Enjoying a career and getting paid for it


A Raisin in the Sun was one of the first books Abena Malika read in elementary school.

While strolling by a classroom at York University nearly a decade ago, she was attracted to some students rehearsing for a skit that just happened to be the Lorraine Hansberry play that debuted on Broadway in 1959.

The students were members of the university’s African Drama Club, and they accepted Malika into their fold once she declared a strong interest in being associated with the production.

Two years ago, Malika played Ruth Younger in the Weyni Mengesha-directed production of the award-winning play that received rave reviews. A Raisin in the Sun returns for a second run from October 15 to November 13 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

“I feel like if I have come full circle,” the talented actress, who garnered a 2009 Dora nomination for playing the patient, loving and longsuffering wife, told Share this week. “I started out doing the play for nothing and now I am being paid – not just once but on two different occasions in my homeland – to perform it and I am enjoying every moment.”

A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a Black woman (Hansberry) to be produced on Broadway. It was also the first play with a Black director (Lloyd Richards).

“This is more than just another play,” said Malika. “This production is steeped in so much history. Hansberry was a visionary, feminist, political activist and an advocate for social justice which are things I can relate to.”

Hansberry, who attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Malika, who was enrolled in York University’s Political Science program, also have something else in common. They both found university to be uninspiring and left early to pursue their passion for the arts.

Malika is currently playing Susi in David French’s comedic backstage drama, Jitters, which has been extended by a week to July 31.

Her other theatrical credits include Mamma Mia, Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, Da Kink in My Hair, Steal Away Home  and George Boyd’s play, Consecrated Ground.

She pays tribute to her parents, Hugh and Nina McDonald, for providing a platform for her and her brother, Stokely McDonald, a music producer, to exploit their artistic talent.

Malika is also involved in Soulpepper’s schools program that encourages young student to make connections between music, literature, the performing arts and their own lives.

It also helps to enrich their vocabulary and extend their means of expression, expose them to Shakespeare’s stories and language and enable them to experience, learn and practice drama techniques.

Malika is working this summer with a group of students at Kane Senior Public School.

“This is the first time that I have been involved in the program and it has been quite enriching for me,” said the Vaughan Road Collegiate graduate.

“The initiative gives young people an opportunity to improve their confidence and self-esteem and get used to performing in front of an audience. It’s quite rewarding to watch them blossom.

“At first, they are fearful of speaking and they seldom make eye contact. That all has changed as their comfort level increases and they are eager to make contributions and show off their talent.”

Earlier this year, Malika graduated from the first ever Canadian Film Centre Actors Conservatory that offers actors a very unique transformative professional on-screen experience. The first class was comprised of eight participants. 

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