West Indian Diary

West Indian Diary is a play about the trials that newly arrived West Indians had adjusting to a new culture. The play takes place from 1969 to 1972 and centres around the dances and cricket team that the community created in an attempt to make a home away from home. The characters talk frankly about how sometimes their efforts create more troubles than comforts.

How was the show developed?

Three years ago, Pat Darbasie, a long time collaborating artist with GZP, received funding from Edmonton’s Cultural Capital program to work on a new play about the story of Caribbean immigrants who came to the city in the 1950s and 60s. GZP has now taken up development of the play. During Black History month in 2008 there was a reading of scenes from the play at the Milner Library. The discussion that followed the reading was important – it sparked a frank dialogue between the Black pioneers and members of the later wave of immigrants about the divisions in the community, some said for the first time. This inspired Dr. Jennifer Kelly and others to see the production of the play as a way continue that dialogue and open it out to newcomers in the Black community, to learn from the lessons of the past.

Last November, Pat and Don Bouzek met up with dramaturge Michael Aduwali from Quebec City at Factory Theatre Lab in Toronto do a script development workshop. Because the show needs a full company of Black performers with knowledge of the Caribbean experience and speech patterns, we worked with Philip Akin of Obsidian Theatre to cast the workshop. Based on a reading the final Saturday for a small invited group, we feel there is definite potential in the play. This script was read to the Edmonton community at the Milner Library on August 23.

Jennifer Kelly has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council to create a community process for dialogue between the two older Black communities and more recent Black immigrants. Integral to that process were presentations of West Indian Diary in Edmonton from March 23 - 26, 2011 at the Stanley A. Miler Library.

What people have said about the show:

“A great representation of the history in our community that came in the 60s. I saw so many reflections of the people I know and concepts I hold dear myself. I was really pleased with how it was represented on stage because there were some trends that I think are important in establishing our community here. I think the script really brought out the values we have and who we are a people. I’m really pleased. I wish we could go on with it a bit longer. I think it’s creating a new community of awareness. I think people are really pleased to see themselves in that kind of format. It’s a living monument to who we are in our community in Edmonton.” -Donna Coombs-Montrose, Cari-West

“I really enjoyed it. It was very well done. From a Canadian’s perspective, I think it’s a good portrayal of the people who came. As a black Canadian, I related to a lot of things that were said and talked about. The accents and everything were very well done. Listening to them talk about what you don’t think about - the experiences they had. Even thought there was a lot of humor, the loneliness, the barriers. Racism wasn’t something they had to deal with in their country, then they come here and they have to deal with it. It gave me a better understanding of the barriers they had coming, it wasn’t language. Some of that is still true to this day. It’s cold in the winter, you can’t go outside. For educating the general public, this is an excellent way to do it.” -Debbie Beaver, Black Settlers of Alberta & Saskatchewan

“I thought it was a fantastic job. The first night was also great. The play provided a great range of emotions and a bit history. I didn’t realize that it was Mill Woods they were talking about, where they were building this community in a new area in Edmonton, off the grid. The Trinidadian fellow was excellent, right on. He did his part well. I love the character Henry and the shout out to the cricket players. The people on the side lines really would shout out, that was ingenious. Really good directing. In general, I was really happy to be involved in any small way with this project. I loved the script. There were some really poignant things that were said. For example when she said I want to be part of something smaller. So often we way we talk about wanting to be part of something bigger, but she wanted her family. I loved that part where Ellen yelled out “Godfrey”, it was very touching.” -Pearl Bennett, Cari-West

“I thought it was an excellent production. I thought it was representative of some of the experiences that many of us, coming from the Caribbean, have experienced since we’ve been here. In a lot of ways, even thought we’re far removed from the time period that the play was based around, we have similar experiences today. Lots of the experiences they spoke about, I have been in similar situations. There’s a real connection.” -Anonymous