BLACK AND BLUE MATTERS: An interview with Quincy Armorer
On the occasion of Black Theatre Workshop’s 50th anniversary, we spoke with Quincy Armorer, Associate Artist of the English section and Artistic Director of Black Theatre Workshop.
This was days before what should have been the premiere of Black and Blue Matters, a play that addresses the important topic of systemic racism was postponed, due to the new health and safety guidelines by the Quebec governement to stop the pandemic.
Black Theatre Workshop is celebrating its 50thanniversary this year: How are things going? What are some of the upcoming projects planned for the celebration of this important milestone?
We are all excited at BTW to celebrate our anniversary. 50 years! A milestone like this really makes you take the time to look back and reflect on history and legacy, and we certainly have a lot to be proud of at BTW. We want to honour that in the coming year. Those of us who are a part of the company now are standing on the shoulders of so many dedicated and passionate artists and trailblazers who paved the way for us over the course of five decades. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for people like founder and current board member Dr. Clarence Bayne and the many other artists and contributors who helped shape the company into what it is today. They deserve to be celebrated and we want to make sure they get their moment in the spotlight! We’ve unfortunately had to alter most of our original programming for the season. This was supposed to be our grandest season ever, with the three mainstage productions for the first time. Now, as a result of the pandemic, those productions have all been postponed or cancelled. Just last week we had to postpone our first event of the season; an excerpt of the play Black and Blue Matters by Omari Newton, as part of the National Arts Centre’s ''Grand Acts of Theatre'' initiative. We will still be presenting our Black History Month school tour, a brilliant play by Makambe K. Simamba called Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers, which is inspired by the life and death of Trayvon Martin. We'll also be having other events and online content to celebrate the milestone.
BTW has been working on Black and Blue Matters, which was supposed to be presented starting October 11. Unfortunately, due to the new guidelines from the Quebec government, the show has been postponed. Would you still like to talk about this play? What is it about? (Here's to hoping that we can see it soon!)
Black and Blue Matters is one of the projects I’ve been most excited about during my time at BTW. Even before we were invited to be a part of the National Arts Centre’s ''Grand Acts of Theatre'' this fall, the play was scheduled to be a part of our 50th anniversary season. We’ve obviously had to postpone it, so it will now premiere in the 2021-22 season. Black and Blue Matters is a satirical, interactive hip-hop musical, written by Omari Newton and will be directed by Diane Roberts. It’s a companion piece to Omari’s play Sal Capone: the Lamentable Tragedy of, which BTW premiered in 2013. Black and Blue Matters is presented in the style of a rap battle between Sammy, a Black teenager who was violently killed by a local police officer, and David, the white police officer who shot him. The play deconstructs the justice system, truth, white supremacy, and directly addresses anti-black racism. We’ve been developing it for a few years now and, quite unfortunately to be perfectly honest, the play seems to become more and more relevant from one day to the next. We need plays like this right now. I can’t wait until we can finally share it with everyone.
Systemic racism is present everywhere, and theatre is not immune. How do you hope to foster change and lead discussions in that area in your role as Associate Artist of the English section?
These are certainly not easy conversations to engage in, but they are also among the most necessary and important conversations to have. We’ve seen in recent weeks and months that some of our Canadian theatre institutions still have a lot of work to do in this area, and NTS isn’t exempt from that. I’m happy to see that NTS as taken great steps to address some of the concerns that have been brought to its attention recently. This is important work that needs to be done, but we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. I hope NTS will continue to listen and be responsive to the needs of its community, and I hope that I can do whatever possible to amplify the voices that need to be heard.
You've been Artistic Director of Black Theatre Workshop since 2011. What do you see when you take stock of the progress that has been made and all that remains to be done?
On a company level, I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish at BTW over the past decade. On an industry level, I’ve seen some improvement, sure, but that progress has been extremely slow-moving. I am encouraged to see that in many cases the perceptions of diversity and inclusion have extended beyond just the actors that are hired to include a diversity of stories and aesthetics and practices. That’s definitely a step in the right direction. But we still have a long way to go. We need to have more IBPOC artists in positions of power in our industry. That's something I'd really like to see.
What are some of the ways that you are working on expanding the representation of Black Canadian artists and bridging cultural divides through theatre.
We are trying to be as diverse as we can in our programming. That’s one of the most important steps for us. There are many Black communities, and we want to share stories from as many of them as possible. The commissioning of plays like Simone Half and Half, which tells a biracial experience, and Black and Blue Matters which has its roots in hip-hop culture, allows us to do just that. We’ve also prioritized including stories about the Black LGBTQIA+ experience in our programming. But I think the biggest shift for us is our goal to expand our programming to include productions in French. Until recently, there had been virtually no French theatre in Montreal that spoke to the Black experience. Last year's production of Héritage at Théâtre Jean-Duceppe was significant, in part, because of how rarely Black stories are told on French stages here. We want to change that. Last year we toured a production of Rendez-Vous Lakay by Djennie Laguerre to community centres around the city, and we recently collaborated on projects with Espace Libre and Théâtre d'Aujourd'hui. We're also currently working on a project with Théâtre La Licorne that I'm really excited about and that will be announced later in the year.
What advice would you give to a young person who wants to do theatre but wonders if it still has a relevance in the world today?
If you love it – really love it – then go for it. Theatre has been evolving for millennia. It’s going to continue to change and evolve, but that doesn’t mean it no longer has relevance. The practice of it is different than it was 50 years ago, just as it will be different 50 years from now. But human beings are storytellers by nature, and I believe there’s always going to be a place for what we do. At least I hope so!
On the picture, from left to right: Quincy Armorer, Associate Artist of the English Section and Rebecca Harper, Head of Movement, English Section during the first English Section Meeting of the year 2019.