Young black man singing gospel - Choir Boy visual for the Centaur Theatre.

“vivid, magnetic & moving”

The New York Times

choir boy

Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the 2017 Oscar-winning writer of “Moonlight”

Directed by Mike Payette

 

october 9 to 28, 2018

with

Patrick Abellard

Vlad Alexis

Quincy Armorer

Steven Charles

Lyndz Dantiste

Christopher Parker

Paul Rainville

creative team

Floydd Ricketts, Musical Director & Arranger

Rachel Forbes, Set & Costume Designer

Andrea Lundy, Lighting Designer

Crystal MacDonell, Stage Manager

Dayane Ntibarikure, Assistant Director

Isabel Quintero Faia, Assistant Stage Manager

 

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We’ve all been there …

… trying to navigate that tricky terrain otherwise known as high school! The Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys is dedicated to the formation of strong, ethical Black men. Pharus was born to sing and wants nothing more than to take his rightful place as leader of the school’s legendary choir. Will the school have the courage to accept a gay choirmaster, or will it muzzle this angelic voice determined to be heard? From the Oscar-winning playwright of Moonlight comes a moving portrait of young Black men focused on their dreams, finding their way to adulthood through the confusing social and sexual mores typical at this pivotal age. A beautifully told coming-of-age story buoyed by the joyous harmonies of Gospel music and R&B.

 

But what do the critics think?

The Chicago Tribune hails Choir Boy as “complex and beautiful” and The New York Post uses superlatives likes “bracing” and “provocative”. Variety writes, “Believe the buzz. Choir Boy […] deserves its kudos”, while London’s The Guardian says, “exhilarating, multi-layered new play from Tarell Alvin McCraney.”.

 

The New York Times’ has high praise indeed with, “The sweet harmonies of classic spirituals unite the sometimes fractious voices of the young men in Choir Boy […] but when they raise their voices in unison, they offer a glimpse of a world in which the cruelty that can divide and destroy is dissolved in a graceful, embracing order. [An] affecting and honest portrait […] of a gay youth tentatively beginning to find the courage to let the truth about himself become known."

 

And the Oscar goes to …

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s 2017 Academy Award for the Moonlight screenplay was actually an adaptation of his play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Mr. McCraney is also the first proud recipient of The New York Times’ Outstanding Playwright Award. Though the Oscar practically made Tarell Alvin McCraney a household word, he has a deep body of theatrical work to his credit including “Wig Out!” and the “Brother/Sister Plays” trilogy.

 

How was Choir Boy selected for Centaur’s 50th Season?

It was Geordie Theatre’s Artistic Director, Mike Payette, who brought the Choir Boy script to Centaur’s Artistic and Executive Director, Eda Holmes. Impressed with Mike’s work at Geordie as well as with Tableau D’Hôte Theatre (TDT), Eda invited Mike to direct Choir Boy. Mike had, incidentally, directed Centaur’s closing production last year, the TDT co-production of Michel Tremblay’s HosannaFloydd Ricketts, conductor of the McGill University Chorus and the assistant conductor of McGill’s Schulich Singers, was then brought in as the Musical Director and Arranger.

 

Did you know?

From 2008 to 2010, Tarell Alvin McCraney was the Warwick International Playwright in Residence for Stratford-Upon-Avon’s illustrious Royal Shakespeare Company. He is also the 43rd member of the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble and since 2017, has been the Chair of Yale’s prestigious School of Drama where he is also the Playwright in Residence at the Repertory Theatre.

 

See it in Montreal before you can’t get tickets on Broadway!

In December 2018, Choir Boy will receive its Broadway debut, but local residents and visiting tourists needn’t be concerned with bad driving conditions or cancelled flights when Centaur Theatre is presenting this moving story right here.

Nous sommes tous passés par là …

Nous avons tous tenté de naviguer le terrain glissant qu’est l'école secondaire ! La Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys est dévouée à la formation d'hommes noirs forts et éthiques. Pharus, quant à lui, est né pour chanter et ne souhaite rien d'autre que de prendre sa place comme leader de la chorale légendaire de l'école. L'école aura-t-elle le courage d'accepter un chef de chorale gai, ou étouffera-t-elle cette voix angélique qui ne souhaite qu’être entendue ? Du dramaturge de Moonlight, lauréat d'un Oscar, arrive ce portrait émouvant de jeunes hommes noirs, de leurs rêves, et de leur chemin vers l'âge adulte à travers les mœurs sociales et sexuelles déroutantes typiques de cette période charnière. Une histoire sur le passage à l'âge adulte merveilleusement racontée et soutenue par les joyeuses harmonies du Gospel et du R&B.

 

Mais qu'en pense la critique ?

