Mumbi Tindyebwa

Self Isolated Artist

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Joe Szekeres

Obsidian Theatre’s new Artistic Director, Mumbi Tindyebwa, has a great deal on her plate right now, but I am extremely grateful that she took a few minutes from her busy schedule both for Obsidian and her family life to be interviewed for this series.

OnStage Blog has had the opportunity to review four of Mumbi’s outstanding productions: ‘Trout Stanley’, ‘The Brothers Size’, ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ and ‘Oraltorio: A Theatrical Mixtape’. These were fascinating stories with outstanding performers.

Congratulations and many blessings to you, Mumbi, from all at OnStage Blog in your new role as Artistic Director.

We conducted our interview via email:

It has been the almost three-month mark since we’ve all been in isolation. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during this time?

It’s been a wild time. We have two little ones at home, so a large part of my focus has been on them and trying to keep them engaged plus homeschooling. My husband’s work was deemed essential from the beginning of the lockdown, so I have taken on most of the childcare and household work. On the bright side, it has been super sweet and special to have this uninterrupted time with my children.

When Ahmaud Arbery was killed, then Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet, the isolation changed from a somewhat reflective time into a time of deep re-traumatization. It’s been a triggering time for my family. My husband and I are raising a Black son and a Black daughter, so the layers of navigating the continued racism towards Black people at this particular time has been heavy.

As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?

Throughout the last three months, I have been having meetings with the staff at Obsidian in preparation for starting my role as Artistic Director. I have missed being able to meet in person and getting to know each other in this new capacity face to face, but we have all adjusted and gotten used to the Zoom world.
It’s also been extremely difficult to talk about the future when things are so uncertain, even more as an incoming Artistic Director trying to learn the workings of an organization. I am at a place now when I have begun to embrace the uncertainty and have a sense of acceptance of the moment we are in.

Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon?

When everything shut down I had just opened a student production of We are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 by Jackie Sibbles Drury at University of Toronto Scarborugh Campus. We were super lucky that we managed to have three public performances before the run was cut short.

I was also set to direct Sizwe Bansi is Dead by Athol Fugard at Soulpepper in the spring and had just started to dive deep into preparations for the show before we learned that it would be cancelled. I had another project that was scheduled to open in September that has also recently been cancelled. There is no guarantee of either of these two projects seeing the light of day at this point.

What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?

Children! I don’t think parents have an issue with being bored during this time. Besides being busy with the kids and all the household stuff — I feel like I am constantly cooking —I have also started paying attention to my health in a way that I hadn’t before the pandemic. It’s definitely been a real opportunity to zero in on some other areas of my life that needed some extra love.

I have also been actively preparing for my role at Obsidian which has included reading plays thinking about programming future projects. I have also been in many meetings with my colleagues in the industry, especially fellow artistic directors to discuss the time we are in and the unique challenges our organizations are facing.

Any words of wisdom or advice you might /could give to fellow performers and colleagues? What message would you deliver to recent theatre school graduates who have now been set free into this unknown and uncertainty given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years?

Go with the flow. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself.

Read plays, read novels, listen to music. There are also a lot of masterclasses being offered online if you want to advance your skills.

I also think it’s good to avoid too much time on social media. Connect with nature if you can.

Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID 19?

Dismantling of structures of white supremacy. That would be something.

Do you think COVID 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene?

I keep longing to return to normal in terms of theatre as I know it. My husband works in tech and he said to me the other day when I was talking about us doing work for digital platforms that theatre is the antidote to technology, so basically, why should theatre artists rush to produce work for digital platforms?
I thought about it and I have been thinking about it and I do believe in my core that the purity of the live theatre performance exchange and the human longing for that will not be changed because of COVID.

What I hope for is that the stories that we tell will change; that our audiences will change; that the way we make theatre will change; and who is making theatre will also change. And maybe there will be some hybrid performance practices that emerge from the digital experimentation we do now that we will all benefit from as an industry.

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