The Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men recently hosted a two-part event as part of their spring lecture series, Gender, Isolation and Imprisonment. The play, “Letters from the Dead: A Vigil for Roxie, ” was performed by Carol Lawes at the Headless Sullivan Theater. The following morning, a roundtable discussion, “Performing Interventions in Memory and Urban Violence” took place with one of the author’s of the play, Honor Ford-Smith. Both the discussion and the performance centered on the issues surrounding urban violence in Jamaica and the rest of the world.
The one-woman performance of “Letters from the Dead” is a passionate retelling of the events surrounding the death of a young Jamaican man during Toronto’s Caribbean diasporas. The play, authored by Lawes, Eugene Williams, Amba Chevannes and Ford-Smith, is meant to utilize performance as a vehicle to spread the view that ethical human relationships across differences should not be based on hierarchies or violence.
The inspiration for the play “…has many origins personally and politically”, explained Ford-Smith during the roundtable discussion. She, along with the other playwrights, experienced firsthand the violence that took place between 1976 and 1981 in the wake of the revolution and war in Jamaica. They each lost friends and family members to the waves of urban violence that plagued the country and such tragedy, she explained, served as motivation for the creation of “Letters from the Dead.”
Ford-Smith further elaborated on the origins of the play, while also explaining the history surrounding urban violence. She spoke of how urban violence is a worldwide issue and is perpetrated through present day imperialism, “This violence that we take as normal is actually something that has come into being through a highly scripted performance of power relations,” she explained.
She intends for progressive theater productions such as “Letters from the Dead” to serve as a way to inspire dialogue across nations about the issues surrounding the relationship between imperialism and urban violence. Memory and mourning creates dialogue, Ford-Smith explained, adding that by sharing the stories behind the losses suffered at the hands of urban violence, we will be able to see violence as a vehicle for envisioning a possible way to change the future.