Tawiah M’Carthy is bringing his one-man show Obaaberima to the National Arts Centre from March 3 to 14. Obaaberima, which means “girlboy,” follows a young man from Ghana to Canada as he explores sexuality, gender and culture through storytelling, music and dance. M’Carthy, a queer artist who lives in Toronto, tells us more in this edited interview.
Daily Xtra: Where did you get the idea for Obaaberima?
Tawiah M’Carthy: There was a picture I saw in a magazine of a model. She was wearing a red dress, and her foot was painted red. It just inspired an image of a young boy standing in front of his mother’s mirror in his mother’s red high heels, so I wrote a poem called Red High Heels, hoping that there was something in that character that I could turn into a show.
Your protagonist is caught between a gay and straight world and an African and North American world. Do you ever feel caught between worlds?
Sometimes. My African culture does not understand my sexuality. In some ways it doesn’t really fit into that culture. Every now and then I have to negotiate. It’s a matter of just finding a balance. I always have to remind myself that I have these two cultures. At this age I’ve spent almost half my life [in Canada] and half my life back home [in Ghana]. I can’t ignore one more than the other, so I try as much as possible to stay true to who I know myself to be.
When you visit Ghana now, what’s your sense of what it’s like for LGBT people who live there?
I feel there’s an understanding that’s gradually growing. [Being queer] is still something you don’t want to broadcast when you’re back home, but I think there are a bit more communities and people that are becoming more aware and more supportive. I believe there is hope and there will be more of a recognition and understanding in time to come.
You gave an interview a couple of years ago where you discussed how hard it is for artists to make ends meet. Why are so many consumers willing to pay for concerts and movies, but not live theatre?
I think it’s a cultural thing. I think everything has become so digitized and everything is commercialized. I think it has to do with the age that we’re in where we don’t really interact with people that much. Everything is either done through Skype or texting. And going to a theatre show is not the cheapest thing to do — it’s cheaper to go see a movie. There’s also this idea that there’s only one form of theatre. If people see one type of theatre and go, “I don’t like this,” then they write [all theatre] off.
Obaaberima won three 2013 Dora Mavor Moore Awards, including Outstanding Production. Does winning awards increase or decrease your pre-show nervousness?
It does increase it. There’s a level of expectation that comes, so it makes things a bit nervous, but it’s to remember that I’m not there to reach people’s expectations. I’m on stage to tell a story; I need to be as truthful to it as possible and whatever comes out of it, comes out of it.