David Andrew Reid on Being Present in Black Theatre History
My relationship to my Blackness and to Black History Month are not like the typical Canadian or North American experience. Of course, every Black person will have their own experiences, outlooks, opinions, and ideas on how they have (and to continue to) walk through the world.
My relationship is particularly different because I am an immigrant; born and raised in Jamaica. My experience growing up was not of the ‘system’ keeping the Black person down, and though systemic repercussions of colonialism definitely do exist in Jamaica – they manifest in different ways. So myself, as I am sure many of my peers also were at the time – very shielded from that, as Jamaica has a predominantly black population. Black History Month for me in Jamaica thankfully felt like a continuation of what we were already learning in school; learning about our National Heroes, the artists that shaped the Jamaican culture, the dances of our ancestors.
I confess that I don’t know much about Canadian Black history, however most of what I do know, I learned from Canadian Theatre. Many thanks to Black playwrights Andrew Moodie and Andrea Scott; who blessed me with the honour and privilege of participating in a reading and workshop of each of their plays, respectively. Moodie’s play RIOT, centers around the Yonge Street Riots of 1992. Scott’s play CONTROLLED DAMAGE, revolves around the life of Viola Desmond – who is now the face of the ten dollar bill in a royal purple. These plays are not just entertainment; they are an education in important moments of Canadian Black history, and lessons that can guide how we can move forward to create space that hopefully we – and future generations – will benefit from.
One of the most notable experiences that I have had in Canadian Theatre, just so happens to be a moment of Black history; when I performed in the Canadian Regional Premiere of THE COLOR PURPLE in Halifax, Nova Scotia – as part of the first Canadian cast of this musical. There are a number of reasons why this production is so significant to me;
- It was the first time I was a Dance Captain
- It was the first all-Black cast I had ever been in
- I visited Africville and learned about the significant history of Black life in Nova Scotia
- I ate the most amount of seafood.
The most significant reason however, was working with the director & choreographer, Kimberley Rampersad. My friends are probably sick of hearing me to talk about her. One can easily speak of Kimberley’s accomplishments on and off stage; performances at Stratford & Shaw festivals, the first Black woman to ever direct THE COLOR PURPLE (a musical about a Black woman, go figure), her appointment as the Associate Artistic Director of Shaw Festival, her triumphant direction of MAN & SUPERMAN (one of, if not the largest play in the George Bernard Shaw canon), and I could go on. Those of us who are fortunate enough to know her can speak of her generosity, her ferocity in paving a path for others to walk, and her leadership through “leading from behind,” as she always says.
Kimberley once said to me, “my success means nothing if I don’t use it to help others who need it.” That quote has shaped my entire existence in theatre – we are the agents of change; conduits of progression. It is important to me that the door I may open for someone else, leads to a room that is better than it was before – as those who walked through before had done so for me.
The more I think about it, Black History in Canadian Theatre for me is actually ‘Black Present’ in Canadian Theatre. I am extraordinarily fortunate to be able say that I am a witness to the Black artists who are creating the history that will be spoken of, are already spoken of, and will be remembered in years to come. I get to call these people colleagues, friends, and some even – chosen family. Whether they are my senior, my peer, my mentor, or my student – we all affect each other; build each other up; and push, support & learn from each other.
Black Canadian Theatre is my passion, my work, my community, and my teacher.
Happy Black History Month.
David Andrew Reid
To learn more about this blog series on Black History Month, click here to read Artistic Director Ray Hogg’s, introduction blog. Stay tuned each week to hear more from our artists on what Black History Month means to them.
David Andrew Reid’s work with The Musical Stage Company includes the following;