Announcing the 2022 Strombergs Family Realization Fund Winners

Nightwood Theatre is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2022 Strombergs Family Realization Fund: Maria Clara De Sena and Suzanne Roberts Smith with their piece Oxúm is Alive & Well & Living in TO. This $10,000 cash award, established by theatre director Vinetta Strombergs in honour of her artist parents, is intended to support a woman who has spent at least 20 years in the profession of theatre in any discipline and is now looking for a way to finance a project of passion that includes aspects of theatre, music, and movement. We would like to make special mention of the wonderful group of artists who made the shortlist for this fund: Nicky Guadagni and Tess Benger; Cole Lewis and Jenn Forgie; Marcia Kash and Leslie Arden; and Philippa Domville.

OXÚM IS ALIVE & WELL & LIVING IN TO (working title) is a coming together of five female artists to celebrate the life and queer mythology of Maria Clara De Sena and her powerful connection to the ORIXÁS (primary energies of the natural world) as well as interpret the traditional music and cultural aspects from her home in the North East of Brasil. Their creative ensemble is fortunate to receive the great guidance and spiritual support of  Lúcia De Besen- Candomblé Jeje (Hùnkpámè Séjà Hûn Jítò: Pai De Santo Hungbono Dorivaldo) along with breathtaking musical direction and collaboration from Juno Nominated Singer/Songwriter, Musician and Percussionist Aline Morales and exquisite movement collaboration from Dancer, Choreographer, Performer, Academic/Researcher and soon to be RMT Practitioner, Amanda Paixão

Maria Clara De Sena shares, “The prefix TRANS means ‘change, crossing, going beyond, on the other side of somewhere else’ and for me that’s exactly what Vinetta’s award and tribute to her parents does, it TRANSforms dreams into reality helping to make society more inviting and inclusive. Like me, Vinetta’s parents arrived here from another culture and they TRANSformed not only their own lives but the lives of many with their artistic paths. Therefore, The Strombergs Family Realization Fund is not only TRANSforming my own soul, but is also reaching all the way back to thank and uplift my ancestors’ artistic expressions. I take this moment, especially in my parent’s names, to tell everyone that if you were born for something, it will reach you no matter what happens, so don’t give up. Together, let’s embrace what is TRANS in ourselves and in our world. I am extremely happy, grateful and confident to develop and share this project! Salve todas as Yabás!”

Suzanne Roberts Smith adds,“From the first moment I met Maria Clara de Sena, I recognized her as an instrumental leader and felt in my bones how crucial it is to cherish her presence, learn from her wisdom and celebrate her natural magic and living mythology, in ways I could not yet articulate or even fathom. 

I will forever be learning how to perceive Maria Clara’s power and preciousness but presently, to be by her side as the co-recipient of the Strombergs Family Realization Fund, it’s as if a missing key has been placed inside our hands so we can finally unlock the doors to overcome some of the barriers in sharing her momentous life and compelling culture. Together with our creative team we will create a sanctuary where folx are welcome, safe and able to connect with their ancestors via the artistically accessible yet always epic expressions of the ORIXÁS… or in the very least, a space where they can be en-ter-tainT-ed AF

Thank you to Vinetta’s lifelong passionate practice and her meaningful tribute to her parents’ bodies of work by generously supporting other female artists so that extraordinary works are not lost forever just because those artists did not have the right key in hand at the right moment in time.”

About the artists

MARIA CLARA DE SENA is an Afro Indigenous Brasilian (Nação Ketu & Patoxó) artist, activist, world renowned LGBTQ2S advocate, performer, social worker, supermodel, who inherited a love of clothing design from her mother who was a dressmaker. She is the first openly TRANS refugee from Brasil in Kanata/Canada. Maria Clara is also the first black TRANS woman in the world to direct -Preventing & Combating Torture, a partnership with the United Nations in Brasil- providing artistic and cultural outlets for the gay, transgender and genderqueer folx in and out of the prison system. Through this dangerous yet life affirming and life saving work she was awarded the CLAUDIA PRIZE- Latin America’s top prize for recognizing and celebrating women in innovative Human Rights & Activism professions.

Since arriving in Tkaronto/Toronto in 2017, Maria Clara has dedicated her time to mentoring transgender folx and helping end transphobia & racism through interactive art education workshops and lectures at The 519, various schools, churches and local community centres. In addition, she continues to volunteer with Trans-Normal and Black Lives Matter initiatives online. As a fierce advocate of human rights as well as a powerful artist, Maria Clara is also a public speaker and respected political presence in many countries. Maria Clara grew up in a musical household and since her childhood performed professionally in a neighbouring town for the famous Quadrilha Festivals within ensembles of over forty and for live audiences by the thousands. Maria Clara has also been featured in at least three documentary films and is currently pursuing an additional career as a Personal Support Worker.

“I love to share my professional skills and encourage cultural exchanges as an ambassador of traditional teachings with the abundant knowledge of the power of inclusion and joyful elevation through learning together.”

SUZANNE ROBERTS SMITH is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada & The Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre and a critically acclaimed actor, director, theatre maker plus passionate artist educator & percussionista. Suzanne has also worked in healthcare as an artistically trained Therapeutic Clown Practitioner. 

You can check out some of her acting work here as one of one hundred artists featured in TO Live’s Living Room Series.

Over the past two decades in Tkaronto, Suzanne studied and performed Traditional Afro Brasilian Percussion from the North East of Brasil. She’s a lifelong learner of these rhythms, instruments and cultural expressions as well as a dedicated listener of how to pay them respect especially as an outsider.

Suzanne’s central teacher, Juno nominated/singer-songwriter & percussionist ‘Mestra’ Aline Morales bridges the source Nation of Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante and other sacred rhythms. Suzanne’s creative partner and husband, ‘Mestre’ Sérgio Xocolate- Capoeira Master Practitioner & Teacher from Recife and Maracatu Nação Camaleão in Olinda, generously shares his Afro Indigenous heritage via traditional rhythms, teachings and key stories of cultural preservation and celebration. XOCÔ, his Afro Indigenous Psychedelic Punk Rock band is, as he puts it, an expression of his Pernambucana Soul within the Heart of Canadá’.

Suzanne is also a proud member of Aline Morales’ BAQUE DE BAMBA and LAS VULVAS. 

“Performing within each of these three percussion based musical ensembles feels like winning the lottery, thrice!”

Banner photo L to R: Maria Clara De Sena self-portrait and Suzanne Roberts Smith by Dahlia Katz.

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