October 15, 2019

Winnipeg
2° C, Overcast

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Hot-button issue starts season with a Bang Bang

Lila (Beverly Ndukwu), a black female police officer. goes on leave after she shoots an unarmed black youth (Sébastien Heins). (Dylan Hewlett photo)

Lila (Beverly Ndukwu), a black female police officer. goes on leave after she shoots an unarmed black youth (Sébastien Heins). (Dylan Hewlett photo)

As she makes her debut as the artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Kelly Thornton opted to jump right into the creative fray, taking the directing helm of the opening Warehouse production Bang Bang, by Toronto playwright Kat Sandler.

It’s a tricky show that cuts close to the bone of the theatre world. It’s about Lila (Beverly Ndukwu), a black female police officer who goes on leave after she shoots an unarmed black youth. A white playwright (Tom Keenan) adapts that story into a sensational play, and when he gets an offer to turn his drama into a screenplay, he visits Lila to belatedly share his plans, leading to a comedy-laced confrontation about race, art and appropriation.

Sandler’s play premièred last year at the Factory Theatre in Toronto, and Thornton acknowledges that it’s very much a Toronto play by a Toronto playwright. But that doesn’t mean it won’t resonate in other cities.

“Kat has very smartly not set it anywhere in particular,” Thornton says. “I said to my costume designer Joseph Abetria that I was interested in making her a local cop.

As she makes her debut as the artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Kelly Thornton opted to jump right into the creative fray, taking the directing helm of the opening Warehouse production Bang Bang, by Toronto playwright Kat Sandler.

THEATRE PREVIEW

Click to Expand

Bang Bang
● By Kat Sandler
● Tom Hendry Warehouse
● Oct. 2-19
Tickets: $22.25-$41.25 at 204-942-6537 or royalmtc.ca

It’s a tricky show that cuts close to the bone of the theatre world. It’s about Lila (Beverly Ndukwu), a black female police officer who goes on leave after she shoots an unarmed black youth. A white playwright (Tom Keenan) adapts that story into a sensational play, and when he gets an offer to turn his drama into a screenplay, he visits Lila to belatedly share his plans, leading to a comedy-laced confrontation about race, art and appropriation.

Sandler’s play premièred last year at the Factory Theatre in Toronto, and Thornton acknowledges that it’s very much a Toronto play by a Toronto playwright. But that doesn’t mean it won’t resonate in other cities.

"Kat has very smartly not set it anywhere in particular," Thornton says. "I said to my costume designer Joseph Abetria that I was interested in making her a local cop.

"It’s hard to say systemic racism and racial profiling only happen over there in the big city," she says. "I feel like that lets everybody off the hook.

Kelly Thornton acknowledges that it’s very much a Toronto play by a Toronto playwright, but that doesn’t mean it won’t resonate in other cities. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

Kelly Thornton acknowledges that it’s very much a Toronto play by a Toronto playwright, but that doesn’t mean it won’t resonate in other cities. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

"So she’s wearing a Winnipeg police uniform here and in Victoria, (it’s a co-production with the Belfry Theatre) we’ll move it to Vancouver. There’s a film scene there, there’s an indie theatre scene there, so she’ll be wearing a Vancouver police uniform in that production."

But given the play’s confrontation with racial issues, Thornton was hesitant to take it on without a representational voice behind the scenes.

"Am I the person that’s allowed to talk about these issues?" she says. "If you’re going to go into the dark woods and look at these issues, you’ve got to do your due diligence in all regards."

For that reason, Thornton drafted her newly appointed Royal MTC associate artistic director Audrey Dwyer as a consulting director on the play. The Winnipeg-born Dwyer came here in August from Toronto, where had served as the assistant artistic director of Tarragon Theatre, preceded by a similar role at Nightwood Theatre alongside Thornton.

As a black artist, Dwyer brought the benefit of personal experience, in addition to professional experience, to the show.

"As consulting director, I’m spending a lot of time analyzing the text and helping the actors with their choices and helping being an outside eye of sorts," Dwyer says. "One of the things I’m able to discuss thoroughly is the element of race, and the element of class within the play."

 “One of the things I’m able to discuss thoroughly is the element of race, and the element of class within the play,” Audry Dwyer said. (Supplied photo)

“One of the things I’m able to discuss thoroughly is the element of race, and the element of class within the play,” Audry Dwyer said. (Supplied photo)

Dwyer spent some time writing and performing at Toronto’s Second City, and she says that experience helped guide her in a world where comedy is in the midst of a generational shift.

"It’s an interesting time for comedy, especially depending on how old you are, and what your experience of the world is," she says. "Across the board, as entertainers, as artists in theatre, we’re holding a mirror up to nature with the goal of the world becoming a better and more empathetic place.

"And as we move towards more empathy and more understanding, certain jokes don’t land the way they once did... because we’ve done that work," she says.

"The purpose of art is to move society forward. And with comedy, that’s one of the places where we really see that and feel that.

"We’re at a different place," Dwyer says. "And laughter is precious."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us