≈ 2 hours 10 minutes · With intermission
Welcome to Calpurnia.
In 2011, back when I was an actor, I embodied a maid who was silent during a long and extreme verbal attack. When I spoke about her silence, a co-actor expressed that her silence displayed strength. Calpurnia came to be when I took stock of the maids I portrayed throughout my 15-year acting career.
If you attended school in Canada, you most likely read Harper Lee’s classic American novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
My piece isn’t aimed as a critique of Ms. Lee’s text. She wrote a novel that is honest. Her iconic characters inspired me. The character of Calpurnia, the southern maid, is ubiquitous in that era. My play explores the mammy stereotype, American history and the Canadian experience.
As I distilled my ideas, I knew that I wanted to go directly into the home of a loving and wealthy Jamaican-Canadian family. The Gordons benefit from high levels of education and social standing and are still judged by a relentless respectability politic and racism.
Calpurnia was originally produced in Toronto in 2018. It was met with anticipation and excitement. Shows were sold out and audiences lined up around the block to attend. Audiences delighted in the power dynamics that made them uncomfortable. They raved about the complicated layers of racial awareness and social location at play. They laughed, they covered their eyes, their jaws dropped. Some returned to watch Calpurnia two or three times.
We’re all aware of how much the world has transformed since 2018. Privilege, allyship and intersectionality are terms heard in our homes, workplaces and in the news. Over the past few years, I’ve made some changes to the script that reflect how much we’ve learned.
Even if you haven’t read Lee’s novel, you’re in for a treat. The theatre is a fun and fabulous place to laugh, examine ideas and witness dramatic action as it plays out in real time. In these seats, we’re able to ponder deep-rooted issues that are brewing in communities both here and abroad. Here, we create memories together.
Julie Gordon and Lee’s protagonist Scout Finch are similar. Both burst with vigor. Both are innocent, plucky and want things their own way. Like us, they have plenty to learn. In fact, all the characters do. I invite you to see if you recognize anyone through each character’s behaviors and values. There may be someone you recognize on this stage and they might be closer to you than you think.
Thank you for joining us!
Last updated: April 26, 2022
Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird is set in Alabama during the Great Depression, and is both a coming-of-age story, and a more complex narrative about the roots and consequences of racism and prejudice.
The novel was loosely based on an event that occurred when Lee was 10 years old, when a white woman accused Walter Lett, a Black man, of rape. Lee’s father was an editor, and his newspaper covered the trial and Lett’s eventual conviction. Lett’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison when a series of letters appeared claiming that he had been falsely accused.
The novel was published in 1960 and was a literary and commercial success. It won the Pulitzer Prize, was translated into 40 languages, and has never been out of print. Lee’s novel is cited as a factor in the success of the civil rights movements of the 1960s, but she had no direct involvement in them.
To Kill a Mockingbird has long been a widely read novel in Canadian and American schools. The novel was a source of controversy as a subject of classroom study as early as 1963, due to the racial slurs, profanity and frank discussion of rape. A shift in attitudes on race led to criticism that the overt racism in Maycomb was not condemned harshly enough. Further, that the Black characters were stereotypes, underwritten and marginalized in favour of a narrative that focuses on the white characters’ experience.
Calpurnia Aesera Coleman is the Finch family’s long-standing Black housekeeper, a mother figure to Scout and Jem. Scout describes: “Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side.”
Calpurnia is identified in the novel as one of the few Black people in town who is literate, and has taught her own children, and Jem and Scout to read and write. When Scout and Jem attend the local Black church with Calpurnia and hear her speaking differently in her community, they realize that Calpurnia carefully balances a double life. While Calpurnia’s positive influence is significant, she is an overly simplified character, and largely silent on issues of race.
The mammy figure, according to psychologist Chanequal Walker-Barnes, “was a largely mythical figure with little basis in the lived experiences of Black women.” It is a racial caricature, constructed during slavery, popularized through minstrel shows, and reinforced through novels, films and plays. The stereotype is of a “large, independent woman with pitch-black skin and shining white teeth.” She does domestic work and cares for the children of a white family; she is extremely devoted to them and “lived to serve her master and mistress.” The notion or trope of the “happy slave” is at the core of the mammy caricature and stereotype.
source: from mammy to miss america and beyond: cultural images and the shaping of us social policy by k. sue jewell (1992).
Calpurnia is produced by permission of the Playwright and Marquis Literary (Colin Rivers).
The world premiere of Calpurnia was co-produced by Nightwood Theatre and Sulong Theatre at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (Toronto, ON) in January 2018.
Audrey Dwyer (the Playwright) is a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada.
