PEN Canada in Association with the Art for Real Change Collective Presents The TAXI Project



    
    "...the performances are so strong, so carefully evoked by Mengesha's
        direction, that a mere description of the four stories only suggests
                             the work's impact."
                         -Jon Kaplan, NOW Magazine-
    

    TORONTO, April 28 /CNW/ - The TAXI Project - a critically acclaimed play
about home, exile and the power of the written word - is touring to high
schools and communities across southern Ontario with a public performance in
Toronto, May 2, as part of a series of commemorative events leading up to the
20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising.
    The TAXI Project is based on the lives and writings of four members of
PEN Canada's Writers in Exile Program: Emma Beltran, Martha Kuwee Kumsa, Goran
Simic and Sheng Xue and directed by Weyni Mengesha. Performances are
accompanied by a talk and discussion with members of the Writers in Exile
Program.
    "The TAXI Project provides a unique opportunity for writers like myself
to tell our stories and learn how the struggle for human rights is being
fought by writers around the world," says playwright Sheng Xue, a journalist
and poet exiled from China for her reports on the Tiananmen Square uprising.
    "Hundreds, maybe thousands, of students and citizens were killed during
the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989," says writer Sheng Xue. People
have been silenced for so long and the official media is filled with lies.
June 4 is still a very sensitive, even dangerous, topic in China. Some
victim's family members have been under surveillance for 20 years. Still
numbers of people are in prison. We have to keep the voice loud here in
Canada."
    Isobel Harry, Executive Director of PEN Canada, goes on to explain, "This
is a very exciting collaboration between our Writers in Exile Program and
local theatre artists that we hope raises critical awareness about the freedom
of expression issues that PEN Canada works for locally and internationally."
    The play is part of a three-year initiative engaging communities in a
creative exploration around themes of freedom of expression, exile and refugee
experiences. The TAXI Project began in 2006 with funding from the Ontario
Trillium Foundation, Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Arts Foundation and the
Toronto Arts Council.

    
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    EVENT DETAILS
    -------------

    PERFORMANCE DATES:    April 14 - May 9 - Schools and Communities across
                          southern Ontario

    PUBLIC PERFORMANCE    May 2, as part of the 20th anniversary
                          of the Tiananmen Square uprising in partnership
                          with the China Rights Network

    LOCATION:             The Cecil Community Centre
                          58 Cecil Street

    TICKETS:              Pay-what-you-can. There is limited seating so
                          please make reservations in advance.

    PEN Canada Contact:   Kendra Ward Kward@pencanada.ca 416-703-8448 x23
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The TAXI Project Play
    ---------------------

    Written by Emma Beltran, Martha Kuwee Kumsa, Sheng Xue, Goran Simic with
    Erica Kopyto and Weyni Mengesha
    Starring: Miranda Edwards, Patrick Garrow, Mayahuel Tecozautla, Diana Tso
    Directed by: Weyni Mengesha
    Video Design by Simon Clemo
    Sound Design by Thomas Payne
    Set and Costume Design by Jackie Chau

    Bios of Writers
    ---------------
    

    Emma Beltran is a poet from Mexico. Since 1994, she has been involved in
the struggle of indigenous peoples facilitating poetry and popular theatre
workshops for women and children throughout Mexico. Beltran was a founding
member of the first community radio station in Mexico's history during the
student strike at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1999. This
work caused her to be subject to political charges, kidnapping and torture by
the Mexican National Army (March 2001). Exiled in Canada since May 2002,
Beltran was an award-winning artist selected for Artscape's Gibraltar Point
International Artist Residency Program in 2005. Her poetry has been published
in various literary journals and anthologies. She is a member of PEN Canada's
Writers in Exile Program and was a Writer in Residence at the University of
Windsor during the spring of 2006. Beltran has recently finalized her
participation at the Wired Writing Studio at The Banff Centre for the Arts,
from which she was granted a full-scholarship. Emma worked as a
Writer-Consultant for the TAXI-Project with PEN Canada and ARCfest and is a
member of freeDimensional, an international human rights and arts organization
that engages in a particular style of networking that builds on existing
resources in the art, media and entertainment sectors in order to engage and
financially underwrite direct actions necessary to help culture
workers-in-distress and use their stories to illustrate critical, contemporary
issues.

    Sheng Xue grew up in Beijing. She moved to Canada soon after the June 4th
Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. In 2000, she won the Canadian Association
of Journalists Award for Investigative Journalism and the National Magazine
Award for an investigative report on the lives of Chinese boat refugees
published in Maclean's magazine. In 2001, Sheng Xue investigated China's most
prominent smuggling case and published a book (in Chinese and Japanese),
Unveiling the Yuan Hua Case, which soon became a bestseller in Chinese
communities outside China and created shockwaves both inside and outside
China. China's Propaganda Ministry immediately banned the book. In 1997, She
joined Radio Free Asia and has been its Canadian correspondent since. In 2005
she joined Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) and has been its North American
correspondent. Sheng Xue is a member of the Editorial Board of June 4 Poetry,
a collection of poems commemorating the June 4th Movement. United Writers
Press in Hong Kong published her poetry collection book Seeking the Soul of
Snow in Dec 2007 but Chinese authorities banned the book before it was
published in February 2007. Sheng Xue was the Writer in Residence in Carlton
University in the year of 2007 and McMasters University in 2009.

    Goran Simic was born in Bosnia and has published many volumes of poetry,
drama and short fiction. His work has been translated into nine languages and
been published and performed in several European countries. One of the most
prominent writers of the former Yugoslavia, Simic and his family were trapped
in the siege of Sarajevo. In 1995 they were able to settle in Canada as a
result of a PEN Freedom to Write Award. Simic held the Writers in Exile
residency at Guelph University in 2006. In 2003, Brick Books published Simic's
first full collection of poems in Canada, Immigrant Blues, translated by Amela
Simic. He continues to write and give readings. His latest poetry collection
is titled From Sarajevo with Sorrow (Biblioasis, 2005).

    Martha Kumsa is an Oromo, born and raised in Ethiopia. She worked as a
journalist there until being imprisoned early in 1980. She spent 10 years in
jail and was released upon the intervention of PEN and Amnesty International.
PEN Canada adopted her as an Honorary Member while she was in prison and
helped bring her to Canada after her release. She was one of two scholars to
join the new Scholars-at-Risk Program at U of T's Massey College. In the midst
of a career change, Martha studied for her PhD at the Faculty of Social Work,
University of Toronto. She has since accepted a tenure-track teaching position
at Wilfred Laurier University.

    ABOUT PEN CANADA

    PEN Canada is a literary and human rights organization supporting the
universal right to freedom of expression. PEN works on behalf of writers, at
home and abroad, who have been forced into silence for writing the truth as
they see it. www.pencanada.ca.

    ABOUT THE ARC COLLECTIVE

    The Art for Real Change Collective formed in 2003 and is comprised of
artists and activists committed to using art as a tool for social change. The
Collective produces ARCfest (Art for Real Change Festival), Toronto's Social
Justice Art Festival, and its members developed a series of events for the Ken
Saro-Wiwa Foundation marking the 10-year anniversary of the death of the
Nigerian activist Ken Saro Wiwa.





For further information:

For further information: Media Contact: Kendra Ward or Josh Bloch, (416)
703-8448 x 23, kward@pencanada.ca, jbloch@pencanada.ca


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