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Black History Month: B.C. playwright honours adopted family in new play

02/22/2015 04:48 EST | Updated 04/24/2015 05:59 EDT
When playwright Justin Carter was eight years old, he was adopted by a family who lived in a Vancouver Island community that couldn't have been more different from the one he left behind in Nova Scotia.

For one, Carter's adopted parents raised goats in Shawnigan Lake. For another, he and his new dad appeared to be the only black people around.

"In Halifax, all the people I spent time with were black," said Carter, who was born to a black mother and a white father. "Then this family comes and my new mother was going to be white. This is weird. My new dad's going to be black. And they both had accents."

On Monday, Carter's early years with his new family will be portrayed in his new humorous, one-man show, My Father, to Whom I am not Related. It will premiere in Victoria as part of Black History Month.

"It's stories about my first impressions and experiences when I was first adopted," he said in an interview with CBC Radio North by Northwest's Sheryl MacKay. "Just those very first impressions I had about these new people — my new mom and dad. My new brother and sister. The dogs, the cats. They had goats."

Monday's show is loosely considered a sequel to Carter's first play, Son of Africville, where he recounts his journey from the West Coast back to Halifax to see his biological mother, 20 years after she gave him up for adoption. There, he learned about her personal struggles with addiction, poverty and racism.

"She struggled with schizophrenia and drug issues and poverty," Carter said. "She tried to take care of us, but she really wasn't able to take care of us the way she wanted to, so we ended up in foster care several times."

Carter's mother grew up in Africville, considered the largest and oldest black community in Canada until it was bulldozed in the 1960s.

"There was a program in Canada at that time to fix neighbourhoods that they felt were slums," Carter said. "There was this promise of … we promise you education, we promise you help to get jobs and all that kind of stuff. It really didn't pan through."

Carter says sharing his personal stories on stage is more comforting than daunting because he's familiar with the stories, and they are experiences to which most people can relate.

My Father, to Whom I am not Related will premiere at Victoria's Belfry Theatre at 7 p.m. on Monday.

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