Calpurnia was developed in Obsidian Theatre’s Playwriting Unit.
The National Arts Centre, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Black Theatre Workshop are members of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres and engages, under the terms of the Canadian Theatre Agreement, professional artists who are members of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association.
Entering its 51st season, Black Theatre Workshop (BTW) is Canada’s longest running theatre company dedicated to the works of Black and diasporic communities. BTW’s mission is to promote and produce outstanding theatre that educates, entertains and inspires. The company strives to create greater cross-cultural understanding by challenging its audience and the status quo. Expanding the representation of Black Canadian artists, BTW bridges cultural divides – uniting hearts, minds and communities.
The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (Royal MTC) is proud to partner with the National Arts Centre and Black Theatre Workshop in presenting Calpurnia.
Royal MTC exists to celebrate the widest spectrum of theatre art. Deeply rooted in the province of Manitoba, which gave it life and provides for its growth, Royal MTC aspires to both reflect and inform the community it serves.
Royal MTC was Canada’s first English language regional theatre, created when two Winnipeg theatre companies merged in 1958 under Artistic Director John Hirsch and General Manager Tom Hendry. Their goal was to produce great theatre with mass appeal. Royal MTC became a model for regional theatres throughout North America, and received a royal designation from Queen Elizabeth II in 2010. Over 60 years later, we remain Manitoba’s flagship theatre.
Theatre credits at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre include Assistant Stage Manager: Bang Bang (with Belfry Theatre); Apprentice Stage Manager for Buying the Farm (tour), Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical, Vietgone (with fu-GEN/Hope and Hell), The Humans. Assistant Production Manager (2017/18, 2020/21, 2021/22 seasons). Other theatre credits include Stage Manager: The Drawer Boy (Hudson Village Theatre); Ed & Ed – Trapped!, Outside Mullingar, Neddy Norris Night, Fly Me to the Moon, Newfoundland Vinyl, The Out Vigil (Gros Morne Theatre Festival); Shape of a Girl (Cart Before the Horse). Assistant Stage Manager: Seven Sopranos of Winnipeg (Manitoba Opera). Apprentice Stage Manager: Barber of Seville (Manitoba Opera); The Halloween Tree (Geordie Productions); The Amazing Adventures of Pericles, Prince of Tyre (A Company of Fools). Training: Graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada – Production Program (2017). A very special thanks to my Royal MTC family, my parents, my family and friends from Gatineau to Tasmania, Ilana Modulevsky, Patrick Michalishyn, my graduating class at NTS, and all the wonderful folks who made this show possible!
Managing Director: David Abel
Community Outreach Lead: Rose-Ingrid Benjamin
Marketing Strategist: Monica Bradford-Lea
Learning Coordinator: Aimee Bouchard
ASL Interpreter Consultant: Carmelle Cachero
Marketing Strategist: Bar Clement (on leave)
Communications Strategist: Sean Fitzpatrick
Artistic Director: Jillian Keiley
Senior Producer: Alexandra Lunney
Senior Marketing Manager: Bridget Mooney
Associate Producer, Artistic Projects: Judi Pearl
Company Manager: Samira Rose
Administrative Coordinator: Monika Seiler
Assistant to the Production Director: Erin Finn
Scheduler: Stéfanie Séguin
Technical Director: Crystal L. Spicer
Technical Director: Kevin Waghorn
Theatre Stage Staff
Head Flyman: Alex Griffore
Head Carpenter: Charles Martin
Head Sound Engineer: Doug Millar
Assistant Electrician: Martin Racette
Property Master: Michel Sanscartier
Head Electrician: Éric Tessier
Artistic Director, Kelly Thornton
Executive Director, Camilla Holland
Associate Artistic Director, Audrey Dwyer
Producer, Isabelle Ly
Company Manager, Leslie Watson
Director of Production, Russell Martin
Technical Director, Chris Coyne
Assistant Technical Director, Jacqueline Robertson
Production Associate, Christine Corthey
Master Carpenter, Brent Letain
Layout Carpenter, Louis Gagné
Scenic Carpenter, Chris Seida
Head Scenic Artist, Carla Schroeder
Assistant Scenic Artist, Melissa Smigelski
Head of Props, Jamie Plummer
Props Builder/Buyer, Zoë Leclerc-Kennedy
Props Builder, Jacko Garcia
Head of Wardrobe, Thora Lamont
Head Buyer & Accessories Coordinator, Jackie Van Winkle
Head Carpenter, Chris Thomson
Head Electrician, Claude Robert
Head of Sound, Gary Plouffe
Head of Wardrobe, Joan Lees-Miller
Crew provided by Local IATSE 63