With the exhilaration and euphoria still flowing after appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show last Monday, a buoyant and rejuvenated Trey Anthony is back in Toronto preparing to retread the highly successful award-winning play, “Da Kink in My Hair.”
Anthony and her best friend Rachael Lea-Rickards were on the highest-rated talk show in American history which is in its 24th and final season.
Often referred to as “The Oprah of Canadian Theatre”, Anthony said that meeting her childhood idol was the highlight of her career.
“I used to rush home from middle school to watch the show,” said Anthony, the first Black Canadian woman to write and produce a TV show on a major prime time Canadian network. “I love Oprah and to be able to be on her show in the final season is something I will always cherish. I feel so lucky.
“They were doing this show on “Best Friends” a few months ago and Oprah was talking about her relationship with Gayle (King) who she has known for more than 25 years. Oprah asked the audience to write in telling her about similar relationships. I had been trying to get on the show for almost 20 years and I decided to take up her request.”
Anthony and Rickards, who met at Notre Dame Secondary School in Brampton, have been close friends for nearly two decades.
“I wrote this lovely letter saying why we have been best friends for so long and I was thrilled when the producers wrote me back saying we were invited to the April 11 taping and that we should be prepared to talk on the show. I almost went through the roof when I got that letter. It was like a dream come true.”
Back in her hometown for a few weeks after moving to Atlanta last December, Anthony is reworking “Da Kink in My Hair” which made its first full-length dramatic debut at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2001. Anthony produced the play that boasted the highest ticket sales at the Fringe Festival that year and was nominated for four Toronto Theatre Dora awards.
The play, which also won four NAACP Theatre awards, ran for a week last October at New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts.
“That one week show in New York was what really set the wheels in motion for me,” said Anthony. “I observed the effect the play still has on people and the fact that it’s still relevant and audiences want to see it. For us who have worked on the production 10 years ago, we will now be passing on the torch to a new generation of women.
“When we started out on this journey, we were unknown actors with lots of talent. The biggest challenge was that we could not get jobs and I still hear this all the time from those trying to get a break.”
It’s for this reason that Anthony has decided to self-produce a “Da Kink in My Hair” tour. There will be three days of open casting at The Harlem Restaurant in Toronto from May 9-11 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
“We are looking for three talented artists who want to be on stage and who are able to act, sing and dance,” said Anthony. “The candidates must be able to do all three things very well.”
Three New Yorkers have already being cast for roles in the play that has confirmed bookings in North Carolina, Toronto and Atlanta.
The play will be staged at Harbourfront Centre’s En Wave Theatre from August 11-21 and ticket prices range from $27-$77. Tickets can be obtained by calling (416) 973-4000.
The play’s reworked version will feature a new musical score composed by Broadway Inspirational Voices founding musical director and arranger Michael McElroy and Carol Maillard of Grammy award-winning Sweet Honey in the Rock, an internationally renowned women’s acapella ensemble.
Anthony has every reason to be in high spirits these days. She was at her lowest ebb a few months ago when Global TV, which adapted the sitcom as a television series, cancelled the show after the second season.
“Myself and Ngozi (Paul) were the first African-Canadian women to have our own show on Canadian prime time TV and I really felt disappointed when the network changed the time slot for the second season,” she said.
In the first season in 2008, the show aired on prime time on Sunday nights at 7 p.m. It was moved to 9.30 p.m. on Thursday nights for the second season.
“The time slot for the first season was perfect since ours is a family show and people could go home and have dinner before watching us,” the 2009 Harry Jerome award winner said. “On Thursday nights, we were up against Grey’s Anatomy. We met with the network and asked them how they could put our little show against this big Emmy-award winning production and one of the top shows in the U.S. Sometimes, I used to forget that my own show was on at 9.30 and I would miss it. There was also not much publicity about the switch and, as a result, the ratings dropped.
“We did not stand a chance against Grey’s Anatomy and it was really disheartening for me because so many people counted on “Da Kink in My Hair” for their livelihood. It was essential for us to ensure that there was diversity reflected in front and behind the camera and we had it written into the contract that we wanted the crew to be diverse as well. Now, all of a sudden, people were without jobs. I really felt that we were set up to fail because we were not given the chance to see where the show would have gone. It was not given the priority it should have.”
Frustrated, Anthony closed a creative wellness centre for women she opened two years ago in downtown Toronto and headed to Atlanta just before Christmas 2010.
“I felt there were more opportunities in that part of the U.S. since there are more people of colour behind the scene making decisions and pushing for diversity in arts and entertainment,” she added. “In the few months I have been there, I have seen more opportunities and more appreciation for the work I do and what I could bring to the table. We still have a long way to go in Canada in this area. Canada will always be my home, but sometimes you just need to come out of your comfort zone and see what else is out there.”