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Transforming Canadian Theatre

By Cheryl Hazell

Gone are the days when Anglo-Saxon Canadians singularly penned African-Canadian plays. One celebrated, intellectual, and uncompromising playwright, director, and actor who has put her stamp on today’s Canadian theatre is Djanet Sears. From the start of her professional artistic foray in the late 1980s with Nightwood Theatre Group to her inclusion in the rank and file of the predominantly white-bread arts scene which brought her phenomenal success in Stratford with the recent staging of Harlem Duet, a prelude to Shakespeare’s Othello, Sears continues to evolve in her art.

Djanet who was born Janet Sears in London, England in the late 1950s of Jamaican-Guyanese parentage, moved with her family to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan when she was 14 years old. A year later her family moved to Oakville, Ontario. Janet later attended York University in Toronto where she received an Honours Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre.
When asked about the origin of her name, she recalls a personal transformation on a trip to Western Africa when she came across a plateau area called Djanet. A new name was born and the inspiration to embrace her African ancestry came with it. A closer look at her plays reveals that her writing revolves around the process of understanding and exploring one’s own African heritage and one’s own Westerness.

Sears is a member of many organizations and professional associations and was a founding member of and is the artistic and organizational advisor for Obsidian Theatre which produces works by Canadian-based authors of African descent. This playwright, who brings real meaning to her creations and tackles hard issues that concern her, is best known for her use of unique theatrical techniques.

Djanet is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto and is the artistic director of the Africanadian Playwright’s Festival. Among the myriad of awards and nominations over the years, she was the recipient of the Governor General’s Literary Award in 1998 for Harlem Duet and won the Canadian Screenwriting Award: Best Radio Play in 2005 for The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God.



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