our place in Scarborough

A blog from the playwright of our place.

Playwright Kanika Ambrose smiles brightly in front of a red backdrop wall. She has her hair tied up and is wearing a bright blue blazer and a white shirt.

Kanika Ambrose | Playwright of our place

My earliest memories of Scarborough malls and strip malls were frequenting them with my grandmother, who is incredible at bargain hunting and can strike up a conversation with anyone.

She also can speak just a little bit of, just about, every language and delights in sharing that gift with people. As an adult, the strip mall became a staple in my life as I spent plenty of time in barber shops, West Indian/Asian food markets, Western Union/Money Mart, and hair/beauty supply stores. 

At the time I started writing this play, my husband (who is now a chef) was a major foodie and seemed to know every good food place in every strip mall.

A quick photo taken from a car ride, of a strip mall in scarborough. Long line of brown metal roofs are filled with business like Mr. Patty and Spice Club. The Sky is blue, and the road and parking lot is an asphalt grey

One of many plazas along Kingston road in Scarborough | Photo by Kanika

It’s incredible nowadays to hear about so many Scarborough artists and talents who are making strides — But then again, it’s not uncommon for areas where racialized folks live and that have been described as “troubled” in the media to eventually become “cool.” It’s also not uncommon for excellence to emerge from those same circumstances. 

I didn’t write the play based on the location, I wrote it based on the people I knew, friends, family members, who were struggling to survive.

It was the invisibility of the injustices which inspired me.

From a young age, I’ve been surrounded by complex immigration stories; ones that didn’t fit the straight and narrow way that the government would have us believe is true. The year I started writing this play, someone close to me was working under the table at a restaurant while on a visitor’s visa. While there, she met others who were working under the same circumstances. Unfortunately, her immigration story ended with deportation, but I was most shocked when she told me that she was happy that it was her that got caught and not one of her colleagues who was getting married the next day, effectively “hacking the system”.

As I learned more about this other woman’s marriage of convenience, I really started to think about the specific sacrifices that Caribbean women make in order to scrape a better life for their children. I thought of the many ways that this marriage could go wrong and what implications that could have for that woman. In my imagination, this play is what that woman’s story could have been. It’s difficult,  funny— full of love for the Scarborough I know.

The characters in our place,  despite all of their situations, manage to have a really good time; as Black folks generally do in Scarborough and any place– we find ways to make life good in spite of it all.

P.S. There will be a Black Out Night for our place on November 25th!

Black Out Night is a performance exclusively for Black audiences to experience a show for us, by us. I love attending Black Out nights — it’s a unique experience of community that I had never felt before in a theatre (I attended my first one at Pomme is French for Apple). our place has always been about community. I want Black people and Scarborough people to feel welcome and comfortable to experience this story in their own way.

Playwright Kanika Ambrose smiles brightly in front of a red backdrop wall. She has her hair tied up and is wearing a bright blue blazer and a white shirt.

Kanika is a playwright, librettist, screenwriter and Associate Artistic Director of Necessary Angel Theatre Company. As a playwright, her work has been presented at Toronto Fringe, Cahoots Theatre, Obsidian Theatre Company and Rhubarb Festival to name a few. As a librettist, her works have been presented by Tapestry Opera, Curtis Institute of Music and Opera Philadelphia. She is developing new opera “Of The Sea” with composer Ian Cusson, Tapestry Opera and Obsidian Theatre Company. She is currently in Canadian Film Centre’s Bell Media Primetime TV writing program.

Playing November 18 — 29

our place by Kanika Ambrose | Cahoots Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille Co-Production

our place takes us to Jerk Pork Castle in Scarborough— “if you don’t know about it, you better be about it and ask about it!”— where newcomers Andrea and Niesha work in exchange for cash under the table. As the two scrape out a life in Canada, they must also navigate their status as undocumented workers.

This funny, keenly observant script unveils the lives of these undocumented Caribbean workers who go to desperate lengths to get Canadian  citizenship — a moving, timely story of those rendered invisible in a ‘welcoming’ Canada.