NEWSMAKERS CHOIR BOYS

Fugues - - Sommaire - Read Ri­chard Bur­nett’s na­tio­nal queer-is­sues co­lumn Th­ree Dol­lar Bill on­line at www.bug­sbur­nett.blog­spot.com. RI­CHARD BUR­NETT

Mon­treal’s Cen­taur Theatre Com­pa­ny launches its his­to­ric 50th sea­son with the much-an­ti­ci­pa­ted dra­ma Choir Boy by Ta­rell Al­vin McC­ra­ney, the out play­wright who won the Best Adap­ted Screen­play Os­car for the film Moon­lightl.

McC­ra­ney’s ac­clai­med ChoirBoy (which al­so makes its Broad­way pre­miere at the Man­hat­tan Theatre Club in De­cem­ber) tells the sto­ry of Pha­rus, a gay teen at­ten­ding the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Afri­can-Ame­ri­can boys. The Floydd Mon­treal Ri­cketts pro­duc­tion is directed by theatre ve­te­ran Mike Payette, fea­tures as mu­si­cal di­rec­tor, and stars an outs­tan­ding en­semble cast: Ste­ven Charles (as Pha­rus), Pa­trick Abel­lard, Lyndz Dan­tiste, Ch­ris­to­pher Par­ker and Vlad Alexis as the five student choir boys. Black Theatre Work­shop’s ar­tis­tic di­rec­tor Quin­cy Armorer re­turns to the Cen­taur stage to play the boys’ Head­mas­ter, and Paul Rain­ville por­trays white pro­fes­sor Mr. Pend­le­ton. I re­cent­ly in­ter­vie­wed out ac­tors Quin­cy Armorer and Vlad Alexis about co-star­ring in ChoirBoy which runs at the Cen­taur from Oc­to­ber 9 to 28. The Q&A has been edi­ted for length and cla­ri­ty.

HOW MUCH DID YOU WANT TO BE A PART OF THIS AMA­ZING CAST?

Quin­cy Armorer: More than any­thing, I was just ex­ci­ted that it was being done! As an AD, I get to see a lot of theatre – ma­ny Black plays, ma­ny queer plays – but it’s not of­ten that I get to see shows where these two sides of my iden­ti­ty in­ter­sect. When I got the call to au­di­tion, I real­ly wan­ted to be in this show. Vlad Alexis: I knew that it consis­ted of a group of five Black young men. That alone sold me on the idea.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT CHOIR BOY THAT YOU LIKE, THAT SPEAKS ABOUT THE BLACK GAY EX­PE­RIENCE?

Quin­cy: I think Black gay men can connect to “mains­tream” queer sto­ries, but we come at them with a com­ple­te­ly dif­ferent pers­pec­tive. Even though it isn’t tal­ked about as of­ten as it should be, there’s so much ho­mo­pho­bia in the Black com­mu­ni­ty as there is ra­cism in the queer com­mu­ni­ty – be­lieve me, I’ve li­ved both. My li­ved ex­pe­rience as a Black gay man is dif­ferent from ma­ny other gay men, so ChoirBoy re­so­nates with me in a way that other brilliant gay-the­med plays sim­ply ha­ven’t. It’s an in­trin­sic thing. Vlad: (Play­wright) Ta­rell Al­vin McC­ra­ney wasn’t pre­ten­ding to be Pha­rus in the sto­ry, he is Pha­rus in a deep me­ta­pho­ri­cal way.

AS OUT BLACK GAY MEN, HOW IM­POR­TANT IS THIS PLAY?

Quin­cy: Re­pre­sen­ta­tion mat­ters. Our in­dus­try needs to be tel­ling sto­ries about eve­ryone, and ChoirBoy is a po­si­tive glimpse in­to the world of Black gay men ra­re­ly seen. How won­der­ful will it be for young Black gay men to come to the show and see a part of them­selves re­pre­sen­ted on stage? I wish that I had seen a play like ChoirBoy when I was gro­wing up. Vlad: Gro­wing up I ra­re­ly had those re­fe­rences to ins­pire my­self from, and when Black gay men were present in a sto­ry they were of­ten de­pic­ted as a ste­reo­type wi­thout no context or ex­pla­na­tion as to why the cha­rac­ter is be­ha­ving in such a man­ner. This play not on­ly gives you an in­sight in­to what it is to be Black and gay, but al­so what it is to be Black men through dif­ferent lenses.

TA­RELL AL­VIN MCC­RA­NEY IS AL­SO OUT. WHEN HE GREW UP, AS A KID HE WAS SMALL FOR HIS AGE, BULLIED AT SCHOOL FOR BEING DIF­FERENT AND NOT BEING IN­TO SPORTS. HE WAS CAL­LED “FAGGOT” BY OTHERS. WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU GRO­WING UP?

Vlad: I was bullied for being “dif­ferent.” I was cal­led faggot, nig­ger, pu­shed

around and stuff. But my mo­ther al­ways told me, “Vlad, you are a small boy, but ne­ver let any­bo­dy step on you.” So I would pick and choose my bat­tles.

Quin­cy: I cer­tain­ly had my fair share of bul­lying. I wasn’t in­to sports, I li­ked to dance. (Being bullied) was in­evi­table, I sup­pose, es­pe­cial­ly back then. I like to think that things are bet­ter now for young queer folk, but eve­ry once in a while, rea­ding the pa­per or wat­ching the news, I’m re­min­ded that we ac­tual­ly ha­ven’t come as far as I like to think we have.

HOW WAS YOUR CO­MING OUT?

