Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Sunday Read: Introducing Metachroma Theatre

Introducing Metachroma Theatre!
(Metachroma Theatre is: Quincy Armorer, Glenda Braganza, Tamara Brown, Lucinda Davis, Julie Tamiko Manning, Mike Payette, Jamie Robinson, and Warona Setshwaelo.)

Some frequently asked questions about Metachroma:

How did you come up with the name Metachroma? What does it mean?
Metachroma literally means “beyond colour” in Greek. It all ties in with with the notion of perception. We were looking for a name that would speak to the way that we wanted to be able to tell stories.

What's Metachroma about? 
Metachroma Theatre addresses the under-representation of visible minority actors in Canadian theatre, challenging current perceptions by telling stories with a diverse cast in order to normalize the presence of these artists on stage.

Why did you start the company? How did you begin? 
In 2010, Montreal-based actors Tamara Brown, Lucinda Davis, Mike Payette, and Warona Setshwaelo came together to discuss the nature of hiring practices in Canadian theatre in relation to artists of colour. As performers who have had the opportunity to engage with companies all over the province and the country, the shocking realization came that there is little to no opportunity for more than one or two actors of colour to share the stage at the same time.  This knowledge raised the instigating question, “Wherein lies the opportunity for many actors of colour to be allowed to perform in mainstream theatre without the guise of adaptation?” 

We came to the conclusion that something would not be done without initiating a change.

Metachroma was officially formed in the latter part of 2010 when additional company members Quincy Armorer, Glenda Braganza, Julie Tamiko Manning, and Jamie Robinson joined the team.

Will you be casting “blindly” in terms of colour? 
The notion of “colour-blind” casting is extremely complex and raises several troubling points that work against Metachroma's philosophy. For one, “colour-blind” insinuates a disregard of the personʼs ethnicity. A director can hire an actor of colour in order to “diversify” an ensemble (eg. Natasha from Chekhovʼs The Three Sisters being cast as a black woman because her character is “the outsider”). However, this does not take into consideration that for instance, adding one black actor in a cast does not actually accomplish this. That is not diversification, it is simply adding one black actor to a cast. 

On the other hand, taking a play from the classic canon and engaging a cast of artists of colour and then adapting the production to explain why there are so many of these artists puts focus on the ethnicity of the actor and how it “works” in the production as opposed to a focus on the story and the ability of the performers in it. With such deliberate casting, where selected characters are specifically chosen to be visible-minority-appropriate, as it were, these cannot therefore be qualified as "blind". This is what our audiences see today and have for decades before. There is no fault on the audience’s part, there simply has been little if any opportunity for them to be challenged in this way in our theatres. 

Metachroma Theatre provides opportunities to visible minority actors in productions that once upon a time would have been denied to them, or where race and culture becomes an artistic interpretation intending to affect or heighten the story. These choices perpetuate the belief that a person of a different race or culture on stage is to be seen differently in plays where race and culture are not the focal points; themes are the focal points of the story. 

Metachroma Theatre however, endeavours to focus on the storytelling of a play, where plot and theme(s) are unaffected by the phenotype of the artists. We hope that this saturation of colour will in essence, invite the audience to witness theatre without superficially rendering any biases and to make diversity of skin colour artistically viewed no differently than the diversity of hair or eye colour. This includes eliminating tokenism and the need to alter the play reflecting a culturally specific environment to match the racial uniformity on stage.

Does this mean you will never hire a white actor? Isn't that reverse racism?
Our mandate is quite clear in that we are looking to work inclusively in terms of diversity. Yes, we do mention challenging present perceptions which might make some people uncomfortable, however, Metachroma Theatre's existence is not a finger of blame pointing towards the status quo. We are simply making a move away from it by taking our future into our own hands.  There is nothing in our mandate about not hiring white actors.

Why did you pick Richard III for a first production?
Metachroma Theatreʼs original choice for its inaugural production was not King Richard III, but rather a contemporary piece. However, we realized that if we wanted this company to make a mark with its entrance onto the Canadian stage, we should choose a piece that would be regarded as more challenging: Shakespeare. Shakespearean plays have been a slow nut to crack in terms of non-traditional casting and though there have been excellent productions with cultural concepts (Haitian Macbeth, First Nations King Lear, etc.) and there have been wonderful actors of colour in Shakespearean roles (two members of Metachroma are Stratford alumni), to have a whole cast of people of colour performing Shakespeare without a cultural adaptation is a rarer thing.

When Metachroma Theatre made the decision to jump into Shakespeareʼs world, an early suggestion was A Midsummer Nightʼs Dream, but the thought was that an audience would easily accept watching actors of colour as mystical beings and fictional romantic characters. We wanted a greater challenge; one that would invite a powerful entrance. What would happen if we did Richard III with no reference to culture or race? Would the audience have a more difficult experience watching a historical 16th century English monarchy being embodied by an entire cast of people of colour? Would the audience begin to see their colour as normal? It is important to acknowledge that Metachroma Theatre does not want people to not see our colour on stage, because that would be asking for it to be erased. We want them to see our ethnicity and we want it to be normal; if fairies and amazons, why not kings and queens? The next time a black man is cast as Richard or a South Asian woman is cast as Lady Anne, hopefully no one will wonder why there is a brown person on stage. If this is our mission, then we seek to commit to it fully.

We are excited to be Montreal's only independent English-language company of professional actors of colour, and we warmly welcome you to join us at our upcoming production this Fall.

“Now is the Winter of our Discontent, Made glorious Summer…”

Metachroma Theatre presents 

The Tragedy of Richard the Third:
with the Landing of Earle Richmond, 
and the Battell at Bofworth Field.

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Joel Miller

Segal Centre for Performing Arts Studio
September 19-29, 2012
5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine, Montreal, Québec
Box Office: 514-739-7944

Website: or follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to this production and to seeing this company flourish!


Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.