February 7, 2015
PREVIEW: The Story of the Underground Railroad @ The Registry Theatre
In celebration of Black History Month, The Story of the Underground Railroad, performed by Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley, presented in partnership with Our World Festival of Music is coming to The Registry Theatre. Educators, musicians, and storytellers, Braithwaite and Whiteley are telling the story of escaped slaves who settled in Wellington county. The award winning blues artists have spent eight years performing an adapted version of the show for students, using their passion for music to show audiences of many ages how the underground railroad, and the black community, have strong ties to Canadian history.
I had a chance to chat with Lawrence McNaught, the director of programming at The Registry Theatre. We talked about the show’s regional relevance, and the artists themselves.
The Story of the Underground Railroad, with special guests, pianist Tim Louis and emerging singer Lainey will be presented at:
The Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick Street, Kitchener.
Thursday, February 12th, 8pm. Tickets are $20.
Now, onto my chat with Lawrence McNaught.
For residents of Kitchener-Waterloo, what’s the local interest of this show? How does the history, and how do the performers resonate with this region?
We have the pleasure of living in one of the most culturally diverse areas in the country. There are a number of black communities in the Waterloo Region, from many African countries, and a large population from the Caribbean. Some communities in Ontario have roots tracing back to the escaped slaves who crossed the border from America. This story follows The Underground Railroad to terminus in Canada. Diana Braithwaite is a direct descendent of slaves who escaped to Wellington County, and so she has a deep connection to the story.
February has been identified as a time to celebrate black heritage in Canada, and we’re excited to be part of that.
What makes this a unique entertainment experience? What about a unique educational experience?
Diana and Chris are partners in music and in life. They developed this performance as a way of sharing with Canadians a little known piece of their own history. They knew that it was an exciting, fascinating story that could be told in word and song, and that it was important to share such a rich part of Canadian heritage. They are recipients of multiple Maple Blues awards, their skill and passion makes for a truly engaging show.
They actually developed the show in two ways. One as a public performance, which we will see at the Registry, and the other to take to schools to give young Canadians a sense of their own history and how the black community fits into it.
The Registry Theatre is known for presenting some of the best musical talent in the region, how do these artists stack up?
The Registry’s mandate is to foster and develop local artists, but also bring in the best that CANADA has to offer, in order to provide local audiences with chances to experience performances they might not otherwise be able to see. This isn’t just a good local show, these artists are nationally renowned.
Both artists are quite well known as performers at the Kitchener Blues Festival, most recently in 2014. The Registry has partnered with Our World Festival of Music, a local charitable organization that presents culturally diverse music, in order to present these artists, and bring this story to the Waterloo region.
You’re a passionate programmer of The Registry’s many music series. What excites you about presenting these artists?
It’s an opportunity to bring this fascinating and not well known story to the local community, with two of the best blues performers in the country. So we feel very privileged to be able to programme them during Black History Month.
The opening act will be local jazz pianist Tim Louis, alongside local emerging singer Lainey. She’ll be singing songs made famous by the great ladies of jazz, many of whom were black artists. We wanted to present these two as openers, as part of our mandate to foster the growth of local and emerging artists.
Thank you for the talk, Lawrence. I know I’m going to be at the show!
Ben Steele, blog editor.
Pictured: Diana Braithwaite & Chris Whiteley, photo credit, http://www.braithwaiteandwhiteley.com/