Playwright, actor, comedienne, director, producer
"If you want to know a woman, a black woman, that is, touch her hair. Cause our hair carries our journey." With these words, Novelette, the irrepressible West Indian hairdresser created and brought to life onstage by Trey Anthony in da Kink in my Hair, describes how the roots of black women's hair go deeper than flesh and fashion. Indeed, the funny, brave, and moving stories of the women in Anthony's dynamic play demonstrate that, for women of African descent, hair can represent culture, identity, and self-acceptance.
A queer woman of Jamaican heritage, born in England and raised in Canada, Anthony learned to accept and appreciate her African hair just as she learned to accept and value her plus-size body and her lesbian sexual orientation. A creative thinker and entertainer since childhood, it seemed natural to her to turn her own search for identity into a theatrical performance that celebrates both the diversity and the commonality of black women's experience. Following the success of da Kink in my Hair, Anthony has continued to write and produce plays that tell the stories of the people of color, the poor workers, and the sexual minorities who are often silent and invisible in mainstream media.
Anthony was born on February 18, 1974, in London, England, one of three children of immigrant parents who had come to the United Kingdom from Jamaica as children. Her father, Hortnele Dennie, worked as an electrician, and her mother, Angela, was a resourceful woman who worked a wide variety of jobs to support her family. When Anthony was 12 years old, her parents divorced, and her mother took the children to Toronto, Canada. There, they lived in an apartment building in a working-class neighborhood with many other West Indian families.
Put on Shows as a Child
Growing up in Toronto, Anthony spent much of her time in the care of her grandmother, who not only supervised her grandchildren, but encouraged their creativity. A funny and imaginative woman herself, Anthony's grandmother was an appreciative and supportive audience for the many neighborhood shows Anthony organized, frequently spending her limited funds on records to help her granddaughter practice singing. From an early age, Anthony had an active imagination, which she nurtured by constant reading. Soon, she began writing her own stories.
In school, Anthony was an enthusiastic student in her English and drama classes, though she had no love for math or sports. During the late 1980s, the family moved from Toronto to Brampton, a suburban town on the outskirts of the city. Anthony graduated from Brampton's Notre Dame High School and entered college at York University in Toronto. During the summer after her third year at university, she entered a six-week summer program at the Academy of Arts in New York City.
While in New York, Anthony heard that auditions were being held for the Chris Rock Show, a cable program featuring the successful African-American comedian comic whose intelligent and often outrageous act includes social commentary about issues of importance to African Americans. Though students in Anthony's summer program were not supposed to audition for shows, she could not resist giving it a try. When she arrived at the audition and saw the long line of hopeful actors, Anthony realized it was unlikely that she would be cast in the show. However, her resourceful and creative nature helped her to turn her disappointment into opportunity. She struck up a conversation with one of the interns at the audition and learned that there was an opening for a new intern. Though interns are more likely to do office work and errands than participate in the creative process, an internship would allow her to work on a real show. Anthony applied, got the job, and remained in New York for a year, learning about both comedy and production on the set of a successful television show.
Started Comedy Troupe in Toronto
After her year in New York, Anthony returned to Toronto, full of creative energy and ideas. Anthony liked the sketch comedy format of the Chris Rock Show, and she too wanted to create comedy that addressed serious issues in the lives of people of color. With other like-minded performers, she formed a sketch comedy troupe called Plaitform, dedicated to creating black urban comedy. Plaitform performed throughout Toronto in whatever venues they could find, from libraries to theaters to comedy clubs. Yuk Yuk's, a well-known Toronto comedy club, sponsored an African Nubian comedy night, and Anthony became a regular performer there. One of her best-loved characters was Carlene, the dance hall queen, an irrepressible, fast-talking West Indian woman. In other sketches with titles like, "Rice and Peas on Sunday" and "You Know You Have a Black Mother When…," she did humorous and touching imitations of her mother and grandmother, complete with Jamaican accents.
Anthony was working with Plaitform when she attracted the notice of a producer from the Canadian television network CTV. He hired her to work on the late-night comedy series After Hours with black Canadian comic Kenny Robinson. She spent the next year writing and performing on the show while continuing to perform at Yuk Yuk's as part of Robinson's Nubian Disciples of Pryor.
As Anthony's professional career progressed, she experienced dramatic changes in her personal life. She had been in a romantic relationship with a man for almost a year and was engaged to be married when her feelings began to take her in another direction. During her off-hours, she volunteered at a Toronto shelter for homeless women where she met some lesbians and other queer women. The word queer was once used as an insulting term for homosexuals. However, after the gay liberation movement of the 1970s, some radical gays and lesbians began reclaiming the word, using it proudly to describe themselves. During the 1990s, other sexual minorities expanded the use of queer, using it to describe not only gays and lesbians, but also bisexuals and transgender people. Even straight people who have an open-minded attitude toward monogamy and sexual orientation sometimes call themselves queer.
