METACHROMA: (L-R) Tamara Brown, Julie Tamiko Manning, Lucinda Davis and Jamie Robinson (standing)
Photo by Andrea Hausman
Metachroma Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s historical Richard III opens this week at the Segal Centre. The bard’s tale of a Machiavellian king and his undoing will be the troupe’s inaugural full-scale performance.
Metachroma means “beyond colour,” and the theatre company’s raison d’être is to address and respond to the under-representation of visible minorities in the arts. As actress Tamara Brown admits, this ultimately means that the long-term goal of the group to make itself irrelevant.
“Black Theatre Workshop is wonderful,” she says, “but that’s not what we’re doing here. We’re not limiting ourselves to an ideal of telling stories about people of colour with actors of colour. We’re interested in tackling any or all English drama.”
Brown is effervescent, slightly hyper with overwork. She’s playing Queen Elizabeth in Richard III, and she’s also workshopping a play about Robin Hood with Geordie Productions, for which she’s been learning to fight.
“In most plays, your skin colour means you need a reason to be there. Why? We suspend disbelief all the time in the theatre, or watching a movie or TV,” she says, noting that we expect children to suspend their disbelief at the drop of a hat, so it’s not unreasonable to think adults can do likewise.
The quality of the acting is her focal point, an ideal toward which the actors are working, a strength that operates independently of appearance: “We’re challenging people a little, we’re not asking people to make a superhuman effort!”
While Metachroma has been bringing together actors of many backgrounds to work on scripts since 2010, Richard III marks their first production. The actors hired veteran drama teacher Joel Miller to direct the play, and have been working on the script to synthesize a playbook from the First Folio and Quarto editions.
“Normally, if there’s a part for a black performer, I’m competing against my friends to get that one role. Metachroma gives us the chance to perform together.” Brown, an alumna of the Concordia theatre program, studied under Miller there and is clearly happy to be working with him again.
Brown notes that troupes with similar aspirations — Urban Ink and Obsidian Theatre — have sprung up in Vancouver and Toronto, responding to the same need of performers of colour to build something that frees them from the conservative casting tendencies that limit many performers’ access to movies and TV. She knows of no such French-language troupe here. “I’d be delighted if I heard of anything,” she adds.
Brown laughs when I point out the coincidence the last Plantagenet king is in the news again just as their play is set to open. Archaeologists unearthed a skeleton near Bosworth Field last week that has a curvature of the spine and other marks suggesting it could be the remains of Richard, one of the few British monarchs whose final resting place was unknown. ■
Richard III runs at the Segal Centre (5170 Côte Ste-Catherine) to Sept. 29, 8 p.m., $29/$18 for students, seniors and professional artists.