Research hits the stage as a new play

(Edmonton) Jennifer Kelly’s research project on Caribbean immigrants in Alberta is all but complete. It has been written and peer reviewed.

But, Kelly’s work is not being published. It’s being perfomed as a play.

Kelly, chair of the Faculty of Education’s Department of Educational Policy Studies, used a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s dissemination grant entitled “History Community Identity” to develop her findings into the play, West Indian Diary. Choosing a play as a way to disseminate research is, she says, a very public and deliberate move on her part since it connects with a very broad audience.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to get the research translated for a much wider, larger audience,” said Kelly. “But, I’m also a bit nervous in thinking about what expectations people bring to such a play and that hopefully, they’ll find some connection to their own experiences or life.”

Diary of Caribbean life on the Prairies

The play focuses on the experiences of the 1960s wave of Caribbean immigrants and how and why they developed a community with others from countries in the Caribbean, as well as establishing relationships with the early Black pioneers who came to Canada during the early 1900s.

Kelly says that the play illustrates two streams of community developed around social activities: dances and cricket matches.

“Pat (Darbaisie, the playwright), picked up those two themes around forming community,” she said. “Those are two things that really emerge in the play. The cricket team and the dance provide venues for exploring community, identity and experiences.”

Community involvement important to play development

Kelly says that there were many community partners involved in the development of the script who not only supported its evolution, but also provided feedback and insight during its development. Over a number of readings and presentations to community members, the voices and the themes of the play—and the people it represented—emerged. Through the play, Kelly’s hope is that the play will spawn a space for dialogue within the community and among the audience members.

“The play in itself, in its performance, acts as a catalyst for conversation, dialogue and learning,” said Kelly. “That experience of the dinner theatre and the initial readings indicated to me that the play could, in fact, be useful in the future as a site for discussing community and identity and some of the tensions within community as well.”

Distinct and Different Images

Kelly says that theatregoers may be challenged in their beliefs or notions about the Caribbean community, noting that while the common notion is that immigrants from the Caribbean are always “destitute or lack in some way,” she says that many of those who came in the 1950s and ‘60s were teachers who plied their trade, often in remote or isolated areas of the province. She says that the assumption of homogeneity amongst Caribbean peoples is also somewhat misleading.

“We are fragmented in terms of class, gender and racialized origins,” she said. “People from Barbados, Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad and Tobago—they’re part of that Caribbean basin, but they also have differences.”

West Indian Diary is being performed March 24-26 at the Stanley Milner Library Theatre.