By Jared Davidson –
Storytelling is, at its heart, about connection. The best storytellers are the ones that break down the walls that stand between one human and another, and open up an audience’s imagination. And it is this quality that Jacqui Du Toit embodies so fully. She has a gift for telling stories in a gripping, mesmerizing fashion, a skill that has earned her a spot on this year’s Westfest lineup.
The festival, now in its 13th iteration, has moved to greener pastures, literally. With the festival’s new location in Laroche Park, comes a heftier lineup with even more featured local talent.
Jacqui’s stories have caught Ottawa’s attention primarily because of the dynamism of Jacqui herself. A multitalented performer, Jacqui has used dance, music, and visual art in her performances, all in service of connecting with her audience. It is that cultivation of intimacy that keeps Jacqui performing and keeps her audience returning for more.
“I believe in it,” she says. “It’s me. I always say if I can give myself goosebumps when I rehearse, then I know.”
As a performer, she is present, fluid—alive on the stage like the characters she embodies. It is clear that the stories she performs are full of meaning to her.
She began storytelling not long after she came to Ottawa from her home of Cape Town, South Africa. Initially she found the city to be an unwelcoming place, in large part because of her status as a minority and a woman.
“I found it very discouraging trying to tap into the network here,” she says. “So I decided to create it myself.”
She began her own theatre company and began running an event she called Theatre Nights, in which local theatre artists were featured with a mind to buoy up the scene. Soon, she partnered with Just Jamaal the Poet to run Origin studio, a Mechanicsville location that brings attention to local artists and offers them a place to rehearse.
Though her background is in theatre, she always had a penchant for storytelling, and when one of her performers cancelled on her at the last minute, she took to the stage to tell a story she had only learned hours before.
“It just happened,” she says, “and people loved it.”
Jacqui takes to the role of the storyteller effortlessly. She sees it as a position that has been vacated only recently, usurped by the mediums of television and movies. Jacqui points out that there is something special about storytelling, one that no other medium captures.
“With acting there is a fourth wall, but with storytelling I look directly at you,” she explains. “The fourth wall is broken so there is a relationship between storyteller and audience.”
For her, everything comes down to that connection. It’s what sets her apart from lesser storytellers and what has earned her a spot at Westfest alongside such local talent as John Akpata, Apollo the Child, Just Jamaal and King Kimbit. With a lineup such as this, it seems unlikely that there will be a single unconnected audience member at Laroche Park on Friday June 3. And Jacqui would not have it any other way.
Check the schedule at westfest.ca for additional details about Jacqui du Toit’s spoken word performance at Westfest.