Le Chicago Tribune acclame Choir Boy comme étant « complexe et génial » et le The New York Post emploie des superlatifs comme « tonifiant » et « provocateur ». Variety écrit : « Croyez la rumeur. Choir Boy […] mérite les éloges qu’elle reçoit », tandis que The Guardian de Londres fait mention d'une « nouvelle pièce exaltante et à plusieurs niveaux de Tarell Alvin McCraney ».

 

Le New York Times en chante les louanges en affirmant : « Les belles harmonies des classiques spirituels s'unissent aux voix parfois indisciplinées des jeunes hommes de Choir Boy […], mais lorsqu’elles s’élèvent à l'unisson, ils nous permettent une incursion dans un monde où la cruauté qui a le pouvoir de diviser et de détruire se noie dans une mer de grâce et de chaleur. [Un] portrait émouvant et honnête […] d'un jeune gai qui, avec hésitation, commence à trouver le courage de faire connaître sa vérité. »

 

Et l'Oscar est remis à …

Le Academy Award remporté en 2017 par Tarell Alvin McCraney pour le scénario de Moonlight était en fait une adaptation de sa pièce In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. McCraney est aussi le fier lauréat du premier New York Times’ Outstanding Playwright Award. Bien que son Oscar ait contribué à faire connaître Tarell Alvin McCraney de tous, il possède une importante œuvre théâtrale à son actif, dont les pièces « Wig Out! » et la trilogie « Brother/Sister Plays ».

 

Comment Choir Boy fut-elle sélectionnée pour la 50e saison du Centaur ?

C'est le directeur artistique du Geordie Theatre’s , Mike Payette , qui a apporté le scénario de Choir Boy à la directrice artistique et générale du Centaur, Eda Holmes. Impressionnée par le travail de Mike au Gordie, de même qu'au Tableau D’Hôte Theatre (TDT), Eda l’a invité à mettre en scène Choir Boy. Mike avait incidemment mis en scène la production de fin de saison du Centaur l'an dernier, la coproduction d'Hosanna de Michel Tremblay’s. Floydd Ricketts, chef d'orchestre du McGill University Chorus et l'assistant-chef d'orchestre des McGill’s Schulich Singers, s'est ensuite joint à l’équipe à titre de directeur et arrangeur musical.

 

Le saviez-vous ?

De 2008 à 2010, Tarell Alvin McCraney fut le Warwick International Playwright in Residence (dramaturge en résidence) pour l'illustre Royal Shakespeare Company de Stratford-Upon-Avon. Il est aussi le 43e membre du célèbre ensemble Steppenwolf Theatre et, depuis 2017, le président de la prestigieuse School of Drama de l'université Yale, où il est aussi le dramaturge en résidence au Repertory Theatre.

 

Voyez-la à Montréal avant qu’elle n’affiche complet sur Broadway !

En décembre 2018, Choir Boy fera ses débuts sur Broadway, mais les résidents locaux et les touristes n'ont pas à se soucier des conditions routières ou des vols annulés, car Centaur Theater présente cette histoire émouvante ici même.

Enrich your theatre experience

Preview Pre-show Convo:

Thursday October 11, 2018 at 7PM.

 

What is it, exactly, that designers contribute to a production? Meet the talented teams that work together to create a play’s historical background, explore its themes and questions, reveal characters’ motivations, and evoke the mood of each individual scene. A free behind-the-scenes Q&A exploring the subtle craft that brings a playwright’s words and a director’s vision to life through setting, costumes, light, sound and more.

Talk Backs:

Thursday October 18, 2018 post performance.

Sunday October 21, 2018 post matinée.

 

Great theatre provokes wide-ranging emotions and probing introspection. We invite you to stay after the performance to share your reactions with the artists and clear up any questions you might have about the play.

Sunday Chat-Up:

Sunday October 14, 2018 at 12:30pm in the Ted T. Katz Family Trust Gallery

 

Join Gazette Editor-in-Chief, Lucinda Chodan, in conversation Floydd Ricketts, Choir Boy’s Musical Director and Arranger. The African American Spiritual, and how to perform the genre to help it flourish without cultural appropriation, will be the focus of the discussion. Free public event with refreshments provided by Bonaparte Restaurant.

 

In collaboration with the Montreal Gazette

 

 

Saturday Salons:

Saturday October 27, 2018 following the matinée performance.

