founder and artistic director of YEMOYA international artist residency
born in jamaica, raised in whitfield town kingston and in downtown toronto canada, d’bi.young is a dynamite–socially–conscious–trail–blazing tour-de-force, whose reputation precedes her. a dubpoet, monodramatist, and educator, she identifies primarily as a storyteller, believing that storytelling encompasses everything she does. young is one of north america’s most celebrated artists, fast becoming a global phenomenon. her unique fusion of dubpoetry, theatre, and critical analyses produces a pepper-pot of rhythmic storytelling that crosses and questions cultural boundaries, social norms and stereotypes. she recently completed her 3rd international tour taking her cross-disciplinary art works to india, sweden, south africa, zimbabwe, malawi, spain, france, canada, the uk, barbados, bahamas and jamaica.
young’s career highlights include: featuring in the short film yes/no by brian johnson alongside margaret atwood, leonard cohen, dennis lee, michael ondaatje, and karen solie; featuring at inktalks/TED india; appearing on broadway in hbo’s def poetry jam; starring in lord have mercy, canada’s first multi-ethnic sitcom; publishing two collections of poetry – art on black and rivers and other blackness between us; writing, performing and publishing the critically acclaimed sankofa trilogy featuring her monodramas blood.claat, benu and word! sound! powah!; founding and artistic directing YEMOYA international artist residency; and developing a new performance methodology called the biomyth sorplusi method. a headliner at numerous festivals worldwide (including poetry africa in south africa, goteborgs poesifestival in sweden, bushfire in swaziland, manifesto canada and jamaica, badilisha in cape town, canwest cabaret in the historic distillery district, the calgary international folk and spoken word festivals, vancouver folk festival, havana international reggae festival, and toronto’s international dubpoetry festival) young is also the recipient of the canadian 2010 km hunter theatre award and the 2007 toronto mayor’s emerging artist award.
d’bi.young studied theatre during the summers at the jamaica school of drama while attending campion college in the eighties and early nineties. she learnt the art of dubbing poetry from her mother anita stewart – a pioneer of the genre, an original member of poets in unity, and a graduate of school of drama. after moving to canada in 1993, young trained with the rAiz’n ensemble of b current theatre under the mentorship of artistic director ahdri zhina mandiela. she also studied briefly at mcgill university, concordia university, and most recently at the university of guelph ma theatre program.
her stage work as an actor includes: staceyann (a young sexually abused girl) in da kink in my hair, which toured canada and america in 2006 and found a home at the hackney empire theatre in london). young’s performance garnered her a dora nomination in toronto and a best ensemble award from the naacp in california. she also played zandile alongside celebrated nigerian actor joke silva, in gcina mhlophe’s south african play have you seen zandile in 2008. at soulpepper theatre, she worked with the celebrated hungarian director lazlo marton, in three sisters as olga and starred alongside albert schultz (macheath) as the ballad singer in the threepenny opera.
blood.claat, about a young girl’s coming of age through her menstruation (the first play in young’s biomyth monodrama trilogy sankofa) was nominated for five dora mavor moore awards in 2006, and won in the categories of outstanding new play and outstanding female performance. it toured canada extensively and was published as a bilingual 1st edition (english/spanish) by playwrights canada press. benu, about motherhood and motherlessness (part 2), originally commissioned by montreal’s la chapelle theatre was featured in their 2009-2010 season to critical acclaim and received now magazine’s outstanding performer nod. word! sound! powah!, about the birth of dubpoetry and revolution in jamaica (part 3), originally commissioned by soulpepper theatre and supported by canstage theatre and tarragon theatre, has consistently received 5/5 reviews since its workshop debut in 2010, including a booked-out performance at the free word centre in london. the sankofa trilogy (featuring blood.claat, benu and word! sound! powah!) premiered to critical acclaim in toronto canada in 2011 at tarragon theatre and will be published in 2013 alongside a dvd box set playwright’s canada press.
young’s first play yagayah, about friendship and loss (a two-hander co-written by naila belvett aka naila keleta mae), was published in testifyin’: contemporary african canadian drama in 2003. her second two-hander androgyne (about sisterhood and queerness) was produced by buddies in bad times theatre in 2007. her latest monodrama she (about the multiplicity of black wombanhood) was featured at rhubarb festival, the psi theatre conference, and at femfest in calgary canada. she is also a central piece in the new documentary film shadeism, exploring neo-colonial skin-colour politics. young calls her particular form of theatre biomyth monodrama and describes it saying:
biomyth monodrama is theatrical solo-performance work, written and acted by the same person, inspired by parts of the creator’s biographical experience, using poetry, music, myth, magic, monologue and dialogue (primarily with the audience) to weave the story together. the fourth wall is rarely present as the performer blends the divide between real and make-believe, audience and storyteller. the creative process of biomyth monodrama is heavily rooted in the sorplusi method of storytelling: self-knowledge, orality, rhythm, political content and context, language, urgency, sacredness, and integrity. these fundamental principles are used to guide the monodramatic creative process. through the intersection of these ideas, the monodramatist can explore and expand their relationship with/among themselves as storyteller, the village(s), and social transformation.
