While it may have been from a safely distanced livestream, Montréal’s Black Theatre Workshop still found much to celebrate for this year at their annual Vision Celebration. A night celebrating the city’s Black artistic community, BTW’s Vision Celebration is a night of awards and bursaries, as well as a means to reflect on the Canadian theatre institution’s legacy and look to the strides it is taking towards the future.
Hosted by Black Theatre Workshop member and school liaison Becks Lefranc, the night was studded with stirring performances by award recipients and alumni alike. From the start of award-winning spoken word artist Roen Higgens’ introduction with her piece Casting Black Joy, the night’s tone was set through the jubilant examination the powerfully uplifting force that BTW has been for the city; Victor Philips award-recipient Raphaël Joseph gave a bravely vulnerable and resolutely sensitive exploration of masculinity and Black identity across several of his works; playwright-actor Maryline Chery, who received the Gloria Mitchell-Aleong award, performed an excerpt of her show Afrodisiaque; and the event was closed with a heartening performance of classic Hairspray track “I Know Where I’ve Been” by actor and musical artist Joy Mwandemange.
An Intergeneration Dialogue served as a profound discussion of the organization’s past, present, and future. In a talk between veteran BTW supporter and member Leon Llewellyn and actor Schubert Pierre-Louis, ideas of community and finding one’s path were explored, the experiences of both holding wisdom. Pierre-Louis spoke of joining the company’s Artist Mentorship Program as “finding my tribe”, and highlighted the difference it made in his path:
“The feeling I had before joining AMP, before connecting with BTW, was that I felt lost at sea. I was kind of just floating at sea. And finding BTW was like a lighthouse in the fog… I hadn’t realized I had a voice until then.”
Llewellyn spoke of the direction and purpose that BTW gave him as an artist, as well as the audience it amplified for him in creating designs for their posters and other works. In relation to the organization’s importance, he recalled an African proverb:
“Until the lions can tell their own story, tales of the hunt will always favour the hunter.”
Interim artistic director Tyrone Benskin spoke of the present and near-future of Black Theatre Workshop, including the reinstating of two awards for the coming year. “I’m proud to say we are far-reaching and constantly growing,” stated Benskin. “But it always comes back to community. And we’re confident that these changes will continue to allow us to reflect on the passion and the power and the beauty that is the Black voice and Black stories.” He went on to highlight BTW’s partnership in co-curating the National Art Centre’s upcoming seasons, thanking the institution for “helping Black Theatre Workshop open stages and create a presence for our stories and our storytellers, thereby adding to that legacy”
With 50 years behind Black Theatre Workshop, they are Canada’s longest-running Black theatre company, and a fixture not only in their home of Montréal but on the national scale. A half-century of creation, eight years of their focused artistic mentorship, and the 36th Vision Celebration to honour the company’s growth and excellence, BTW is rich with experience and purpose. As the theatre scene itself shifts and changes in uncertain times, the legacy of this cornerstone is never in question.