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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Theatre For Thought, September 8, 2012

joel fishbane

Many young artists have made bold pacts after a night of too many beers, but every now and then the promises remain even in the harsh light of day. Such was the case for the founders of Metachroma Theatre, Montreal’s newest independent theatre company. Comprised of some of Montreal’s most talented actors – Tamara Brown, Lucinda Davis, Mike Payette to name a few – the company was created to promote a singular mandate:  to produce theatre that normalizes the presence of cultural minorities on stage. 

“This is an idea that we have all had in our heads for a long time,” said Julie Tamiko Manning, a Company member who's playing several roles both onstage and off. A third-generation Japanese-Canadian, Manning can relate to the idea that sparked the Company’s creation: How come we never see minorities on the stage unless it’s a culturally specific show?

To challenge this (unfortunate) norm, the Company will be presenting their own take on Shakespeare’s Richard III at the end of September. In many ways, it was the perfect choice: the famed hunchback, after all, was also a minority within his own community. In addition to being one of the show’s producers, Manning will also be taking on the roles of Clarence and the Duchess of York. “Gender blind casting was necessary,” she laughed. “We have too many women for a Shakespearean history.”

Metachroma (Manning at top)
Despite this, the production is emphatically not going to focus on the racial or gender differences of the cast. Rather then set Richard III in a specific cultural milieu, this will be a fairly faithful rendition of the show in which the cast just happens to be multi-chromatic. Directed by Joel Miller – a Concordia theatre prof and a former Artistic Director of NTS’ English Acting Section – this Richard III will explore the play from the Elizabethan point of view. “We’re exploring the Elizabethan thought process,” said Manning. “How they viewed Richard and the royalty as part of this great chain of being.”

All this is fairly new stomping ground for Manning, who has spent recent years focusing on the very work that Metachroma Theatre would never produce. In addition to her work as an actress, she’s also a talented playwright who is currently working on two plays about the Japanese-Canadian internment camps that sprung up during World War II. One is a docu-drama based on interviews with the Nisei, the Japanese-Canadians who were children when they were sent to the camps. The other is a fictional take on the internment camp experience inspired by the stories from Manning’s own family.

“These are stories that have to get out somewhere,” said Manning. “I’ve wanted to tell the story of my community for a really long time.”

Manning is still accomplishing this with Metachroma Theatre: whether it's exploring Canada’s history of racial intolerance or simply normalizing the place of actors of color on stage, Manning continues to work towards helping Canadians embrace their own diversity. By discussing the internment camps, she is helping us face our past; and through Metachroma Theatre, she is helping us face our future. 

Racially-diverse casting in narratives that have no specific cultural theme is an imperative step if we are to keep theatre relevant: when it comes to people of color, the word people must be given equal weight. We are all more similar than we sometimes like to believe.  “Richard III is someone we can all relate to,” Manning said. “This is how he gets the audience to go along with him – because at some point, we all feel like outsiders.”

Richard III adapted by the company from the play by William Shakespeare, will play at the Segal Centre Studio Space in Montreal from September 19 – September 30, 2012. For tickets call 514.739.7944 or visit

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