December 5, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

Playwright Kanika Ambrose shines a light on Canadian immigration

Ever heard of Jerk Pork Castle in Scarborough?

Probably not — it’s fictional — but in Kanika Ambrose’s upcoming play “Our Place,” the Caribbean food joint is of the utmost importance. “Our Place” follows newcomers to Canada Andrea and Niesha, who work at Jerk Pork Castle in exchange for cash under the table. Theatre Passe Muraille and Cahoots Theatre will host the play at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace starting on Friday.

Ambrose is no stranger to theatre: she’s an acclaimed playwright, librettist and screenwriter. She’s currently enrolled in the Canadian Film Centre’s Bell Media Prime Time TV Program, a rigorous writing course for emerging to mid-level Canadian writers. As well, one of Ambrose’s operas will premiere in March.

“I’ve been an opera fan since I was a teenager,” said Ambrose in an interview. “I just didn’t consider writing for it until I was much older. But it was a natural fit. I love working with composers, the collaborative nature of it.

“But all three (mediums) serve different purposes for me,” she continued.

“Our Place” has roots in Ambrose’s personal history. “There’s no way to extricate myself from Scarborough. It’s so much a part of who I am,” she said with a laugh.

The play follows two women trying to gain legal status in Canada through marriage. Ambrose and the “Our Place” creative team worked together to create fictional countries to protect the real-life identities of the people who inspired them. Ambrose and the team also collaborated to create new music for the play, based on the music and dialects of a number of different, real Caribbean islands.

Though fictionalized, the play has real-world bite for Ambrose.

“I decided to start writing the play in 2016,” said Ambrose. “At the time, I was filing for my mother-in-law to come and live with my husband and me. And I realized that there was a lot of red tape surrounding that process.

“We were denied a few times. She was denied even to come here for our wedding. There were many reasons why — some of it was our income, some of it was her income, some of it was her level of education,” elaborated Ambrose.

“And I realized that a lot of these barriers are fabricated. They’re unfairly skewed to people from certain regions of the world. So I wrote the play partially to shed light on that.”

Retail and dining strips like this one at Kingston and Galloway roads heavily influenced "Our Place," which is set in a Caribbean restaurant in Scarborough.

Ambrose’s journey writing the play was more complicated than she anticipated.

“At the time when I started writing the play, someone close to us was deported,” she said.

“When we spoke to her, she told us that she was happy that she was caught and not a friend of hers, who was going to be married the next day. My mind went to what the implications of that would be, in a marriage where there’s already such a huge power imbalance. And I thought about the sexual implications, what kind of power one partner would have over the other, and the financial implications.”

The genderedness of immigration manifests in a few different ways in “Our Place,” according to Ambrose, particularly through themes of motherhood.

“The bulk of women in the play are mothers,” said Ambrose.

“One of the men is a parent as well, a father. But I recently became a mother, as did the play’s director. Our connection to the play, to the characters, has shifted, and I would say even strengthened with our new perspective as mothers. Mothers are sometimes judged for their choices and often unfairly. That’s a layer of the play that’s really exciting to me.”

Something that surprised Ambrose during the “Our Place” creative process was the extent to which people are unaware of the pitfalls of the Canadian immigration system.

“It’s always been something at the underbelly. I’ve known since I was a kid that there’s many different channels to immigrating, rather than just what the Canadian immigration website would have you believe there is,” said Ambrose.

“Why aren’t people talking about this? This is the reality for a lot of people.

“These stories deserve to be told.”

“Our Place” is at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave., Nov. 18 to Dec. 3. See for details.


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