New cringe comedy puts the spotlight on how we engage with racial (in)justice

January 1, 1970
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

Afterlife Theatre’s inaugural play tackles questions of performativity and allyship in the racial justice movement 


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C/O Afterlife Theatre

Two key issues faced by social justice movements are maintaining momentum and managing the tension between genuine allyship and performativity. The latter can be particularly daunting in our digital age where “slacktivism”, also known as performative activism, can be common and difficult to address because individuals often don’t recognize their actions are more hurtful than helpful. Afterlife Theatre’s inaugural play, It’s a Beautiful Day for Brunch and to Arrest the Cops that Killed Breonna Taylor, aims to tackle these questions while also highlighting the process that is anti-racist work.

A pandemic project between two long-time friends, Carly Billings and Patrick Teed founded Afterlife Theatre as a way to help showcase the political theatre they wanted to see in the world. Their first play, which will debut at Hamilton Fringe Festival in July, is a verbatim cringe comedy inspired by the absurd and awkward ways non-Black people responded to the resurgence of the racial justice movement last summer, following the murder of George Floyd.

“We're trying to come at it from an approachable way to open the door for especially other non-Black people to attend our show and realize, maybe what they thought is helpful isn't helpful,” explained Billings.

“We describe it as a cringe comedy, because there's a lot of really awkward things that are said that are both funny and discomforting. It’s a cringe comedy on how racial justice work goes terribly wrong when people do it without any sense of accountability or association to the work that is already being done,” said Teed.

As verbatim theatre, the play draws on real posts and things that people have said on social media. The idea behind the play is one Billings and Teed have had for a while, inspired and horrified by some of what they were seeing on social media during their own work to engage with the racial justice movement as non-Black people, but everything really came together when they found out Hamilton Fringe was going digital this year.

“Carly and I were just like brainstorming ideas of what is a justifiable theater piece to do digitally and then we're like, “Oh, that idea about the ways people confessed their attempts at race politics online, because it was already this kind of digital phenomenon, right?” And so, we could play into that, through the fact that we're doing it in a digital space…And we had so many friends that were already archiving things, being like, “Oh, if you ever do this show you're joking about this needs to be in there,” or “this needs to be in there”. So, it just kind of all clicked when Hamilton fringe was like we're doing a digital portion of the festival,” explained Teed.

Both Billings and Teed are acting in the play, along with Roselyne Dougé-Charles and Liz Whitbread. The four knew each other prior to this and Teed had noted one upside of the digital format was they got to work together despite being in different cities.

Dougé-Charles in particular has been involved in the writing of the play, particularly theat parts that are not verbatim theatre.

“We're hoping that the narrative kind of leads people to listen and to listen to somebody who matters. In the end, spoiler alert person who matters is Rosie,” said Billings.

Billings and Teed hope the play raises difficult questions about how we engage with racial injustice in Canada and what it means to work in solidarity with racial justice movements as a non-Black person.

“The main takeaway is that if you want to engage in questions about racial justice, and particularly about stopping anti-Blackness — and you should want to engage [with] those questions —that requires work on your part, actual work. If you're doing something and it feels easy, or makes you feel good, you're probably doing it wrong,” explained Teed.

“And also, I wouldn't feel upset if people came and were're like, “Oh, my goodness!” because if you outrage some people, then in my mind, we're kind of on the right track, because it might not be a show for everybody, but I think it's a show that everybody needs to hear,” added Billings.

They also hope it highlights the process that is anti-racist work. Anti-racist work is not something that ends, and it certainly doesn’t end with a post on social media. 

“[A] lot of times, I don't think that folks know that they're being harmful or hurtful in their performativity. I think they think they're genuine. And so that's a big reason why we decided that this piece was not only timely, but important. It's a year out from last summer, when everything came to a huge head and the protests worldwide were occurring. [Every day],In my every day, I still engage with a lot of this work, but I know a lot of folks who came out real strong in the beginning and just faded back, and it's a year later, what do we have to show for it?” noted Billings.

“We obviously don't think that our show is like the be all end. We're kind of hoping for it to be a springboard for people to think and do things differently,” said Teed.

Both also encouraged students to attend, recognizing that not only are students often more open to learning and listening, but also that many of the questions their play deals withgrapples with are ones Billings and Teed themselves have been trying to work through since their own university careers.

“I think being a student offers a really amazing perspective. You're already in a learning environment, you're already probably approaching the world with a more open heart than, say, some people who are more set in their ways…I think that a student is perfectly poised to come to this work and be excited or be engaged,” said Billings.

“We're trying to work through problems that we have been trying to work through since University, when we were taking classes on things like settler colonialism, white supremacy. The questions our undergraduate experience gave us are what we are carrying through and trying to work through this piece, so I think there's resonance there as well [for students],” added Teed.

Social justice movements, including anti-racist work, are processes and part of the process is asking difficult questions and confronting the implications of our own actions, so we can recognize where we need to do better. Afterlife Theatre’s inaugural play is an example of how art can provoke and offer a way into these questions.

It’s a Beautiful Day for Brunch and to Arrest the Cops that Killed Breonna Taylor can be viewed during Hamilton Fringe Festival from July 15 – 25, 2021. 


  • admin

    Rachel Faber is the assistant news editor and studies political science. In her spare time she likes to travel or eat her body weight in popcorn.

  • Nisha Gill

    Now in her fourth year of Arts and Science, Nisha is the Editor-in-Chief of Volume 93. Her vision for the Silhouette this year is to highlight the effect global issues on having on students on the local community while also continuing to amplify marginalized voices. On the rare occasion she’s not in the office, Nisha can usually be found browsing book stores or in the kitchen.

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