Freedom Singer (2017)
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A Project: Humanity production

Co-created by Khari Wendell McClelland and Andrew Kushnir, with Jodie Martinson

Originally developed in association with Urban Ink and Crow’s Theatre, with support from the NAC English Theatre’s “The Collaborations”

Directed by Andrew Kushnir

Starring Khari Wendell McClelland, joined by guitarist Noah Walker and soul singer Tanika Charles

Set and costume design by Joanna Yu
Lighting design by Oz Weaver
Sound design by Debashis Sinha
Stage managed by Emilie Aubin
Production managed by Oz Weaver
Research dramaturgy by Jodie Martinson

Urban Ink presents Freedom Singer –  a new documentary theatre piece featuring Khari Wendell McClelland at the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre

October 7-18, 2017

What Vancouver audiences are saying: 

“It was amazing! It was honest and thought-provoking. If you’re in the Vancouver area, look it up. Take your teens and talk about this part of Canadian history.”

“Freedom Singer was vulnerable, joyful, holy. Go see it!”

“Highly recommend witnessing this piece.”

“It reaches far deeper than words can say. I highly recommend you making time in your hearts and lives for this one!”

Created and produced by Project: Humanity, Freedom Singer is a new documentary theatre piece co-created by Khari Wendell McClelland and Project: Humanity’s Andrew Kushnir with CBC journalist Jodie Martinson. It was inspired by the journey of singer-songwriter McClelland in retracing his great-grandmother’s steps to escaping slavery in the U.S.

In 2015, Juno Award nominee McClelland retraced the steps of his great-great-great-grandmother Kizzy, and using contemporary styles like hip hop, funk and soul, he personalized the songs that likely accompanied her and thousands of others as they escaped U.S. slavery. In sharing this music, Khari is brought face to face with his own “unrecorded” heritage, and the realities and myths of one of our quintessential historic narratives: the Underground Railroad.

The Detroit-born, Vancouver-based singer/songwriter talked to historians, museum curators, and descendants of slaves. His journey was recorded for a CBC documentary.

Freedom Singer premiered on stage in Toronto in February 2017 and is now on a cross-country tour, with a stop in Vancouver this fall at the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre.

The latest groundbreaking verbatim work from Project: Humanity, Freedom Singer asks: can “vibrations of the past” bring us closer to the truths and freedoms we may be seeking today?


Proudly sponsored by GeorgiaStraight-logo


“A sweet reminder of our history”

“There are challenges translating a research project to the stage, but Khari Wendell McClelland finds a sweet spot.”



“A moving musical journey along the Underground Railroad…with a Hamilton- esque twist: [the songs] are reinvented as hip-hop, funk and soul numbers.”

“A Must-See”


Production dates:
October 7-18, 2017
Special performances:
Sunday, October 8 at 2pm – Pay-What-You-Can (admission at door)
Tuesday, October 10 at 8pm – ASL Interpretation & Talkback with the creator and cast (Tickets for ASL interpretation can be requested at the door.)
Tuesday, October 17 – Talkback with the creator and cast

JUST ADDED: Wednesday, October 18 – 1:30pm Matinee for high school students (Special student groups tickets are available for $14 tickets through the box office: 604-629-8849)
Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre, 162 West 1st Avenue, Vancouver, BC
On sale through BMO Theatre Centre’s ticket partner:  or call the VancouverTix box office at 604-629-VTIX (8849)

Freedom Singer

Freedom Singer is a documentary-style piece of theatre that blends Khari Wendell McClelland’s original music with 1850s freedom songs, verbatim interview excerpts, and first-hand stories. It tells of McClelland’s journey to find the music that would have accompanied his great-great-great-grandmother, an escaped slave who walked to Ontario, lost her legs to the cold, had two children with a British-Canadian, then returned to Detroit after emancipation.

McClelland is joined on stage by acclaimed Vancouver guitarist Noah Walker and Juno Award-nominated soul singer Tanika Charles resurrecting these songs for contemporary audiences.

The show is directed by Andrew Kushnir of Project: Humanity, a Toronto theatre company that uses journalistic research and verbatim texts to explore social issues. (e.g., The Middle Place looked at youth shelters, and Small Axe, homophobia)

“You can physically feel this music right now as it may have been felt in the 1800s. History becomes animated; history becomes a verb instead of a noun. These were songs of survival for those singing them – for those who escaped, but also for those who endured or succumbed to the tyranny of slavery. They are songs of dignity forged in the face of inconceivable indignity. They stir the collective memory, the collective imagination — and they need to live on,” says Kushnir.

McClelland adds, “What I’ve come to realize more and more is how important this look back is right now, with the number of people who are displaced through war, environmental degradation, systemic oppression and poverty. I want to ask the audience – what is our role in this time? We often see the Underground Railroad as a defining narrative of Canada, the realization of hope, a safe place from tyranny. I want us to investigate our commitment to liberty and freedom today.”

Recommended for ages 13+
For Media:
Hi-res photo for media use is HERE (photo credit Dahlia Katz)
The promo video for Freedom Singer is HERE 
Facebook: urbaninkproductions
Twitter: urbaninkvan
Instagram: UrbanInkVan
Hashtag: #FreedomSinger


Past Development:
In October 18, 2016, Urban Ink hosted a reading of latest draft of Freedom Singer at The Anderson Street Space in Vancouver.

February 1-11, 2017 Freedom Singer premiered as a limited engagement at the Scotiabank Community Studio in Toronto.