EGLINTON AVE WEST. Writer and producer Trey Anthony (who now stars as Joy, Novelette's sister) has created a vibrant showcase for the unique talent and perspectives of Toronto's West Indian community.
Trey Anthony HAS spent the last six years nurturing, trimming and styling her play 'Da Kink in My Hair into a thriving theatrical masterpiece.
After smaller workshop performances for friends and colleagues, 'Da Kink first sprang forth at the 2001 Toronto Fringe. What followed were outrageously successful runs at Harbourfront Centre, the New York Fringe and Theatre Passe Muraille, capped by a groundbreaking run produced by the Mirvishes at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
Sold out evenings and extended dates sparked interest from Vision TV and led to a television movie version starring Sheryl Lee Ralph. But the small screen had bigger plans for Anthony and her creation. Both were snapped up by Global; the first season of 'Da Kink in My Hair hits the airwaves Sun, Oct 14.
Lead character Novelette was originally a combination of mirthful insouciance and world-weary wisdom. Those characteristics have now been split into two characters: über-responsible salon owner Novelette (played by Ordena Stephens-Thompson) and her carefree sister Joy (played by Anthony).
"Novelette is very fragmented," Anthony says of the character she once played onstage. "She's trying to be everything to everybody but she's not really there for herself. I think a lot of us can relate to her trying to balance career, family and a personal life."
Joy, her new character, is a recent arrival from Jamaica and having a hard time taking seriously the realities of business as she helps out in the salon. Further complicating the sisters' combative relationship is Novelette's teenage son Dre (Conroy Stewart), raised in Jamaica for the past six years by Auntie Joy.
"Novelette and Joy's parenting styles are very different," says Anthony. "Joy is used to being the mother and Dre isn't sure who to listen to. But even in this dysfunction they function in love. Dre is their common thing that's most important to them."
Novelette's staff is cause for both mirth and headaches. Starr (played by cowriter Ngozi Paul) is a new addition to the salon who bristles at Joy's laissez-faire attitude and tarty wardrobe. Born in Canada, she's also stumped by the frequent use of Jamaican patois in the salon. Plus she's simultaneously attracted to and repelled by swaggering salon stud Nigel (Richard Fagon).
"We wanted Starr to be the eyes and the ears for the viewers who have never been immersed in the West Indian culture."
Fans of the show's theatrical predecessor will recognize other memorable characters. In the opening episode a class-conscious mother tries to Canadianize her daughters just in time for the wedding of the youngest. Plans for hair relaxers and lighteners are mercifully sidelined by the empathic Novelette who intuitively senses that the daughter's wishes are being brushed aside by a mother-of-the-bride in full swing.
Anthony promises appearances from other popular characters, including the return of Raven, an actress struggling with her lesbianism. Rather than lowlighting the queerer aspects of 'Da Kink, the series will continue Anthony's exploration of gay storylines as well as introducing a new transgender character.
"Two out of three of us, the executive creators, are gay," says Anthony grinning. "It was important that there be a queer sensibility."
Producing, writing and acting in 'Da Kink is taking up huge volumes of time and energy, but Anthony feels she's become more adept at juggling her professional life with taking care of herself. Girl is lookin' lean and fine.
"I was diagnosed with type two diabetes," she says. "I was five foot one and over 200 pounds. I've seen what carrying too much weight can do... my grandmother lost her sight to diabetes. I was really scared.
"My health was always at the bottom of my list. Now my first priority every morning is journaling, eating right and getting on the treadmill."
With a new sense of priorities, Anthony gets to enjoy being the boss. "We had a costume designer who came up to me and said, 'Oh, I don't think you're going to fit into the samples,'" Anthony says. "I was considered the fat woman of the group.
"With all my body issues, I still had to say to her, 'It's your job to make me look fabulous.' But I'm able to say that because I'm also the executive producer."