Celebrating 50 YEARS of Black Cultural Contributions and Artistic Excellence

Celebrating 50 YEARS of Black Cultural Contributions and Artistic Excellence


Dr. Clarence Bayne

It started in Arthur Goddard basement on Milton Avenue, a half block from the Engineering Building on McGill Campus, in the student ghetto opposite the “greasy spoon” restaurant.
It was a Saturday late afternoon.
We were drinking beer and listening to Coltrane’s “Love Supreme,” Frankie “None but the Lonely,” and Malcolm X Message from the Grass Roots. An  eclectic combination of things.
It was International Day on McGill Campus, and a couple of our ideologically angry students dropped in for their part of what was left of the last 12 pack. They told us that Rosie Douglas had just done a Tourist Version of the “Bongo” as a showpiece of Caribbean culture.

Well this did not go over well with a group of groovy intellectuals gassed up on Labatt 50 who were just about to liberate Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa without having to set a single foot in those countries.
Theoretically, we had the problem solved. So we got down to doing something about this misrepresentation and all other instances of it.

Arthur and I decided that we were going to set up an association to organize Caribbean culture on a scale of excellence so that all Caribbean students would not be embarrassed by those among us putting on “tourist shows” on University campuses. Since Arthur and I were Trinidadians we created the Trinidad and Tobago Association and the drama committee to get the cultural job done.
On a trip to the NFB to search their archives we were shocked that we found nothing about us; fortunately, on our way back to the campus we ran into another Trinidadian just emigrated here via New York who was trained in the Kaiso theatre arts and had worked in Trinidad in the late fifties with Derek Walcott, Earl Lovelace, Errol John of community theatre. We recruited him immediately on the bus back to campus. Johnny Cayonne became the first artistic director of a movement that was to become the Black Theatre Workshop.
Between 1964 and 1968, the Trinidad and Tobago Drama Committee presented a set of Trinidad and Caribbean plays written by Derek Walcott (Sea at Daufin, and Dream on Monkey Mountain); Errol Hill (Dance Bongo) and Johnny Cayonne experiments in ‘Calysopras”: Fact and Fancy and Calypso in the Flesh.
These works benefited from the generous gift of free and subsidized space by Sir George Williams University, Westmount High School, the Revue Theatre (St. Mark and De Maisonneuve Blvd), under the direction of Arleigh Peterson and the Black Studies Center.
In 1968, in response to the Black renaissance in the North Americas and the African liberation movements, the Drama Committee set up a program to experiment with and promote Black theatre.
The first major production and experimental work undertaken by the Black Workshop was a new play or “series of things” written by McGill Professor Lorris Elliott, called “How Now Black Man.” This play was workshopped in 1969 and produced by the Trinidad and Tobago Association under Executive and Financial Administration of Clarence Bayne.

It was directed by Jeff Henry and presented at Centaur Theatre in 1970, with the generous support of its Executive and Artistic Director, Maurice Podbrey.
The First Professional Production (1970) of the Black Workshop: “How Now Black Man” by Professor Lorris Elliott uses Pyramid to represent unity and connectedness of all the people.
It is 50 years since thousands of English speaking Blacks from the Caribbean came to Montreal, and helped to keep its doors open for others to follow. In the period 1960 to 1969 they laid the foundations for change and for most that followed: The National Black Coalition of Canada, La Ligue des Noirs, the Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal; The Black Writers Congress; The NBCC Umoja; The National Black Coalition Research Institute/Black Studies Center; the Sir George Williams Computer Crisis; the Quebec Board of Black Educators, the Black Community Council of Quebec, and its outreach regional Black Community Associations, the MABBP/BASF and Quebec Black Medical Association (QBMA.
From among these creations the Black Theatre Workshop has emerged the star of the North.

In this 50th year, it opens Black History Month in Montreal celebrating the vision of Martin Luther King Jr. and the contributions of Blacks to the city, province, country and North America. A fitting honour indeed, and one backed by 13 META Awards over four consecutive years.
The Canadian Encyclopedia in an article “Black Canadian Theatre: the Black Theatre Workshop” states:
”With the emergence of the Black Theatre Workshop in the late 1960s, Black theatre began to flourish
across Canada, providing dynamic venues for the work of Black playwrights, directors, and actors…”
“The Black Theatre Workshop (BTW) has a long production history, alternating between the presentation of contemporary Black Canadian work and works from the international Black theatre repertoire.”

“Over its long history, BTW has been the artistic home for recognized artists… and has been instrumental in the development of hundreds of Black theatre artists working across the country.”

The BTW invites the community and all Montrealers to come and celebrate with us this national success story and awarding of the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Life time Achievement Awards at VISION CERLEBRATION.
Tickets and info.514 932-1104 or vision@blackthreatreworkshop.ca