Meet Krystle Dos Santos, the performer bringing Viola Desmond to the stage
“In November 1946, hair salon owner Viola Desmond went to a film at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, NS. But what began as a night at the movies became a night in prison. Unaware that the theatre was segregated, the Black Nova Scotian chose a main‐floor seat. When she refused to move to the balcony, where Black patrons were expected to sit, she was arrested and dragged out of the theatre.
For many people, the story would have ended there – but Desmond refused to accept the charges against her, and her case went all the way to Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court. By refusing to change seats and by fighting her conviction in court, Viola Desmond directly challenged segregation in Canada. Even though she ultimately lost her appeal, her stand against injustice galvanized Nova Scotia’s Black community and helped inspire Canada’s civil rights movement.
The justness of Desmond’s cause was officially recognized in 2010, when the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia posthumously pardoned her, removing her conviction from the historical record. In 2018, she became the first Canadian woman featured on a regularly circulating Canadian $10 bill. Desmond has also appeared on a Canadian postage stamp, has her own Heritage Minute and there is even a ferryboat in Halifax named in her honour.”
– One woman’s resistance, Viola Desmond’s Story, Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Vancouver songstress and performer Krystle Dos Santos, with the support of Steve Charles on bass and Alex Ward on piano, brings the life of Viola Desmond to the stage in Hey Viola!
The cabaret is inspired by the dynamic and inspirational music that filled the life and home of this trailblazer of the civil rights movement. With brilliant hits of the era, like “Dream a Little Dream”, “Smile”, “A Change is Gonna Come”, and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, this show gives audiences an opportunity to discover how the actions of one woman played a huge role in a movement that continues today.
We asked Krystle a few questions about her career, the production, and her relationship with Viola Desmond.
How did you start your career in the performing arts?
KDS: I always had a love for music, drama, and performing in school – but I started taking singing lessons at 17 and went to performing arts college at 21 and it just stuck! I released my first album in 2008 and my first professional musical was Dreamgirls in 2013.
When did the idea for this show [Hey Viola!] first come about, and how did you get involved?
Hey Viola! was an idea my co-creator/director [Tracey Power] had; she spoke to me about it while I was auditioning for her other musical, Chelsea Hotel, back in 2017. I was immediately excited by the idea and wanted to know more about ‘the lady on the $10 bill’ – it sparked such passion in me. We workshopped it and developed it through 2018 and 2019. Miraculously, the show debuted during the pandemic in October 2020 to 50-person audiences, and I was fortunate to meet some members of Viola’s family.
Did you know a lot about Viola Desmond before you started working on the show? How has your relationship with her story changed?
No, I did not know a lot – that’s a huge reason why we developed the show. Her legacy as a beauty entrepreneur is incredible, and I feel that it should be celebrated and highlighted so much more. She was way ahead of her time! I greatly admire the strength and courage she had to forge ahead the way she did after what happened to her in the Roseland Theatre. This show helps me connect to her as real person.
What is the most interesting thing you learned about Viola Desmond during this process? Is there something most people wouldn’t know about her?
She founded an incredible beauty business with unique products for Black women in a time when there was nothing else on the market. She also opened beauty schools to provide training for young Black women to support their growth and employment. Similar institutions in the country did not allow Black women to enroll, but Viola gave them an education and helped them advance in the beauty industry.
Have you performed in P.E.I. before? What are you most looking forward to about coming to the Island?
I’ve never been to P.E.I. before and I’m so excited to come and see this side of the country. Other than sharing Viola’s amazing story, I’m really looking forward to experiencing the beauty of the East Coast, as I am very familiar with the beauty of the West Coast. I can’t wait!
Hey Viola! runs at The Mack from August 3 – 13 as part of The 2022 Charlottetown Festival.