I have been thinking about AVO Collective’s 11:11 for the last couple of days. I have been thinking about the openness and fearlessness that Samson Bonkeabantu Brown demonstrates in both his writing and performance as part of Why Not Theatre’s 2019 RISER Project at the Theatre Centre. I have been thinking about how d’bi.young anitafrika deftly and tenderly directs this piece with her staging and I have been trying to find the words to articulate what I experienced. As of yet, I have been unable to find the right words. I just keep going over how this show is the perfect example of what it looks like when an actor is totally and utterly vulnerable.
Brown shows the audience every part of himself, every strand of his DNA, every moment of his journey to embracing his identity as a transman. He doesn’t just show his side of the story. He also portrays his mother, his father, his grandfather, and the sangoma he visits in South Africa. Each of these characters is a part of Brown’s identity. Their history, their stories shape the journey that he is on. Brown demonstrates his mastery of acting as he moves seamlessly through the characters, playing each character with specificity, having each feel unique and different. There were a few times during the show, where Brown received prompts from a reader and at first, this drew me out of the action. However, when it happened a few more times later in the show, I began to see it as an outside reminder to the character he was playing to talk to the audience about what was going on in their head.
The set that Anitafrika and Brown created brings about some of the most powerful moments of the show. At the start there are stones in five piles, placed around Brown’s body, as well as stones going around the outskirts of the stage. Once the show gets underway, Brown begins to place these stones around the space as he talks to the audience. The placement of the stones seemingly happens at random. Each character that Brown plays handles the stones differently; some deal with a certain pile or area, some hold them lightly and place them down quickly, while others are more precise with where they place their stones. It was the set and the movement of stones that brought everything together for me. I found it grounded the characters, allowing them to always be active.
In Brown’s playwrighting notes in the program, the line, “11:11 is ours and we are each 11:11” stood out to me. 11:11 is an awakening ritual. The audience begins separate from Brown but as the play continues, we become one. Through his characters Brown is talking to himself, and he addresses the audience as if we were him. In doing this, Brown gives the audience a piece of himself, enabling them to feel what he feels, and allowing them to take part in this ritual, this journey with him.
I will be thinking about 11:11 for a long time. There is so much packed within this show that I haven’t even started to comprehend. I am still trying to find the words to articulate what I experienced. All I can say is thank you for your openness, vulnerability and your art, Samson Bonkeabantu Brown. You are a giant.