Wrote, Directed, Produced, and Acted
As Anthony grew to understand her attraction to other women and define herself as queer, she broke off her engagement. She also began writing a series of monologues about many different issues of importance to working-class women of color. She wanted to write her own show in part because she had begun to feel that there was no place on stage for women like her, that is, black, fat, articulate, and queer. Theatrical agents had even told her that she was not a marketable talent because she did not fit into the stereotypical roles of mammy or prostitute usually available to black women, and she did not sound "black enough."
At a Glance …
Born on February 18, 1974, in London, England; partner, Sherrisse Solomon.
Career: HBO, The Chris Rock Show, intern, 1998-99; Plaitform Comedy Troupe, founder, 1999-; CTV, After Hours, writer and performer, 1999-2000; Trey Anthony Productions, founder, 2001-; Kinky Dinner Productions, co-founder, 2005-.
Awards: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Beverly Hills, Theater Award, Best Playwright—Equity, 2007.
Addresses: Office—Trey Anthony Productions, 23 Buckingham Street, Main Floor, Toronto, Ontario M8Y 2W2. Web—www.treyanthony.com.
Anthony determined to create a theatrical piece that would respectfully showcase the many different sides of black women. The result was da Kink in my Hair, a series of conversations between women and their hairdresser, set in Novelette's, a beauty salon in a West Indian neighborhood of Toronto. Novelette (played by Anthony herself) and her customers laugh, cry, sing, and dance about the issues of their lives, including child abuse, homophobia, abandonment, betrayal, and loss. The show premiered in 2001 at the Toronto Fringe Festival. The festival's producers warned Anthony that her play might not get a warm reception, because the Fringe audience was largely white and middle class.
However, Anthony was undaunted. Used to taking risks, she tried an innovative approach to publicizing her play—giving the responsibility to the audience. On opening night, she offered free tickets to all hairdressers and barbers, asking in return that they tell their friends and customers about the show.
Anthony's gamble paid off. In exchange for a few free seats, she got a full house on opening night and priceless publicity. Da Kink in my Hair was not only one of the most successful plays in the Toronto Fringe Festival, but it was chosen as one of the five outstanding works of the New York Fringe Festival in 2002. When Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille produced da Kink in 2003, the play sold more tickets than any other in the theater's history. In 2005, an expanded version of da Kink became the first Canadian play produced by the elite Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. However, as her success began to grow, Anthony did not forget her working-class roots, and, even in the lavish Princess of Wales production, she insisted that 20 prime seats be offered to low income patrons at an affordable price.
Formed Production Companies
In addition to wowing audiences from the fringe to the elite, da Kink received critical acclaim and international notice. The Toronto production received four Dora theatrical award nominations, and, in the United States, a San Diego production won awards from the NAACP Beverly Hills chapter for best ensemble, best director, best sound, and best playwright. In 2004, a Canadian television company produced a pilot film for a proposed television series based on da Kink in my Hair.
Anthony has continued to create plays that tell the unheard stories of forgotten women. In 2005, with Rachael Lea Rickards, a writing partner and friend since high school, Anthony produced her second major play, I am NOT a Dinner Mint: The Crap That Women Swallow to Stay in a Relationship. The title of the play expresses the writers' idea that women are often defined in their relationships the way a dinner mint is defined in relationship to dinner, a pleasant afterthought. Dinner Mint brings together onstage five women of different ethnic backgrounds to share the stories of the many different kinds of relationships in their lives.
In addition to writing her own plays, Anthony's production companies, Trey Anthony Productions and Kinky Dinner Productions also showcase other works by performers of color, such as Indian American comic Vijai Nathan's one woman show Good Girls Do, Indian Girls Don't and Darren Anthony's Secrets of a Black Boy. She has also continued to share her success with her community, giving dozens of free tickets to youth groups and shelters and doing volunteer work with Toronto youth groups such as Support Our Youth and Black Queer Youth.
Back Stage East, April 12, 2007, pp. 11-13.
Canadian Ethnic Studies, (Calgary), 2006, pp. 212-14.
Flare (Toronto) November 1999, p. 84.
Toronto Life, January 2005, p. 23.
Variety, February 7, 2005, p. 86.
Trey Anthony Productions,www.treyanthony.com (July 16, 2007).
"Kink in My Hair," VisionTV,http://visiontv.com/Programs/drama_kinkinhair.html (July 16, 2007).
"VisionTV Drama Kink In My Hair," Black Canada,www.blackcanada.com/news_103.htm (July 16, 2007).
"Five Women, Five Hearts, One Story," Afrotoronto.com,www.afrotoronto.com/Articles/July06/Dinnermint.html (July 16, 2007).
"Playwright Trey Anthony Celebrates Black Women And Her Free-At-Last Hair," Eye Weekly,www.eyeweekly.com/eye/issue/issue_06.12.03/arts/dakinkinmyhair.php (July 16, 2007).
"New Twist in Kink's Story," George Brown College,www.georgebrown.ca/theatre/alumni/alumni_press_Trey_Anthony.aspx (July 16, 2007).
"What Comes Around Comes Around Again," TorontoStage.com,www.torontostage.com/reviews/dinnerMint.html (July 16, 2007).
Information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Trey Anthony on July 16, 2007.
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