By Samson Bonkeabantu Brown
- Online from Oct. 13-17
- A Theatre Passe Muraille digital production
- Tickets $10-$35 at www.pte.mb.ca/performances/1111
Ways to support us
Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
In early 2019, Samson Bonkeabantu Brown was actually preparing to launch his play 11:11, detailing among other things his personal journey through gender transition, as part of the Riser Project at Toronto’s Theatre Centre. In the middle of that prep, he took on a different assignment that would give him unexpected fame beyond the stage.
Brown, a trans man, signed on to do a short film for Gillette which sees the actor/playwright shaving for the first time under his own father’s watchful eye.
In a phone interview from Kitchener, Ont., where he is currently stage managing a project, Brown says he didn’t expect the film to get a lot of attention.
But millions of views later, Brown was amazed to find himself as the star in a significant cultural moment.
"Originally, when I was talking to Gillette about launching the ad, they said it was just going to go on our social media platform. They said, ‘It’s not an ad on TV, it’s going on social media.’
"I thought: That’s cool. I felt it would be kind of private because it’s not going around the whole world. If you happen to catch it if you’re following Gillette’s Instagram or Facebook you’ll see it. I was fine with that.
"But then it came out and it did what it did," he says of the small media storm surrounding the ad, which he admits was initially a concern.
"I freaked out," he says. "At the time, I was wrapping up one show, I’m getting ready to open the first iteration of 11:11. So I did not expect it, not thinking the ad would have influenced anything at all.
"And then, lo and behold, it did what it did and I’m getting inundated with emails and calls and interview requests and I just wanted to focus on my show. So I just had to redirect my focus."
Brown’s laissez-faire attitude reflects a certain attitude at work in the play itself: Some things are just meant to be. Brown believes in destiny.
It didn’t start that way.
"To be completely honest, I never wanted to create this show," he says.
"Culturally, not just for Black people, but a lot of people whose parents are from varying cultures, I (grew up) with a belief that we’re not supposed to air our dirty laundry, if you will.
"So how do you honour that family belief? And what exactly is ‘dirty laundry?’
"I was struggling to figure that out, what I can share and what I cannot share?" he says. "I didn’t want to write a story about my life. I wasn’t ready.
"But when your ancestors need something to be done, because there is a plan for your life, then it becomes hard to engage with your ancestors. You need to be willing to work with your ancestors, and you can’t say no when they ask you to do something."
The play then is also a deep dive into that ancestral obligation.
"The reality is that each and every single one of us, we are the product of our ancestors and generations of ancestors past," he says. "So how exactly is it that we can exist without being affected by the actions of our ancestors? It’s literally impossible.
"That’s how energy works. It’s almost like a residue over your life. So you need to cleanse whatever went wrong in the past because it will affect you," he says. "This is why people are experiencing generational trauma and sometimes you’re triggered by things when you don’t even know why you’re scared of things.
"Often the reason why you can’t remember is it’s not your own memory," Brown says. "It’s your ancestors reminding you that there is something about this that you need to be concerned about, because it was something that they were concerned about.
"So with this show, it’s very much about my African ancestry, but it is also about my Portuguese ancestry," he says. "Why is it I am trans? Because that was also something that I was trying to figure out. Why now? At this particular time? Who exactly am I? Am I a reincarnation of somebody?
"Trying to figure that out is kind of how this show came about."
And whether or not you choose to buy a ticket via Prairie Theatre Exchange’s digital portal is just another matter of whether it was meant to be, Brown says philosophically.
"If you purchase a ticket to watch the show, it is not by accident," he says. "Your ancestors want you to see the show. There’s something in the show and in the message of the show that it’s for you.
"And if you open up your mind in your heart when you come to watch the show, you will receive the message you were supposed to receive."
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.
By Samson Bonkeabantu Brown
Updated on Friday, October 8, 2021 at 6:50 AM CDT: Adds photos
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.