Joan Kivanda

I identify myself as an East African artist, and many identify me as such – marked by my accent on stage, my impeccable sense of rhythm, my communal collaboration tendencies, the work that I share and stories that I write, all of which are influences of my cultural background. In my career I am often portrayed as an expert in the field of East African theatre even though I have little understanding of it. I hold a degree in Theatre studies from the University of Guelph. At Guelph, my English studies included poetry, creative fiction: focusing on short stories, screenwriting and playwriting, as well as generalized English studies. My theatre studies included directing, performing, theatre for young audience, westernized theatre history, theatre costume and lighting design, technical theatre, theatre criticism, and other topics and techniques of modern theatre practices. I worked with artists and professors such as Sky Gilbert, Kim Renders, Judith Thompson, Paul Muholand, Steven Bush, Alan Filewod, Ric Knowles, Thomas King, and others. I came from The University of Guelph with a deep understanding of the theatrical art, touching on theoretical, practical and the business side of the performing arts in Canada. As soon as I left Guelph, I joined a three years experiential training program focusing on ensemble work with the b current’s rAiz’n the sun ensemble. The rAiz’n ensemble is a group of emerging black women artists working together to explore performance arts and their environment; covering areas such as, West African dance, singing, voices work, movement work, creations, collective creation, street performance to name a few. Professionally, I have written two produced plays about East African characters and stories. I have published a selection of poems in variety of anthologies in UK and US. Accrediting all my trainings, education and professional experiences, I feel that I have a solid base for my artistic grounding in theatre and I am excited to dive into this research for an opportunity to link my artistic skills with my cultural heritage. After all, as Henry Glassie puts it, “art is an individual’s expression of a culture” (qtd. in Maxabout Quotes), and I am simply trying to express my culture through art.

Most of my professional theatre experiences has focused on Black art and culture, exploring issues and topics concerning Diasporic African artists and their communities. Starting with an introduction to the AfriCanadian Playwright Festival in 2002, I have continued to study, challenge and explore Diasporic African art and culture. I spent two years (2008-2009) at b current performing arts corp; one of a few main black theatre companies in Toronto as an artistic director intern. It was here that the need to study East African theatre was aroused in me. In my two years at b current, I worked and interacted with the majority of the Toronto Black artists community and as Jane Musoke-Nteyafas writes in an on-line article, “with the exception of people like Namugenyi Kiwanuka, K’naan, Zaki Ibrahim, Weyni Mengesha, and upcoming Joan M Kivanda, not too many continental African Canadians are represented”, in the Canadian entertainment industry.  However, in my circle of arts education, there seems to be an increase of young East African artists who are looking for guidance in telling their stories and I am hoping that I can offer that guidance and be the mentor to encourage and foster a vibrant East African theatre community in Toronto. Through this barrier-bridging research, I hope to artistically and academically grasp the Eastern African Theatre Performing aesthetic and integrate its uniqueness into my artwork in a hope of introducing my cultural ideology more concretely into the western theatre. If I don’t document this work now, who will? One of my favorite poet, Langston Hughes, once said: “… someday, somebody’ll/ stand up and talk about me/ and write about me…I reckon it’ll be/me myself!/Yes, it’ll be me” and this is my time.