My Gay Toronto - MGT Stage

Sébastien Heins gets busy with Brotherhood:
The Hip Hopera

by Drew Rowsome

"It's been on the streets," says Sébastien Heins of his Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera. "I began performing it first at school, then in funny little clubs in Montréal opening for other shows, cottages, a grocery store, hip hop clothing stores . . . And now to have the opportunity to kick it up a notch. I had so many dreams for this show. What if I had backing? A team? A space?"

Heins is a bit disingenuous in that he glosses over his childhood stint as Simba in The Lion King and an ensemble Dora win for Mr Marmalade. And that a chance encounter with Ryan G Hinds led to a role in a benefit reading of Lilies for the CLGA. And that Brotherhood won him the Best Emerging Artist Award at New York City's International United Solo Festival which The Jamaica Gleaner immortalized with the headline, "Jamaican Actor Wows Broadway." Brotherhood and Heins have theatrical as well as street cred.

Theatre company b current is presenting Brotherhood at Buddies in a double bill with Catherine Hernandez's The Femme Playlist. "These two shows are so different but work so well together," says Heins. "Brotherhood is so physical, Catherine's is like stand-up, so intimate. It's mixing the facade of masculinity with an exploration of femininity."

Buddies is a perfect place for that duality to exist. At first Heins was unsure if Brotherhood was a good fit for our venerable queer theatre. ""I asked artistic director Brendan Healy if the audience would want this show in their theatre. Buddies also does risky work and Brotherhood  has an underbelly and drug addiction, it gets very dark and sexual. Brendan was, 'Whatever your dreams are, we'll try to make them happen.' And I love the Buddies imagery and space. There's a sort of fluid identity to them, a shape shifting where you aren't mandated to be one thing. That's how I feel when I put on this show. I play 15 different characters, men, women and children. When I play Chrysanthemum who is one of the girlfriends, I feel fabulous, I feel beautiful. I don't room alone, shape shifting is part of my identity."

Despite the resources of Buddies - "Projectors and a really big stage! From clubs to a theatre, this is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences." - this is a one man show: Heins and a chair. "As much as possible it's me as the storyteller," says Heins. "One person and all the audience focussed and the bond that forms is undeniable and amazing."

Heins also draws a direct line from Buddies' mandate to the work b current does. "They foster all these diverse artists. I'm Jamaican and German and I've never seen myself on stage. Being bi-racial where do I fit in? They're making a place for the under-represented to express themselves. Both of my parents were immigrants who studied at OCA and all of their friends were these insane gay guys from the Caribbean. Those guys brought me up, raised me. All my uncles, not blood but family."

Heins admits that hip hop and queer, even hip hop and theatre, have wary relationships. "I have a lot of issues with the homophobia and hypocrisy in the music," says Heins. "So we're concentrating on the facade. I have a theatricality that's counter to the perception of hip hop as an industry. I want it to feel like late at night dancing drunk. It's this big epic story about finding inner peace. About these guys, these rappers, that have no solace when they're growing up so they strike out on their own. Their camaraderie keeps them going and then fame destroys them. And I'm trying to tell it all with my body." 

Heins', and his body's, goal with Brotherhood is simple: "I want people to fall into my imagination. I love hip hop and I love telling stories. And I'm a very physical actor, it's kind of my thing. If you like to see a body moving on stage, you'll be tantalized. There's a real sensuality to watching someone tell a story with their body for an hour." 

Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera and The Femme Playlist, billed as the afteRock Plays, run Fri, Oct 10 to Sun, Oct 25 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St.,