It is said that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it — by looking back at the racial discrimination that stains Canada’s history, we can ensure that similar mistakes are not made today. To help us look back, the University of Calgary’s Stop Racism Committee will present the play The Real McCoy, which will be performed by the local Afrocentric performance society Ellipsis Tree Collective in the Gallery Hall of the Taylor Family Digital Library on September 24.
Written by Canadian playwright Andrew Moodie, The Real McCoy tells the true story of Elijah McCoy, a black Canadian-American inventor who was discriminated against because of his race. The play chronicles McCoy’s life, the difficulties he faced and how he developed his many patents.
The Stop Racism Committee, which helped bring the play to the U of C, is a group of volunteers composed of students, staff and faculty with a common interest in actively addressing racism and discrimination in our society. The committee hosts a number of other events throughout the year, such as poetry slams and film screenings.
“Our goal is to raise awareness of discrimination and engage people in a way that they can think about how far we have come and how far we need to go still in terms of having a racism-free and discrimination-free society,” says Shirley Voyna Wilson, co-chair of the Stop Racism Committee.
The Stop Racism Committee plays a major role on campus, meeting with people from the university and working together to reach their goal of creating an inclusive environment for U of C students.
“We meet on a monthly basis,” says Wilson. “We have students, staff and faculty from on campus, and we also connect with people from the community.”
When the Ellipsis Tree Collective and the Stop Racism Committee began working together, it was clear that The Real McCoy was in tune with both parties’ intentions.
“We’re the hosts here on campus,” Wilson says, describing their part in the performance. “We’re providing administrative support and finding sponsors for the event.”
The U of C provided the Stop Racism Committee the space in the TFDL for the performance.
“In terms of being an accessible and comfortable space, we liked it,” explains Pamela Dos Ramos, also a co-chair of the Stop Racism Committee. “We’ve used the TFDL before for our reading in February for Black History Month. We were given the Gallery Hall space, and it turned out to be quite comfortable.”
While the Stop Racism Committee act as the host for The Real McCoy, the Ellipsis Tree Collective will perform the piece. The Collective describes themselves as a group “presenting rich, dynamic and compelling stories that echo Calgary’s culturally-diverse demographic.”
Along with serving as the group’s artistic director, Janelle Cooper also acts, directs and writes for the Collective. Cooper is passionate about exploring the experiences of the black population in her work and has taken part in many different productions. Through The Real McCoy, she hopes to help contribute to the growth of the black theatre community in Calgary.
“I am very excited about having the opportunity to produce this piece,” says Cooper. “This is giving great opportunities to black talent in Calgary and Alberta.”
The Ellipsis Tree Collective believes that The Real McCoy represents what they stand for in a very important way.
“A huge part of our mandate is telling stories that don’t make it in to mainstream media,” says Cooper. “Our performance speaks so loudly and so clearly, yet it is only beginning to scratch the surface.”
Specifically, The Real McCoy spoke to Cooper and the rest of the Collective as a piece that needed to be told for its tragedy.
“It’s an important part of Canadian black history people don’t know about,” says Cooper, “with roots that are so deep and so tragic.”
In the end, it’s not just the performance itself that is so important to both the Ellipsis Tree Collective and the Stop Racism Committee — it’s the lasting impression that the play will leave behind.
“I hope this can help start some very necessary dialogue about who we are as a nation,” explains Cooper.
“It’s a reminder that we’ve still got some work to do about these things. People are unaware of the accomplishments of the black population,” says Wilson.