WCT Reflects on Black History Month - Western Canada Theatre

The past year has been transformational, with COVID making us all rethink how we personally interact, how we work, and, of course, how we are able to spend our leisure time, including how we gather at live events.

This time was also transformational in building our understanding of the importance of addressing systemic racism in our society and workplaces. At WCT we recognize that we need to do our part to address systemic racism, both within our company and in our contributions to our community through our programming and outreach activities.

We take the opportunity of Black History Month in February to recognize, celebrate, and amplify Black voices in our theatre community and of Black history in Canada. We are proud to have collaborated on these productions and with these artists, and we also acknowledge our responsibility to do more, and do better – not just in Black History Month, but throughout the year, and in all aspects of our organization.

Serving Elizabeth by Marcia Johnson

The first preview of the world premiere of Marcia Johnson’s Serving Elizabeth was just over one year ago, today. This passionate, intelligent, heart-warming drama turned out to be the final production in the Sagebrush last season, but the play itself has several new productions planned for theatres across Canada in the next two years. We were proud to have had it here first!

We were grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with playwright/actor Marcia Johnson, director Leah-Simone Bowen, designer Rachel Forbes, and cast members Allison Edwards-Crewe and Tony Ofori who form part of a strong and vibrant community of Canadian Black theatre artists.

Serving Elizabeth has been published and is now available for purchase at:

Photos: WCT and Thousand Island Playhouse's Serving Elizabeth, by MARCIA JOHNSON
Director LEAH-SIMONE BOWEN; Set & Costumes RACHEL FORBES; Lighting JARETH LI | Photos by Barbara Zimonick.
(L) Cover of the published script for "Serving Elizabeth"; (Top L) MARCIA JOHNSON, TONY OFORI & ALLISON EDWARDS-CREWE;

Hey Viola! & Krystle Dos Santos

British Columbia singer/actor Krystle Dos Santos was scheduled to bring her vibrant and poignant jazz cabaret Hey Viola! (co-written with Kamloops playwright/director Tracey Power) to Kamloops in September, 2020 in a world premiere at the Pavilion Theatre. Those plans were put on hold by the pandemic, but we look forward to bringing the show to WCT in the near future. The play is a moving, exciting, musical trip through the life of Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond, who was wrongfully convicted of sitting in a “white’s only” section of a movie theatre in Nova Scotia in 1946.

Viola Desmond became well-known for her contribution to the Canadian civil-rights movement, but she was well-known for her ownership and operation of a series of salons that catered to the large Black community in Halifax, a community that grew out of what was originally known as Africville, named for the enslaved residents who essentially built the foundations of the modern city.

Viola Desmond’s wrongful conviction for failing to pay the “amusement tax” – one cent - led to the break-up of her marriage and the loss of her business. She died a premature death in Harlem in 1965 at the age of 50 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. Awareness of Viola’s story has been resurrected in recent years by her placement on the new Canadian $10 bill, the first woman other than the monarch to be featured on a Canadian banknote. Links to Viola’s story can be found below.

Though Hey Viola! is on hold, Krystle has been hard at work during the pandemic, including several outstanding performances online. You can catch Krystle online several times over the next few days:

February 25 (today): TD Sunfest Live Convected Series “BHM : Canada’s Music Landscape” https://sunfest.on.ca

February 27: More than Motown show https://tidemarktheatre.com/event/more-than-motown-with-krystle-dos-santos/
                         CBC Radio's Hot Air interview and performance with Krystle: https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-183-hot-air

More about Krystle and her music: http://www.krystledossantos.com

More about Viola Desmond: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/res/information-backgrounder/Viola_Desmond

Hey Viola! did have a limited premiere at the Anvil Centre in New Westminster in October, 2020. Here is a teaser for the production:


Stories Closer to Home

Kamloops has an extensive history of prominent IBPOC figures who have made an indelible, and often overlooked, contribution to our city and region. Over the next few years at WCT, we will look to develop several stories for our stages about important IBPOC figures in our history who have made indelible contributions to our city.

Many Kamloopsians may be curious about the naming of the downtown “Fremont Block”, named after prominent Kamloopsian, John Fremont Smith. Born in St. Croix in 1850, Smith came to Kamloops after a circuitous journey through the world, with stops in Peru, the Netherlands, and San Francisco, among others. He landed in B.C. in 1872, and made his way from Victoria to Lytton to Clearwater, before landing in Kamloops in 1884. He worked as a postmaster, prospector, cobbler, and was active in the founding of several local business and social associations. Smith also had a close association with the Indigenous community in the Interior, including collaborations on agriculture development, mining, and working as the “Indian Agent” for the local Secwepemc nation.

John Fremont Smith died in his office in the Freemont Block in 1934. For more about this important and fascinating figure in Kamloops history, check out the following article in Kamloops This Week, or pay a visit to the Kamloops Museum and Archives: https://www.kamloopsthisweek.com/community/a-look-back-at-john-fremont-smith-1.24279855

Current Projects Across Canada

21 Black Futures is a production of Obsidian Theatre presented on CBC and CBC Gem. The series asks “What is the future of Blackness? That urgent question is at the heart of these filmed monodramas written by 21 Black playwrights, directed by 21 Black directors, and performed by 21 Black actors.” Watch it at: https://www.cbc.ca/artsprojects/21blackfutures

The English Theatre section of the National Arts Centre has named Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop as the “co-curating company” of their 2021-22 season. More information about this unique and timely partnership can be found here: https://nac-cna.ca/en/stories/story/english-theatre-co-curator-BTW

Serving Elizabeth playwright Marcia Johnson was highlighted in this excellent article profiling 31 female Black Canadian playwrightshttps://www.cbc.ca/arts/31-black-canadian-female-playwrights-you-need-to-know-1.5487368

Anti-Racism Resources

Back in June, amidst some of the heightened tensions surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, WCT took a strong look at our own responsibilities and potential surrounding ally-ship, support and connection with IBPOC (Indigenous, Black and People of Colour) people in our community and beyond. As a result of this self-reflection, we were able to compile a very useful collection of resources for those interested in learning more. Have a look at those resources here:


Theatre is a conversation, and we are grateful to be a part of this conversation.