Quin­cy: It was hard. I didn’t come out to my pa­rents un­til I was al­most 30, though I had told my clo­sest friends years be­fore. Co­ming from a West In­dian back­ground and being a first-ge­ne­ra­tion Ca­na­dian, I put a lot of pres­sure on my­self to “re­present the fa­mi­ly well.” Being gay just couldn’t be a part of that, so I just kept it to my­self. But even­tual­ly I just thought, I got to be me!

Ac­tual­ly, when I was in my ear­ly 20s, my lit­tle bro­ther as­ked me ou­tright if I was gay. I was stun­ned and said, “Don’t ask me that.” When he as­ked me why, not wan­ting to lie to him or make him keep a se­cret from our pa­tents, I re­plied, “Be­cause it’s not the right time yet for me to ans­wer that ques­tion.” He loo­ked me square in the eye and said “Okay.” He nod­ded and kept loo­king me in the eye with a lo­ving smile on his face. That’s when I knew. I’ll ne­ver for­get that mo­ment.

Vlad: I came out when I was 16 to some of my friends and 17 to my pa­rents. Most people ac­cep­ted me for who I am and fought for me be­cause my har­dest chal­lenge was ac­cep­ting my­self. I come from a re­li­gious back­ground and was al­ways told that people like me burn in hell. It took me a while to re­wire my thoughts and tell my­self, “I’m al­right just the way I am.”

DID YOU WOR­RY THAT PUBLICLY CO­MING OUT MIGHT NEGATIVELY AF­FECT YOUR CA­REER?

Quin­cy: I didn’t real­ly wor­ry about it. I don’t think theatre would exist if it wasn’t for gay people!

Vlad: Plus, straight ac­tors don’t have to (come out), so I de­ci­ded a long time ago that I wasn’t going to let my sexua­li­ty de­fine my craft (ei­ther).

YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RA­CISM IN THE LGBTQ COM­MU­NI­TIES …

Vlad: Throu­ghout his­to­ry, hhis­to­ry, the iden­ti­ty of LGBTQ has been ca­te­red to one spec­ci­fic spe­ci­fic group – gay white cis men. But we can’t for­get all the p pio­neers of co­lour and dif­ferent gen­ders that hel­ped break th that cei­ling for all of us.

Quin­cy: I try not to judge, ju but I al­ways find it sur­pri­sing when people who come from mar­gi­na­li­zed com­mu­ni­ties are quick to be hurt­ful and ne­ga­tive to­wards others. I’ve cer­tain­ly felt the ra­cism that exists in the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties, but I al­so know that it’s not the ma­jo­ri­ty. We are more open and ac­cep­ting and lo­ving than any­thing else. I try to fo­cus on that.

I HAVE LONG SAID THAT AF­TER MY NAME, MY BEING GAY IS THE MOST IM­POR­TANT THING ABOUT MY IDEN­TI­TY. I WAS WONDERING WHAT IT IS LIKE FOR YOU: HOW CEN­TRAL TO YOUR IDEN­TI­TY IS YOUR BLACKNESS? HOW CEN­TRAL TO YOUR IDEN­TI­TY IS BEING GAY?

Quin­cy: They are both ve­ry cen­tral to who I am, but I al­so wouldn’t say that they de­fine me. I’ve known my Blackness long be­fore I ever knew what being gay meant, but in ei­ther case, I try not to let the way I live my life be about nee­ding to as­sert these parts of my­self. They just are.

I don’t know how to be any­thing other than Black and gay, but not eve­ry­thing about me is about my Blackness or about being gay. I feel more de­fi­ned by being my pa­rents’ son and my bro­thers’ bro­ther. But I do love the sense of be­lon­ging I feel when I’m with Black people and the pride I feel when I’m with my LGBTQ fa­mi­ly. It’s who I am. I can’t live wi­thout ei­ther one.

Vlad: La­bels are a way for people to ca­te­go­rize or find com­mon traits with each other but as beings li­ving a hu­man ex­pe­rience, we have to think beyond that. Being Black and gay are de­fi­ni­te­ly part of my jour­ney and who I am – just like being a man of Ca­rib­bean des­cent with ADD and hy­per-ac­ti­ve­ness are – es­pe­cial­ly in a world where not eve­ryone is ac­cep­ted for who they are. But it does not de­fine my who­le­ness. I look for­ward to the day when we won’t have to use la­bels to iden­ti­fy our­selves.

HOW PROUD ARE YOU OF THIS PRO­DUC­TION?

Vlad: I love Ta­rell Al­vin McC­ra­ney and what he creates, so to be in one of his pro­jects is a once in a li­fe­time ex­pe­rience. (Di­rec­tor) Mike Payette is a ge­nius. He was my co-star in New Ca­na­dian Kid a couple years ago, he is a men­tor and a good friend of mine, and now he is my di­rec­tor. His vi­sion for things are so deep and in­tri­cate. This show speaks about in­jus­tice and the year­ning to be equal. This is eve­ry­bo­dy’s fight in a way. To tell this sto­ry from the angle of five young Black men is ve­ry spe­cial be­cause we know what it is to be pu­shed aside and mar­gi­na­li­zed. I’m just so ex­ci­ted to tell this beau­ti­ful sto­ry that has so much heart, so much guts and so much his­to­ry.

Quin­cy: I think that years from now, when I’m loo­king back on my ca­reer, Choir Boy will by one of those pro­jects that I’m most proud to have been a part of. This is a first for me, where being both Black and gay is at the ve­ry heart of the sto­ry. This means a lot to me, and to be able to tell this beau­ti­ful im­por­tant sto­ry with these ama­zing ar­tists and with my dear friend Mike Payette di­rec­ting, I ho­nest­ly couldn’t be hap­pier.

CHOIR BOY RUNS at the Cen­taur Theatre Com­pa­ny in Old Mon­treal from Oc­to­ber 9 to 28, 2018. For ti­ckets, vi­sit www.cen­taur­theatre.com.

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