Revisiting ‘da Kink’: Playwright Trey Anthony on theatre, hair and Black self-love

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Revisiting ‘da Kink’: Playwright Trey Anthony on theatre, hair and Black self-love

Trey Anthony knows a thing or two about hair.

So much so that she wrote a play about it. Set in a West Indian hair salon in Toronto, “’da Kink in My Hair” unpicks the lives of the women who find themselves in protagonist Novelette’s salon chair. There’s laughter, there’s music, there’s spirit — and yes, there’s hair.

Memories of childhood hair-braiding are beyond precious to Anthony, who is a screenwriter, director, producer and actor as well as an award-winning playwright. A longtime fan of the self-help genre, she has published a guide of her own titled “Black Girl in Love (With Herself).”

“I want to show women who remind me of myself, and my mother and my sister,” she said in an interview. “Layered Black women. It’s going back to the rituals I grew up with as a little girl sitting in between the legs of my grandmother or my mom getting my hair done, the conversations around me as a little girl.

“I think sometimes they forgot I was in the room,” she said. “I’d hear all these conversations: what hurt them, what they were trying to work out, things that made them laugh, things that reminded them of their Blackness, and their home and their culture.”

Anthony says that’s where her love of storytelling began, listening to “uncensored” conversations of Black women in safe spaces.

“Salons,” clarified Anthony. “Or in the kitchen while your mom’s doing your hair. Or in the bedroom between her legs while she does your hair while she watches ‘The Young and the Restless.’ That is my safe place: another Black woman doing my hair and having conversations with other women around me.”

Trey Anthony is an award-winning playwright, director, producer and author.

“’Da Kink in My Hair” has a longevity unlike many Canadian plays. The show celebrates its 20th anniversary this year in a co-production between TO Live and Soulpepper, and has toured several times since its first full production in 2003; Soulpepper artistic director Weyni Mengesha helmed both the 2003 and 2022 outings. Anthony also adapted the play into a television show in 2007.

“The staying power of the show is rooted in authenticity. And truth,” said Anthony. “Everyone wants to feel seen, heard, listened to, loved, accepted. And I think those things transcend race, class, gender, sexuality and time … the play’s bigger than I could ever imagine, because it’s left an imprint on people’s lives, minds and hearts.”

Having such an impact on audiences doesn’t come easily. Meaningful audience outreach, or getting the folks the show is written for to actually come out and see it, takes hard work and strategy. But Anthony says it can be done: theatres just have to listen.

“It can’t be a one-off,” she said. “It can’t be tokenism, the one Black play of the season … and I think a lot of young people feel that way. It’s the music that’s on when you walk into the theatre. There’s times when I’ve argued with presenting houses that I can’t have all white ushers at the doors. People say it’s not big deal. But I know it’s a big deal. How are people being greeted?”

Anthony’s time early in her career informs how she navigates audience outreach and experience now — for her, there’s no other choice.

“Years ago, people said I wasn’t doing theatre properly. Because I used to come out before the show and welcome people. And I would do that after the show, thank people, shake everybody’s hand … but that was deemed as unprofessional or breaking the fourth wall.

“But I have a connection with my audience. That’s what people know about me. My fan base come to be in community with me, they know I actually really love and value them. I don’t take anybody for granted who spends their money, especially in this day and age, because you could have chosen to stay in and watch Netflix in your house.

“There’s a big difference between when somebody actually wants you versus when you let someone tolerate you. And I think theatre heads can forget that.”

Canadian theatre still has growing to do, said Anthony, recalling unfortunate feedback she received while shopping her play “How Black Mothers Say I Love You” to theatres around Toronto.

“People said it was too niche, so I produced it myself and it sold out. Then Factory Theatre picked it up. But that’s because ‘’da Kink in My Hair’ shaped me to be bold with my storytelling. Be bold in my truth. Be bold in saying I know there’s other people who want to hear another story,” she said.

“And I’m going to tell it the way I want to tell it.”

“’Da Kink in My Hair” runs at the Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front St. E., from Dec. 6 to 23. See soulpepper.ca or call 416-866-8666 for tickets.

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