By Neil Armstrong
Pride Contributing Writer
Lisa Codrinton’s first play, Cast Iron, nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2006, focused on a Bajan immigrant woman who left Barbados for Winnipeg, Canada contending with the ghosts of her past.
Now, the playwright has a new play, Up the Garden Path, which tells the story of Rosa, an 18-year-old seamstress living in Barbados who finds herself homeless. In an attempt to find shelter and acceptance, she disguises herself as a man and travels to Canada to work in the Niagara Region.
This happens during the late 1960′s, shortly after Barbados has gained independence from Britain, and Canada begun opening its doors to migrant farm workers from the Caribbean.
Up the Garden Path is part of Obsidian Theatre Company’s Development Series and directed by its artistic director, Philip Akin. It features Abena Malika, Cara Ricketts, Araya Mengesha, Sochi Fried, Peter Bailey and Simon Bracken.
“I grew up with most of my family living in Barbados and some of them in England, but there was always a strong connection to that place. And also, a lot of the people I knew were from Barbados,” says Codrington, a first generation Canadian whose family emigrated from Barbados to Winnipeg, Manitoba, about Barbados being a reference point in her work.
She says when she started writing it was an experience that she called upon, because it was most interesting to her. Part of the reason that she writes, is to tell stories that are not often seen on the wider Toronto stage or at the forefront; Barbados and migrant farmworkers being among them.
“I was really curious about why people leave one country and come to another. Why would people leave Barbados and come to Canada? What was this place from which ninety percent of my family came? What was it like? I was very curious about that.”
Codrington has a BA in criminology from the University of Manitoba as well as a BFA Honours in acting from Ryerson University.
She lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake for a short time, and that is when she first became aware of the farmworkers from the Caribbean in the Niagara Region.
She has a cousin who worked as a farmworker in Nova Scotia so she was aware that Barbados has a partnership with Canada, but it was not until she lived in the Niagara-on-the-Lake, that she realized how many people were involved.
“When I initially started writing the play, the character who came to Canada from Barbados was a man, he was a young man. And, I started writing the play with that character of mine to come, and the play just didn’t work. There was something about that character that didn’t want to go to Canada. He just didn’t want to be the protagonist of the story,” says Codrington.
This man has a sister and as soon as the playwright figured out that something happened to the brother and he couldn’t go, in a scramble, the family cuts off the sister’s hair and dresses her in her brother’s clothes, sends her in his place – the play worked. It was just finding the right protagonist for the play.”
It was interesting for Codrington, because she imagined what it would be like for this young woman, to be forced to go and try to make money to take care of her family. Rosa’s true identity is uncovered at some point during her work on the farm.
“The play is a comedy, so it gets uncovered, is my hope, in a way that is quite humorous and then the struggle then is how you continue working in light of that.”
It is in its final stages of development and people will have an opportunity to see the play on Saturday, April 4, 2pm at the Dancemaker’s Studio 314 in the Distillery District.
“One of the reasons it’s really important for me to have an audience come and see the play, is because it is getting to the end stages, and this is the time where you want to see if it all holds together. To have the opportunity to have an audience and, as a playwright, sit in the audience and watch an audience and see how they follow the play and how they react to it. That would be a really good indication to see how far I am away from truly finishing it,” she says.
A trained actor, she has appeared in many productions on stage but she enjoys writing too. She has performed on stages in Canada, Colombia and England. Recent theatre credits include Small Axe (Project Humanity & The Theatre Centre); The Aftermath (The New Groundswell Festival, FemFest); and three seasons at the Shaw Festival.
“I had initially started writing so that I would have things to perform in, but that’s no longer the case, so I do prefer if I’m writing something to sit outside of it and be able to watch. While I do still act, writing is something that I’m starting to enjoy more and more.”
Codrington hopes that the play will be a lot of fun for the audience “but within that comedy there is also a lot of truth and hopefully we can get them with the comedy and then they’ll stay for the truth.”
Based in Toronto, Codrington is also a librettist who is a co-recipient of the K.M Hunter Artist Award.
Currently, Codrington is developing a stage adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s The Black Girl In Search of God at the Shaw Festival and working on an opera adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal with composer Kevin Morse.