Black Theatre Workshop (BTW), the longest running Black theatre company in Canada, has reached a significant milestone – its 50th Anniversary season.

For 50 years, BTW has been a pillar in the Canadian theatre landscape, dedicated to the development and promotion of stories that celebrate Black society and culture. From its early days under the umbrella of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Montreal’s Drama Committee to becoming a nationally renowned award-winning professional theatre company, BTW has shown perseverance, resilience, innovation and growth, helping to solidify its place as one of the preeminent theatre companies in Montreal and across the country. Now celebrating its 50th year, BTW is excited to launch a season that sets the stage for its promising future.

The coronavirus pandemic forced BTW to abandon its original programming, moving most of its planned productions to 2021-22. Despite this, BTW has called on all of its half century experience to produce a 50th season like no other in its history, with a focus on virtual events and the creation of new work for future presentation.

That Black Theatre Workshop is still in existence, succeeding, evolving and thriving, is a testament to the many dedicated artists and supporters that have been a part of the company’s rich history for the past five decades,” says Quincy Armorer, BTW Artistic Director. “That kind of longevity doesn’t happen by accident. We are standing on the shoulders of many pioneers who fought hard to ensure that Black stories had their place in Canadian theatre. It’s a legacy that we are proud of, and one that we hope to continue to honour in everything that we do.

“Approaching our 50th anniversary has been a time of deep reflection for us. There is a huge responsibility that comes with representing communities that have been systemically underserved, and we do not take this responsibility lightly,” explains Armorer. “With increased awareness of the global movement to end anti-Black racism, we have been asking ourselves, ‘What kind of theatre do we want to be? What are the stories that need to be told? How do we stay relevant within a society and industry that are ever-evolving around us?’

BTW is at a crossroads at the exact same moment that we are at a milestone, and reflecting upon our place in Canada’s artistic landscape has helped us carve out for ourselves the direction of our future path. Our 50th season was going to be our largest season ever, with 3 mainstage productions for the first time. We’ve unfortunately had to postpone all of those projects, but we are excited to celebrate our milestone year with an intimate season that includes both live and virtual events, launching us into the next half-century of BTW, and beyond.” 

For season 50, BTW is pleased to announce the appointment of Lydie Dubuisson as its new Artistic Associate. A bilingual emerging playwright and director, Lydie is an alumnus of the BTW Artist Mentorship Program with a promising career in both English and French theatre. As part of the BTW team, she will be working closely with Artistic Director Quincy Armorer on the company’s future programming, as well as on its play development initiatives and other artistic projects.

BTW will also welcome two Resident Designers for the 50th season. Set and Costume Designer Nalo Soyini Bruce and Lighting Designer Tim Rodrigues have worked with BTW on multiple projects and were assigned to the company’s anniversary mainstage productions, which have now been postponed. As Resident Designers they will collaborate in the development of upcoming BTW projects and be responsible for the designs of productions that will take place during the 2021-22 season.

With the interruption of live performance due to the pandemic, BTW continues to put increased focus on the creation of new work. BTW has partnered with BradyWorks on the creation of the new chamber opera Backstage at Carnegie Hall by Composer Tim Brady and Librettist Audrey Dwyer. Supported by the National Arts Centre‘s Creation FundBackstage at Carnegie Hall is inspired by the life of guitarist Charlie Christian and will be developed over the next two years with a World premiere scheduled for the fall of 2022. Other projects currently in development include the commissioning of new plays from playwrights Donna-Michelle St. Bernard and Kym Dominique-Ferguson, as well as the French translation of Simone Half and Half by Christine Rodriguez.

The first event of the 50th season will be the annual Discovery Series – a play reading of a new work in development. The selected play this year is Sanctuary by BTW‘s newly appointed Artistic Associate Lydie DubuissonSanctuary is a feminist conversation between a teenage girl and her sister, her Godmother, her best friend, her pastor and God, as she takes refuge in the sanctuary of her church while searching for answers about her destiny. Due to the pandemic, the Discovery Series this year will be a virtual event, streamed live on the BTW Facebook page on December 11, 2020.

