Black Theatre Workshop’s mandate is “to encourage and promote the development of a black and Canadian theatre,” and their 7th annual Discovery Series, happening Monday April 14, will present a staged reading of Shauntay Grant’s second work for the stage: a 90-minute, three-act drama called The Bridge. Director Mike Payette discusses this brand-new play, a work-in-progress at Black Theatre Workshop.
Althea Wilson-Forbes (AW): Was there a selection process for The Bridge, or was it something that the playwright, Shauntay Grant, submitted?
Mike Payette (MP): The Bridge was a submission, and generally, we receive new play submissions from all over Canada. The Discovery Series is an opportunity to get those pieces heard by an audience. Black Theatre Workshop (BTW) won’t necessarily be able to produce the final play, but it’s a chance to bring the work of black Canadian playwrights to light.
AW: And selecting the actors?
MP: There’s a small pool of available actors in the city for English theatre, and it’s even smaller in the black community, so the search for talent was limited to what was on the page in terms of character. Choosing actors became more about finding the right voices. It’s really about getting the audience to listen to the words and listen to the story.
AW: Will the actors be completely reading from the script?
MP: There will be five actors along with a gospel music component, so they’ll be performing with only musical stands and scripts. A staged reading is unique because it’s bare bones. Usually, our director preps about a week before and the actors are sent the script. Then there’s just a two-day rehearsal period, including a full run-through the day before the performance.
AW: How does minimal staging add to the experience of seeing a play like The Bridge?
MP: One of the questions we ask as actors and director is “How do we entertain an audience?” without having all the sets and costumes to fall back on. Well, featuring live and recorded music helps, since it’s an integral part of The Bridge. At the end of the show, we have a question and answer period so we can find out what people are taking away from the experience, and if they have a connection to the piece. This is very helpful, not only for us but for the playwright, and we have an open-door policy on feedback.
AW: Could you give us a little background about The Bridge?
MP: The Bridge is set in a small rural community in Nova Scotia that revolves around spirituality, faith, and local gossip. The play examines the hypocrisy of the devout as they face their actions as flawed human beings. The story features two brothers and shifts back and forth between 1988 and 2010. A woman named Anna had a child with one of the brothers, a child that we see grow up. One brother is a reverend, and the other is not. They’ve been estranged since the incident with Anna. A secret is eventually revealed between Anna and the brothers, which affects the community in terms of what they want for themselves versus what they think God wants for them.
BTW’s Discovery Series is at the MAI Café (3680 Jeanne-Mance) on April 14. 7:30pm. Doors open at 7:00. $12. Call (514) 932-1104 to R.S.V.P.