The show must go on — and Black Swan Production Company is lifting the virtual curtain this March.
Black Swan Production Company, founded this past summer, aims to highlight the experiences of underrepresented people by showcasing authentic stories from marginalized communities — including Indigenous, Black, people of colour and LGBTQ2+ individuals.
And this isn’t the only problem theatre-lovers face. Some productions like Hamilton may practice colour-blind casting — casting actors regardless of their skin colour or ethnicity — but this practice unrealistically assumes that everyone has the same life experiences. Black Swan's mandate argues that this can only be solved by creating stories for Indigenous, Black, people of colour and LGBTQ2+ individuals, instead of placing them in stories created for and by white people.
“Something that was really important to us was that people who were a part of these marginalized communities actually get to tell these stories,” says Hope Van Der Merwe, a co-director and co-founder of Black Swan.
Van Der Merwe, a second-year master of fine arts acting conservatory student at York University, and Alysha Mohamed, a third-year English student at Queen’s University, co-founded Black Swan as a creative outlet during the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Swan advocates for representation in theatre and broader social justice.
“We were talking about how powerful it would be if we were putting on the stories that we want to see as young theatre artists,” says Mohamed. “It was us wanting to do something together artistically and also wanting to have the social justice impact as well.”
The company’s first event — the New Work Play Festival — will showcase four original one-act plays online on March 6 and 7, as well as March 12 and 13.
“We put out a call to playwrights to highlight the work of young, Canadian theatre artists, specifically from marginalized groups, and we got an incredible response,” explains Mohamed. “People were submitting their scripts from everywhere — obviously, Western [University], York, Queens, and also people in Toronto, Vancouver, [University of Alberta], New Brunswick. We have no idea how that happened, but it was across Canada.”
The plays feature directors, actors and playwrights from across the United States and Canada, including Western graduate Joshua Patrick and current Western student Alexandra Rizkallah as an assistant director and director, respectively.
Black Swan has also received support from Theatre Western and the Huron Underground Dramatic Society, who have helped promote the festival among Western students. Black Swan has also received a grant from Western’s University Students' Council to help get started.
“Given our current context with the pandemic, we’ve all really been missing a sense of connection and finding things that bind us together as a community, whether that be in the Western community or more broadly across post-secondary institutions across Canada,” says Ziyana Kotadia, a third-year global gender studies student, Huron University College Students' Council president and financial director of Black Swan.
“Part of what really inspires me about this project is that it is a uniting force in a lot of ways and is bringing together different demographics to bond over a shared love of theatre and authentic storytelling.”
As people of colour, Mohamed and Kotadia acknowledge that the lack of representation in the theatre community can be disappointing and disheartening.
“It’s breaking a glass box,” says Mohamed. “Theatre can be suffocating for marginalized artists, because you constantly feel like you’re in a space that’s not yours. For people with intersecting marginalized identities, it’s even more difficult.”
“It feels very exciting to be a part of something so authentic,” adds Kotadia. ”In my time at Western, I haven’t seen a whole lot of projects like this, and I think it’s something the Western community needs. We need more artists from marginalized communities to tell their own stories, rather than trying to create space for them in existing narratives that were never structured for those stories in the first place.”
Correction (March 3, 2021, 5:30 p.m.): This article was corrected to reflect that Black Swan received support from the Huron Underground Dramatic Society, not the Huron Underground Theatre Society.