Tableau D’Hôte Theatre is deeply honoured to have received the 2016-2017 Montreal English Theatre Award (META) Outstanding Professional Association of Canadian Theatre (PACT) Production for our coproduction of Lorena Gale’s Angélique with Black Theatre Workshop.
Projects such as Angélique are a rare gift. In over fifteen years of theatre creation, I have seldom been as inspired by a production as I was during the creative process leading up to its Québec premier. Key to this personal and artistic satisfaction was the generous support provided by the Cole Foundation, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ), the Conseil des arts de Montréal (CAM), the Canada Council of the Arts, and the Segal Centre for Performing Arts. The confidence these organisations showed in our visions gifted us with the freedom and resources to invite an array of artists from multiple disciplines to collaborate in telling the tale of Marie-Josèphe Angélique. It is no secret that our granting bodies are chronically underfunded and we would like to recognize the incredible privilege that was bestowed upon us for our production, one that is sadly seldomly granted to projects in Québec that tackle racial issues. Elevating our artistic practices is directly linked to a thoroughly well-funded arts network where artists are not relegated to living in abject poverty for choosing a life of creation. This is why we must support the Conseil québécois du théâtre in their efforts to reject the austerity agenda of Philippe Couillard’s government and inject some desperately needed funds into CALQ’s coffers.
The legacy of slavery in Canada and Québec is often overlooked and mostly evades our understanding of the rot upon which the Canadian confederation was built. A popular refrain during the run of Angélique was how unaware folks were of the story of her execution that resulted from the allegations that she set the fire that engulfed what is now known as Old Montréal in April of 1734. It is no mistake that Marie-Josèphe Angélique is barely even a footnote in most Canadian history books, it is rather a clear testament to the systemic racism upon which all our societal institutions were erected. Stories that challenge the perception of Canada as an intrinsically “good” place are often neglected and dismissed until they fade into distant memory. It is in this light that Lorena Gale’s text is so vitally important, not solely to remind us of the atrocities that were committed against Marie-Josèphe Angélique and other Black and Indigenous individuals forced into slavery, but to highlight that the then is also the now. Yesterday’s Angélique are today’s Freddy Alberto Villanueva, Sammy Yatim, Abdi Abdirahman, Jean-Pierre Bony and Pierre Coriolan. We must say their names.
The notion of living in “interesting times” may have become a redundant adage over the last century where the single greatest constant has been change, but there is no denying that these past few years particularly stick out in their awfulness. The resurgence, normalization and emboldening of neo-nazis and white supremacists is obviously terrifying, but also speaks to the deep-seeded hate that has always been present and which has only been compounded by decades of neoliberalism and growing economic inequality. It appears obvious that those who profit off hatred and bigotry will not be looked upon fondly by the history books of the future. But with all due respect to historians, this fact does little to help alleviate the struggles people face today. It is our responsibility as artists and storytellers to tell these stories now and challenge systemic and institutional injustices. To loudly denounce a provincial government that adjudicates which public services people can receive based on the clothes they wear and that transforms a consultation on systemic racism into a watered-down forum to “celebrate diversity”. Or a Prime Minister that preaches the need for reconciliation while disregarding treaty rights and spending close to a million dollar in court fighting measures that protects Indigenous children. The people affected by these political decisions should not have to wait decades for justice. Frankly, even decades later justice rarely comes.
For white theatre creators, particularly directors and producers, this responsibility must go beyond singing the praises of diversity. Despite the fact that a few racialized artists were awarded METAs this week (and many more were nominated), there remains a prominent whiteness to our stages. This minimal representation is a disservice the multitude of communities that make up Montréal and ultimately impedes on the evolution of our artistic practices. I have faith that more and more companies will follow the lead of Black Theatre Workshop, Teesri Dunya, and Imago Theatre in programming productions that speak truth to power and uplift the voices of artists and writers that are too often tossed to the margins of the traditional Canadian theatre cannon.
Onwards, friends. Let us use our voices and platforms to be actively and fiercely engaged in building a fairer, kinder world. Nothing less will suffice.