If the content you are seeing is presented as unstyled HTML your browser is an older version that cannot support cascading style sheets. If you wish to upgrade your browser you may download Mozilla or Internet Explorer for Windows.

Obsidian Theatre Company

Theatre company, based in Toronto Ontario, founded in 2000 by a group of professional theatre practitioners from the many cultures of the African diaspora, including Alison Sealy-Smith, the first Artistic Director. Obsidian has become Canada's leading culturally specific theatre company. Its threefold mission is to produce plays, to develop playwrights, and to train emerging theatre professionals. Obsidian is dedicated to the exploration, development and production of the Black voice. The Company produce plays from a world-wide canon, focusing primarily, but not exclusively, on the works of highly acclaimed Black playwrights. Obsidian provides artistic support, promoting the development of work by Black theatre makers and offering training opportunities through mentoring and apprenticeship programs for emerging Black artists under the Playwrights Unit and Darktown initiative. The Company has won more than thirty Dora Mavor Moore Awards and Toronto Theatre Critics Awards combined.

The Artistic Director from 2006 to 2020 was Philip Akin. Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu is the current A.D. The General Manager is Michael Sinclair; Producer is Vanessa C. Spence; Artistic Producer is Fatuma Adar.

Select productions from a total of thirty-three as of 2017 include: The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God (2001) by Djanet Sears (Nightwood Theatre and Obsidian co-production); The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (2003); Cast Iron (2005) by Lisa Codrington (in association with Nightwood Theatre); Born Ready (2005) by Jomo Pierre; Whylah Falls by George Eliot Clarke; Consecrated Ground by George Elroy Boyd; The Polished Hoe (2007) adapted from Austin Clarke’s novel by Colin Taylor and The Monument (2006) by Colleen Wagner. The 2008/09 season featured Late by Marcia Johnson (dir. Marjorie Chan); and Black Medea by Australian Aboriginal playwright, Wesley Enoch (dir. Philip Akin).

In 2008, Obsidian featured Intimate Apparel by American playwright Lynn Nottage (dir. Philip Akin, with Raven Dauda, Kevin Hanchard, and Alex Poch-Goldin), about a Black woman working in the New York garment industry making lingerie in 1905. This production subsequently played at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton.

In the 2010/11 season, Obsidian Theatre, in association with Nightwood Theatre presented the Canadian première of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined directed by Philip Akin at the Berkeley Street Theatre. In 2012, it won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for the production of Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks (Shaw Festival co-production, dir. Akin). Also in 2012, is produced Caroline, or Change (book and lyrics by Tony Kushner, music by Jeanine Tesori) in association with Acting Up Stage Company. In 2013, it presented Shakespeare's Nigga by Joseph Jomo Pierre (dir Akin) in a co-production with Theatre Passe Muraille. The 2013/14 season included The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble by Edmonton playwright Beth Graham in a co-production with Factory Theatre; and The Mountaintop by Katori Hall (in association with the Shaw Festival).

In February 2016, Obsidian premiered Venus' Daughter by Canadian playwright Meghan Swaby, which brings into present relevance the infamous story of the African slave, Sara Baartman, exhibited in London and Paris in the early 19th century.

In their 2016-2017 season, Obsidian again worked with two companies with which it had developed strong producing relationships. In October 2016, after a successful and critically-acclaimed run at the Shaw Festival "Master Harold”…and the Boys by Athol Fugard (directed by Akin) was brought to Toronto in association with Obsidian, running at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. This production received five Dora Award nominations, winning two (Outstanding Direction and Outstanding Performance by André Sills), along with a Toronto Theatre Critics Award for Best Direction. It toured to Montreal (Segal Centre for Performing Arts) and Buffalo (Shea Centre) in winter 2018 (presented by the Segal Centre in association with Black Theatre Workshop).

In the winter of 2017, Obsidian partnered with Acting Up Stage Company (now Musical Stage Company), to produce the musical Passing Strange by Stew Rodewald with music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald and created in collaboration with Annie Dorsen. This was Akin’s first time directing a musical. It featured a cast of both upcoming and established performers and vocalists including Juno Award-winning singer Divine Brown. The production ran at The Opera House in Toronto’s East End and received eight Dora Award nominations and one win for an Outstanding Performance by Jahlen Barnes.

In the 2017/18 season, Obsidian co-produced Other Side of the Game by CBC host Amanda Parris with Cahoots Theatre Projects, and in February 2018, brought debbie tucker green’s play hang to North America for the first time. In 2018, Obsidian had partnerships with Crow’s Theatre, Factory Theatre, Nightwood Theatre and Buddies in Bad Times. Shauntay Grant’s The Bridge was mounted with 2B Theatre Company in Halifax.

In the 2019-2020 season the Company produced the award-winning productions: Passover (Jon Kaplan Audience Choice Award); Caroline, Or Change (two Dora Mavor Moore Awards, and four Toronto Theatre Critics Awards).

Forced to close the theatre during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-21, Obsidian marked its 21st year of operations in February 2021, during Black History Month, by premiering a series of 21 ten-minute filmed monodramas, streamed on CBC Gem. Titled 21 BLACK FUTURES, the plays were commissioned from 21 multi-generational Black playwrights across the country, directed by 21 Black directors and performed by 21 Black actors, responding to the question, “What is the future of Blackness?” The 21 playwrights were Peace Akintade (Saskatchewan), Keshia Cheesman (Calgary), Lisa Codrington (Toronto), Miali-Elise Coley-Sudlovenick (Nunavut), K.P. Dennis (Victoria), Cheryl Foggo (Calgary), Shauntay Grant (Halifax), Lawrence Hill (Hamilton), Kaie Kellough (Montreal), Stephie Mazunya (Montreal), Tawiah Ben M’Carthy (Toronto), Motion (Toronto), Omari Newton (Vancouver), Amanda Parris (Toronto), Joseph Jomo Pierre (Toronto), Donna-Michelle St. Bernard (Hamilton), Jacob Sampson (Halifax), Djanet Sears (Toronto), Luke Reece (Toronto), Cherissa Richards (Manitoba), and Syrus Marcus Ware (Toronto). In Djanet Sears' play, Georgeena, a distraught and angry bride flees her wedding, tormented by an accumulation of racism which is evident even at the rehearsal. In Cavities by K. P. Dennis, Alison Sealy-Smith plays an exhausted and enraged Ancestor, who is planting her teeth as the seeds for a new generation in a desolate landscape of dust and rock. Instead of her rage, however, she decides to plant her heart -- as a token of peace, joy, and love. In Emmett by Syrus Marcus Ware, the bleak post-apocalyptic ruins of Toronto are inhabited only by one man, awaiting and dreading a relocation to Venus -- powerfully enacted by Prince Amponsah.

In 2022, in order to mentor Black, emerging artists in non-performance disciplines, Obsidian launched the training program, "Young, Gifted & Black." In partnership with The Musical Stage Company, it presented Dixon Road in High Park, the story of an immigrant Somali family living in Toronto; and Is God Is by Aleshea Harris (dir. Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu), a co-production with and Canadian Stage, in which two Black sisters take revenge on the perpetuators of past injustices.

Website: www.obsidiantheatre.com

Profile by Anne Nothof, Athabasca University

Last updated 2022-06-15