d’bi.young’s work has been produced by theatres in toronto such as passe muraille, buddies in bad times, obsidian, canstage, bcurrent, nightwood, volcano; nationally by black theatre workshop and la chapelle (montreal), firehall (vancouver bc), uno theatre festival (victoria british columbia), gctc (ottawa), magnetic north, and mtspace (kitchener waterloo), femfest (calgary winnipeg), and internationally by the hackney empire (london england), the hip hop theatre festival (new york city), dennis scott theatre and the amphitheatre (edna manley college for the visual and performing arts kingston jamaica), and baxter and elizabeth sneddon theatres (durban south africa) young was the 2009-2010 playwright-in-residence at canstage theatre and was a member of the tarragon playwrights unit 2010. young has participated in numerous other national and international playwright residencies (including being invited to the royal court theatre in london to be a part of it’s international playwright’s program) and has been mentored by theatre practitioners across the globe.
along with being the author of art on black and rivers and other blackness between us (women’s press 2006, 2007) young has published extensively, appearing in: jubilee: poems celebrating 50 years of jamaican independence - peepal tree press (2012), theorizing empowerment: canadian perspectives on black feminist thought – inanna publications (2007), notes from canada’s young activists – greystone books (2007), and wasafiri: queer postcolonial – a london based quarterly (2007). her first anthology (as editor) on africanadian plays, is forthcoming by playwrights canada press in 2011.
her television appearances include: jamaica’s hype tv, cuba’s cuerda viva, bravo’s playwrights and screenwriters, and guest starring role in global tv’s da kink in my hair. d’bi.young has also been featured in the documentaries two worlds, one love: jamaican-canadians by cbc, blood, dub and the matriarch by leda serene films alongside her mother and blood, a cuban-canadian wombanist doc with political exile nehanda abiodun, which she co-produced. she also plays a starring role in the short film sunday afternoon by kaveh nebatian. the films borderless about non-status new immigrants and kicking aids out on aids education both feature her narration.
as an educator d’bi.young combines her skills as a poet and performer in the mentorship of younger storytellers. she regularly creates and facilitates workshops on topics ranging from self esteem empowerment, negotiating identity, and unlearning violence to responsible storytelling, oppression awareness training and theatre for community development. her urgent analyses on critical–decolonialist–oppression–awareness theories and art for social change, make d’bi.young one of the worlds most sought after artist-educators. for over a decade d’bi.young has designed, coordinated and facilitated these hand-crafted workshops aimed at supporting dialogues of change in her many communities. all sessions are grounded in an intersectional–oppression–awareness framework and are rooted in storytelling for social transformation. generally, anyone interested in storytelling be it through writing, performing, directing, witnessing, teaching, and facilitation can participate. the workshops explore socio-political issues using her biomyth sorplusi principles of storytelling and have been successfully programmed in swaziland at the bushfire schools festival, south afrika at the university of the western cape; in jamaica at sistren theatre collective, women’s media watch and edna manley school for the visual and performing arts; in canada at the magnetic north theatre festival, femfest theatre festival, university of toronto, university of british columbia; in the united states at the illinois youth centre-warrenville; and at various other universities, high schools, community centres, theatres, youth programs, town halls and rallies worldwide.
young takes her artist-educator work one step further and founded YEMOYA international artist residency (an evolution of anitafrika dub theatre (founded in 2008). as artistic director of YEMOYA, young helps to facilitate the self-actualization process of the artists she mentors; guiding them through a rigorous process of biomyth creation. to date, young has mentored over 40 artists globally.
d’bi.young’s work is a testament to the old afrikan proverb it takes a village to raise a child. her village has awarded her with such accolades as: outstanding performer 2009 (now magazine); numerous writing and theatre creation grants 2007-2009 (ontario arts council); the professional theatre artist grant 2008 (canada arts council); the professional mentorship grant 2007 (ontario arts council); best solo artist 2006 (national post / eye weekly); best play blood.claat 2006 (eye weekly / gayguide toronto); spoken word grant 2006, 2003 & 2001 (canada arts council); harold theatre award 05; spotlight award 2004 blood.claat (summerworks); best storytelling actor & dubpoet 2004 (now magazine) and artist-educator grant 2004 (ontario arts council).
d’bi.young currently splits her time between jamaica and the rest of the world. she is the artistic director of word! sound! powah! an annual monodrama theatre poetry festival and conference, and curator of africa centre’s badilisha poetry x-change. her current projects include: a comic strip called shemurenga, a book on her sorplusi methodology, and a new album.