and what that might do. That might unravel him. But it’s something that he has to work through in order to meet Will where he's at. Having experienced loss at a very young age and being unable to deal with that loss, Kwame needs to find a way to heal and walk through the past into his future.
BC: Will is learning how to let go. He's learning how to move forward, but the way that Will thinks he needs to figure things out is by digging stuff up. He needs to unravel situations of the past, so it's about including others in that as well. That's what Will discovers, that it's an individual journey of moving forward. And that he needs to meet Kwame where he’s at in order to move forward together in the relationship as well.
Is there anything that was workshopped but didn't make it to the final version of the play?
TM: When we started, we concentrated a lot on the fathers—who they were and who we wanted them to be. Over the course of development, we came to the realization that it's actually less about the fathers and more about the sons—the sons growing up into men.
How did Anne-Marie Donovan help guide the artistic process?
BC: Anne-Marie has worked both as an outside eye and director, but also as a performer. She knows the process that we were working with, and it was important that she spoke that vocabulary with us. She knew what it was on the inside, as well as how to steer us from the outside. There are probably hours and hours of recorded material that we created through devising up on our feet. It was absolutely such a back and forth between hours of us playing and Anne-Marie recording, feeding back what she saw, and trying to piece things together.
We always start from the body. We both hold the philosophy that the movement of the body actually holds more story than the text can contain. – Tawiah M'Carthy
TM: Having someone in the room that you trust as an outside eye makes all the difference. And Anne Marie was that for us, right from the onset. It's great because Brad and I didn't always agree, but the miscommunication was quite instrumental. To have someone else in the room to go, "This is what is being said, this is what has been said. And this might be a meeting point with what you're talking about." Of course, the fat makes the meat juicy, but we've been able to cut off the excess fat and still keep the meat tender and flavorful. She was instrumental because she knew the journey that we have gone through in cutting off the fat to keep the meat lean, and still flavorful and juicy in all its ways.
How did you determine when movement was going to be used as an integral part of the storytelling?
TM: We always start from the body. We both hold the philosophy that the movement of the body actually holds more story than the text can contain. We move in the space and find what the character moves like, where they source and place their energy, where it puts its balance, where it puts its weight, all of that. And the body, at some point, will extend itself into language. When you've taken the time to release, breathe, and connect with yourself and your partner, what comes out is what needs to be said in that moment.
Words can express what the body might not be able to, but sometimes the text is not enough to encompass everything that's happening in that moment. It's the same way that writing is rewriting. It’s always the exercise of creating and finding what was repeatable, what was actually tied to the spine of the story that we wanted to tell? Is it text that we're missing here? Or is it movement? So, movement was re-moving, going back and doing it over and over again and finding what was sticking.
BC: But also re-moval. Ooh, moving is removing! There we go. Put that one on the website.
BC: Discovering the character is as much about what the other person is doing as what I am doing. The offer and how I respond is where the character lives. That's what makes this process so unique because you can't say where something began. You can't say who came up with what because we are all creators of what we will put on the page. And we've been trying to find ways of writing the movement vocabulary on the page, which is more difficult than you think. It's not just stage directions, it's trying to find what the essence of the movement vocabulary is and how you can encourage the next actor that will take that part on to find it themselves. It's not a matter of choreography or giving them the shape from the outside, it's a matter of giving them the impulse to find out what it is for themselves.
Like Brad said about leaving a language, leaving something for the next actor or whoever's coming, audiences will be interacting with it first. Audiences seeing the show will think whatever they think and that's unavoidable. But if you could get the jump on mitigating that, what would you want audiences to know about the show?
BC: I had some really close male friends when I was younger, and only when other people would make comments about what that was, from whatever their point of view, is when I started to be like, "Oh, is that not right? Is that not how it should be?" There is great intimacy between men, between boys. It's complicated to think about sharing who you are with somebody else without questioning the walls society puts up in terms of how men relate.
TM: Friendship and brotherhood—that is special. Platonically, the two of them are soulmates. There is something very special around the two of them needing each other, the time that they need each other, and who they are to each other. And I think there's an importance to that driving the need for them to even reconnect, because those relationships are unique. They're once in a lifetime kind of friendships, friendships that can expand or move past relationships you could even have with your own brothers.
There's something that also stretches past race. It's a person meeting a person, it’s a conversation of two soulmates meeting each other and navigating all the societal constructs that they have to navigate to connect or reach a new future, or to reignite the hope that that can happen. Audiences might think that us not talking about race actively within the show means we're not aware of its presence or how the characters are navigating it. My hope is that there isn't a misconception that that is being dodged.
And what would you want audiences to know about your characters?
TM: Kwame is still growing into who he knows himself to be, but he's not ashamed of who he is. Because he grows up with the pressure of becoming something, he has to shake that off to become who he believes himself to be. We grow until we die. That's life. You plant the seed, you feed the seed, sometimes the birds might come on and start pecking at the plant, but it's a continuous thing. But the tree is always growing—it grows and grows and grows and grows and grows until it dies. We're continually growing. We're continuously learning. We're continuously navigating. And that is what Kwame is doing. And I hope that's what the audience sees. This is just a person who's trying, trying their best to walk into what they believe their destiny to be.
BC: We are all children, all the time. Even as we age, we are all ages. The child in us always exists. I think that's the thing Will's trying to connect with. I think that's the thing that he feels he's lost, that connection to his inner child, the inner essence of who he is which existed when he was with his friend Kwame. A misconception about Will is that his desire, his need to unpack the past to move forward, there is a part of that that is selfish. We all have that in us—a selfish need or selfish desire—in terms of where we think we're going, what we feel, or what we need to do. His desire is so strong that at times, things might come across in a way that crosses somebody's boundaries. I actually find it quite interesting that he wants and needs to do that, but part of it is selfish and part of it is for the betterment of their relationship and its possibilities. It's a difficult thing, but it's driven by a love between him and Kwame.
There is great intimacy between men, between boys. It's complicated to think about sharing who you are with somebody else without questioning the walls society puts up in terms of how men relate. – Brad Cook
Where do you hope the audience is left when they leave the theatre?
TM: There is a discomfort that the intimacy between Will and Kwame might cost the audience, especially when it's not defined. I don't think we give anything that extends the idea of an intimate friendship between the two. But I know it's easy for our minds to go there because we live in a society where intimacy between two men is interpreted a certain way. There is a part of me that goes, "Yeah, I do want them to be a bit uncomfortable to see how close these two men actually are." Let that be something that allows you to examine yourself.
BC: I hope audiences think about their friendships, their deep friendships, and hopefully they'll call somebody that really means something to them and meet those people again. Meet your friends that you grew up with, that maybe you've lost touch with, and have conversations with people that mean something to you, people that you've shared stuff with and that have had an impact on you. It's meaningful, powerful stuff.
Maanomaa, My Brother is onstage at the Berkeley Street Theatre from April 11-30, 2023.