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COLUMN: Lost Heroes of Oro tells 'moving' origin story of county’s Black community

'This is a story that will move you, educate you and open your eyes to the unfair cruelties of the world that existed before,' says local artist and creator
2022-01-14 Alinka Angelova-May
Alinka Angelova-May

In the everyday hustle and bustle, it's easy to forget that we are just the latest addition of residents who call this city and county our home.

Stories of tragedy and triumph by those who came before us are carved into foundations everywhere, but are not common knowledge.

Local artist and creator Alinka Angelova-May has created a new musical experience that blends the history of an integral landmark with the people who lived through a pivotal moment in Canada’s past.

Produced by Theatre by the Bay, The Lost Heroes of Oro tells the origin story of the county’s Black community in the 1800s through original music and lyrics.

Before more details are released, I had the opportunity to talk to the project’s writer and director about the upcoming musical and what the audience should look forward to.

Richard Varty (RV): How long have you been working in the arts?

Alinka Angelova-May (AM): Ever since I could walk and talk, I have been into the arts. However, I have been working professionally in the arts for more than 20 years now.

RV: Where do you find your inspiration to write and create?

AM: I get my inspiration from my heavenly father, intense and rewarding life situations  I pay close attention to what is happening in the world, and before May 2020 when my mom was on this earth, from her.

I also get a lot of inspiration in the shower, believe it or not. Whenever I get into water, it feels like freedom. The feeling of freedom makes me super creative. In the shower is usually where I write my songs, create my themes and storylines for my works.

RV: Without giving away too many details, what is The Lost Heroes of Oro about?

AM: The Lost Heroes of Oro is about the events surrounding the Oro Methodist Episcopal Church in Simcoe County, what it stands for and how it came to be. 

It is a musical journey in the life and struggles of a former Black slave named Richard Pierpoint and the connection he has to the Underground Railroad's last stop: the African Oro Episcopal Church. The original music will have you singing along while bringing you to a place of beauty, tragedy and love.

This is a story that will move you, educate you and open your eyes to the unfair cruelties of the world that existed before.

RV: Was there a particular moment or that inspired you to write this play?

AM: Well, to be honest, I always said I would never write or create anything that’s too sensitive of a subject like slavery, the Holocaust, or child abuse. However, when (Theatre by the Bay artistic director) Iain Maggoch came to me and offered me this opportunity, something on the inside that I can’t explain sparked and I felt different about it.

Being as creative as I am, as he was speaking to me about the project, I felt like there was something that people, including me, needed to learn about this story and right at that moment I felt like I was the only one that would be able to deliver it properly.

To confirm, I spoke to my mother about it and I got her 100 per cent approval. I was inspired.

RV: Is there something you have learned during the research and writing process that would surprise people?

AM: Just learning about the church alone was an eye-opener. Like others, I have been a resident in Barrie since 1996, and I have never heard or learned about the Oro Methodist Episcopal Church at all. During my time researching about the events surrounding the church, it really opened my eyes.

People would be very surprised at the beauty that can come out of such times of struggle.

Even though I knew this, it didn’t really dawn on me until now that we Afro-Canadians have come so far. I mean, so far! To be able to do the things I am able to do as a Black woman is a serious accomplishment, and that is all because of the people who fought
before us.

RV: In three words, how would you describe The Lost Heroes of Oro?

AM: Moving, tragic, and beautiful.

More information about The Lost Heroes of Oro is available by visiting www.theatrebythebay.com.