Founded in 1972, Black Theatre Workshop is the oldest Black theatre company in Canada.
The mission of Black Theatre Workshop is to encourage and promote the development of Black and Canadian Theatre, rooted in literature that reflects the creative will of Black Canadian writers and artists, and the creative collaborations between Black and other artists. Black Theatre Workshop aims to promote and produce Black theatre that educates, entertains and delights its audiences. The company strives to create a greater cross-cultural understanding by its presence and the intrinsic value of its work.
The artistic policy is to prioritize plays by Afri-Canadian playwrights in our programming, however plays are selected primarily on the basis of their artistic merit and their relevance to Black society and culture. This addresses the growing need among the multitude of Black communities in Canada to see themselves reflected in the stories they watch and to further answer the need for general audiences to better understand and participate in the many varied aspects of Black culture.
The simple truth is that we offer plays and performances that audiences are unlikely to have an opportunity to see on any other Montreal stages. Every season, we program two mainstage productions, one tour to local schools during Black History Month and one play reading: our Discovery Series. Recent co-presentations have included partnerships with local companies such as Théâtre Espace Libre, Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal, and the Segal Centre. We also collaborate with other companies on full productions, most recently with Tableau D’Hôte Theatre and Centaur Theatre in Montreal and with Neptune Theatre in Halifax.
BTW is committed to the development of emerging Black and other theatre professionals, and to providing opportunities to developing writers and artists through all our projects. Seven years ago, we instituted our Artist Mentorship Program (AMP), which annually accepts 12-15 emerging artists and, over the course of the season, helps them make the transition from theatre student to theatre professional. The program culminates with our annual Industry Showcase, which has become a much-anticipated event for local engagers to discover new and emerging talent from under-represented communities.
For almost 35 years, we have taken great pride in bringing Montreal our prestigious Vision Celebration Gala. An official launching pad for Montreal’s Black History Month celebrations, the annual event serves to pay homage to an outstanding Black Canadian who has made significant contributions to the development of the arts in Canada with the presentation of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. Past recipients of the award include Oscar Peterson, Ranee Lee, Djanet Sears, Walter Borden, Gregory Charles, Dany Laferrière, Oliver Jones and many others. We also present a community service award, and two youth awards to emerging Black artists for excellence in the performing arts.
At the heart of our work is the desire to be a voice for Black art and culture. Theatre is powerful, and we believe that theatre can be used as a tool for social change. The exchange of culture and stories, springing from a diversity of historical and societal perspectives, goes beyond artistic and aesthetic merit; it is also an inherently political act. When we challenge the status quo, when we push the limits of theatre practice, when we explore new ways of doing the “traditional”, when we expose the community to new practices and ideas and cultures and aesthetics, when we make people think of themselves in different ways – when we do all these things we are not just entertaining our audience, we are helping to transform our society.