 

Centaur’s Artistic and Executive Director, Eda Holmes, sits down with Micheline Chevrier, the Artistic Director of Imago Theatre, to discuss two plays on Centaur stages this season with “children” in the title. One is Imago Theatre’s Other People’s Children, written by hot Canadian playwright, Hannah Moscovitch, and directed by Ms. Chevrier, which runs concurrently with Choir Boy. Centaur’s second play in its Essential Series, The Children, by Lucy Kirkwood, one of the UK’s leading young playwrights is set to open November 6, 2018. Both plays are written and directed by women exploring our shared experience as contemporary parents and citizens. Come and join the conversation about what makes a play relevant and necessary as a piece of theatre.

Eda Holmes
Micheline Chevrier

Micheline Chevrier

PROFILE

By Barbara Ford

Choir Boy Musical Director & Arranger, Floydd Ricketts

Floydd conducting hiw own choir, Sable 8 (Toronto, ON).

Floydd conducting his own choir, Sable 8 (Toronto, ON).

Floydd Ricketts unintentionally came to music at the age of six when his sister won a contest with a prize of ten free piano lessons at the Ontario Conservatory of Music. For eight years, Floydd’s parents sacrificed their Saturdays to chauffeur him to his 9 o’clock class in London, Ontario, an hour outside of his hometown. Later, while attending H. B. Beal Secondary School, Floydd was active in the several choirs, the band, and musical theatre productions, as well as being a member of a young acting academy at the Grand Theatre called the High School Project (HSP).

After high school he applied to York University to study theatre but was accepted into the Liberal Arts program instead—“I’m still not sure what ‘liberal arts’ are”, Floydd quips. While there, he learned that York had an excellent music program, what he calls a “diverse palette” of Jazz, Classical, and World music. The following year he switched his major to music and earned his BFA and MA. While there, Floydd also worked as a chorale musician, both as a singer and conductor, with various Toronto groups, including the
Nathaniel Dett Chorale.

Susan Ferley, the former Artistic Director of the Grand Theatre, impressed with Floydd’s work in the HSP, asked him if he would consider music directing a show. A York student at the time, it was encouraging to discover that he might actually be able to make a living doing what he loved, and so began his professional career. Last year Floydd moved to Montreal to obtain his doctorate at McGill’s Schulich School of Music

Centaur Stage: How did you become involved with Choir Boy?
Floydd Ricketts:
My first year as an intern musical director at the Shaw Festival, I had the pleasure of working with Eda [Holmes] on the Kurt Weill musical, One Touch of Venus. I had great respect for her artistic vision so when I learned that she was heading to Montreal around the same time that I was, I reached out to her to let her know I would be in Montreal for at least three years and would love to work with her again if she needed a musical director or composer. A couple of weeks later she got back to me with this project. I met with her and [director] Mike Payette and things developed from there. This is my first experience working on a theatre production with this much Gospel, Spiritual, and Jazz music woven into the story. It definitely plays to my strengths.

CS: What were some of the challenges with Choir Boy?
FR:
I’m so thrilled that Mike [Payette] wanted all of the music to be a cappella, to let these beautiful words, harmonies, and voices shine. However, at most, there are only five voices on stage, often less when actors are offstage preparing for the next scene. The challenge lay in finding ways to make as few as two voices sound as rich and full-bodied as possible. 

No musical score is provided with the script, just lyrics, so some research was involved, and there were some Spirituals I had never heard before. I just couldn’t find the lyrics anywhere, never mind the melodies, so I had to create music and then test it out with the actual voices to see if the harmonies worked as well in person as they did in my head … it was an exciting and fun part of the process. We had a workshop in June so I could get to know the actors and familiarize myself with their voices and they could get comfortable with the music. Having that opportunity before rehearsals officially started in September was a huge boon.

CS: Your doctoral thesis reflects recent developments within the arts to make conscious efforts to be more culturally inclusive.
FR:
My thesis revolves around the African American Spiritual and how to perform it well to avoid issues of cultural appropriation. It’s a fine line to walk for choirs whose members may not be descendants of the African diaspora. How do you perform the music of a marginalized community if you’re not a part of that community? How do you do it in a way that demonstrates the choir’s understanding and respect for the music and its historical context?

This music is so beautiful but it’s born of painful circumstances: slavery and racial injustices that happened over centuries. Even though some of those pains and challenges are still being experienced today, we try to move towards a future that feels more inclusive to everyone. I’m doing this thesis because I see choirs whose members are not Black and they’re performing this music—and they should, I think this music should be interpreted  and disseminated, I think that’s important—but I sense discomfort, as if they believe they are being culturally insensitive. No one has to feel that way, not if you are able to come at the music with a sense of context, an understanding of where this music comes from and why it’s sung in a certain way or why we’re moved to sway as we sing it. Even though this music comes from pain there is also joy in it. If we can find a way to make all of that clear and develop a performance practice that allows choirs of any ilk to feel comfortable and proud of this music, the genre will be given the chance to flourish and grow into an even greater genre.

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