The 50th anniversary of Black Theatre Workshop also marks the 35th anniversary of the Vision Celebration Gala. The annual event pays tribute to Black Canadians who have made significant contributions to the performing arts. This year, the prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award will be presented to Haitian dancer, choreographer, teacher and artistic director Eddy Toussaint. The Dr. Clarence Bayne Community Service Award and two youth awards will also be presented at the gala, which this year will be transformed into an online virtual event streamed live on the BTW Facebook page. Vision Celebration Gala will be held on Saturday, January 30, 2021 at 7pm and will feature performances from some of Montreal’s most talented artists, including a special performance from legendary award-winning vocalist, Ranee Lee!

Also in the new year, BTW will present an online Poetry Jam! This event will bring together some of Montreal’s most talented spoken wordsmiths in a showcase where each artist will perform work based on a chosen theme. Following the presentation, the poets will participate in a virtual live discussion and Q&A with the audience. Get inspired and be moved by the power of the spoken word at the BTW Poetry Jam. Look out for more information on the BTW website.

“Many of the projects in the upcoming BTW season speak directly to the Black Lives Matter movement. The need for Black stories is greater now than ever before, and the projects that make up the second half of the season reflect on the urgent need to draw attention to the hardships and injustices faced by Black communities the world over.” – Quincy Armorer, BTW Artistic Director

Earlier this year, Black Theatre Workshop was selected as one of 11 companies from across the country to participate in the National Arts Centre‘s ‘Grand Acts of Theatre‘ initiative, bringing large-scale socially distant performances to live audiences during the pandemic. As a result of Montreal being upgraded to a covid red zone, the performance, originally scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend, has been postponed until the spring. Black and Blue Matters – Track 1: No One Gives a F*ck About A Cop is an excerpt from BTW’s upcoming production of Black and Blue Matters, a satirical, interactive Hip Hop musical written by Omari Newton and directed by Diane Roberts. This installation performance is a rap battle between Sammir Frederique, a Black teenager who was shot nine times by a police officer, and David Harrison, the white police officer who shot him. The story aims to deconstruct the justice system, white supremacy and the nature of post/neo-colonial trauma. The exact date of this presentation will soon be determined in collaboration with the National Arts Centre.

While primarily known as an anglophone theatre company, BTW is committed to expanding its programming to offer productions and performances in French. On the heels of past collaborations with Espace Libre (Black Boys) and Théâtre D’Aujourd’hui (Angélique), BTW is thrilled to partner with Théâtre La Licorne on a workshop presentation of the English/French translation of Pipeline by Dominique Morisseau, translated by Mishka Lavigne, to be presented in the spring of 2021. Pipeline tells the urgent story of a mother’s struggle to protect her teenage son, keeping him from falling into the “school-to-prison pipeline” that funnels underprivileged youth from public school directly into the criminal justice system. The play is a reflection of not only the deep racial issues that exist in the United States but also on our own systemic racial imbalances here in Canada. This BTW/La Licorne collaboration will also extend into the 2021-22 season, when a bilingual cast will perform in concurrent presentations of both the English and French version of the play.

The Artist Mentorship Program (AMP) is now in its eighth successful year, and this season the program welcomes a talented ensemble of 11 emerging IBPOC theatre artists, strengthening their skills and preparing them for professional careers in the performing arts. With the continued support of the Department of Canadian Heritage, as well as a new AMP Season Sponsorship from the DAN School of Drama & Music at Queen’s University, the AMP program continues to be an invaluable resource for emerging theatre artists. The Artist Mentorship Program Industry Showcase will be presented April 22–25, 2021 as a live stream event on the BTW Facebook page, connecting the talented ensemble with directors, artistic directors, casting agents and other potential engagers not just in Montreal but across the country.