Getting personal and profound with Once: Africville Stories

David Woods celebrates a community that won’t be forgotten.

“I wanted to tell the human stories in this close-knit community.” - KRISTA COMEAU
“I wanted to tell the human stories in this close-knit community.”

Sat September 12, noon and 7:10pm Sun September 13, 8pm Museum of Natural History 1747 Summer Street

In 1984, David Woods was given a precious gift.

While creating an exhibition for the first Black History Month at the Halifax North Branch Library, Woods struck up a friendship with a group of African Nova Scotian women who had lived in Africville in the '60s, when local government expropriated the land and relocated its population. The women shared their stories with Woods.

Woods is a multi-disciplinary artist and performer. He says he felt as if somehow important memories of hardships, triumphs and everyday living had been "transferred" to him, and as the women passed on, he sought a way share the stories and pay tribute to these elders of Africville.

The result is Once: Africville Stories.

"The structure of this piece has changed and developed over the years," says Woods, explaining that it started out as a series of poems and was later transitioned into a CBC radio drama. From there, it became an award-winning show that includes drama, storytelling, poetry, contemporary dance and music.

Woods says he felt that the play was a way to look beyond the politics of the razing of Africville, and a way to celebrate the culture and creativity of the community. "I wanted to tell the human stories in this small close-knit community that was fighting for its physical survival. When you look at it one way, it was an attempt to erase the history of the people there and to devalue what they stood for. But people didn't let that happen."

The cast of Once includes singers, dancers and musicians who are part of Voices Black Theatre Ensemble, a performance company founded by Woods to showcase drama about the African Canadian experience. As well as directing the play, Woods is playing the role of the voice of the older males of Africville, though not by choice. "I didn't want to because I've already got a lot on plate," he says. "Putting a show into he Fringe is a bit of a whirlwind. But we needed another actor."

Still, Woods feels braving the whirlwind will be worth it to "celebrate these precious, human stories."

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