National Arts Centre to mark black history month with only black theatregoers
The National Arts Centre — a Crown corporation funded by the federal government — will be marking Black History Month with a performance at which only “Black theatregoers” will be welcome.
On Feb. 17, the centre is hosting its first-ever “Black Out” night with a Black-only performance of Is God Is at Ottawa’s Babs Asper Theatre.
As per a statement by the centre, the 897-seat venue will be open exclusively to an “all-Black identifying audience.” People of other races are invited to attend the play on any of the other nights during its Feb. 9-18 run.
The purpose of limiting the audience to people of a select ancestry is to “allow for conversation and participation to be felt throughout the theatre,” explained the centre.
Attendees will self-identify based on the honour system. National Arts Centre statements were also quiet as to what should be expected of mixed-race couples or families.
“No one will be turned away at the door; there will be no checkpoints for Black Out Night ticket holders and no questions will be asked about anyone’s identity, race or gender,” the centre wrote.
The play in question, Is God Is, is a recent creation of the American playwright Aleshea Harris and follows two sisters who travel to the American South on a quest to kill their abusive father.
The idea of “Black Out” nights comes from the U.S., where they were first employed in 2019 for the Broadway comedy Slave Play. The event was pitched as an experience “free from the white gaze,” and since been taken up by theatre companies across the Anglosphere.
“People got out of their seats to go to the bathroom when they needed, people spoke, people laughed loudly, talked back, people (mon dieu!) texted with their ringers off and screens turned low,” Slave Play creator Jeremy O. Harris later told American Theatre.
Black Out Nights are already staged by the Toronto-based company Theatre Passe Muraille, and their website includes details on what happens to if non-Black customers arrive at a performance.
“If someone self-identifies as a non-Black person and demands to enter the room, a member of our staff will be present to chat with this person,” it reads. “We try our best to have this labour land on a non-Black staff member and we will have non-Black front-of-house, leadership, or technical and production team members present in the lobby to help de-escalate such situations.”
The National Arts Centre’s Feb. 17 performance is only the first of two Black Out nights planned for the 2023 season. They’re also asking for only Black-identifying customers to attend a May 5 performance of Heaven, a play about the African-Canadian settlement of Amber Valley, Alta.
There are no other Canadian ethnicities for which the National Arts Centre is yet planning dedicated performances, although they have recently unveiled a new ticket pricing scheme for self-identifying Indigenous people. Select performances will include a limited number of All My Relations tickets for $15 apiece.
However, the National Arts Centre is far from the only Canadian institution to embrace the idea of having certain public venues open only to those of specific races or other markers of identity. The University of Guelph recently unveiled a swim time open to “LGBTQ2IA+ people only.”
“Please note this is an identity-specific swim time. If you do not identify as LGBTQ2IA+, we do welcome allies who want to attend this swim,” wrote the university.
This article was reported by The National Post