'It doesn't matter what your skin colour is': Black actor stars as Father of Confederation
'I'm baffled that it hasn't happened decades ago'
The Confederation Players may represent Canada's founding fathers back in 1864, but this summer the Confederation Centre's roving troupe of actors also made the leap into the 21st century by hiring their first black Father of Confederation.
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Luke Junior Ignace plays John Hamilton Gray, the pro-Confederation premier of P.E.I. in 1864 — who was white. Ignace is from Bahamas and is studying business at Holland College.
'After a while it wouldn't be a novelty and nobody would be even talking about it.' — Sandra Gaudet
"It's kind of cool," Ignace said of being the first black Confederation Player. "We're getting to a place in theatre now, where the world is becoming so much more diverse and so many doors are opening for so many different types of people, ways of life, those barriers just don't exist any more."
"It's a step in the right direction. It's the 150th and we're making change, and that's good — and we're leading it."
Colour-blind or non-traditional casting has gone over well in the award-winning, mega-successful hip hop musical Hamilton, in which multi-ethnic men and women fill the roles of white American founding fathers including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
The Confederation Centre's artistic director Adam Brazier downplays the Charlottetown Festival's bold move.
"Nobody's noticed, which is the way it should be," said Brazier. "I'm amazed that he's the first, frankly, I'm baffled that it hasn't happened decades ago. But hey, it's great to be first at something, and everything's got to happen eventually."
"I don't think we're trying to make a statement with it," he said. "He was the best guy for the part."
'We all can tell the story'
Ignace wasn't trying to make a statement, either — he just thought being part of the troupe would be cool.
"I saw all these actors outside wearing this great Victorian clothing and, I just like style, honestly. So it attracted me that way," he smiled. He auditioned last year, but Brazier thought he needed more experience interacting with the public.
Ignace returned this year and auditioned again, thinking he'd likely play someone who was also black.
"Originally I just thought there are many people in P.E.I. and Canada's history generally who played a lot of major black roles, and I thought maybe I could fill one of those roles," he said.
Then, his thinking shifted.
"This isn't a recreation of who this person was, you can't bring this person back to life," Ignace said. "But we all can tell the story — it doesn't matter what your skin colour is or where you're from."
'A beautiful, multicultural face'
The Centre's Charlottetown Festival also includes other colour-blind or integrated casting: black and Indigenous actors have played supporting roles and other minor roles this year, and in past years.
"I don't think we do enough in terms of our diversity in terms of casting for the festival, not for a lack of effort," said Brazier. "I would like to see this festival better represent the entire face of our nation, which is a beautiful, multicultural face."
That all could have changed in a big way this year, Brazier said — he auditioned people of colour for the part of Matthew Cuthbert. Even the actors agents were confused, telling Brazier he'd sent the wrong script.
"I said no, that's not wrong, I would like to see him for Matthew," he said. "Let the best person have the job."
Brazier notes the push for diverse casting is making for stiff competition among North American theatres. "So you're all fighting over a lot of the same people."
When will the Charlottetown Festival look more diverse?
"It takes a long time — it takes too long," Brazier said. "I would love to see a very diverse Charlottetown Festival, a festival that has all the faces of our nation represented."
'If you can do the job, you should be able to have the job'
Audiences don't seem to care Ignace's Father of Confederation is a different colour than Hamilton Gray in real life.
"I think if you can do the job, you should be able to have the job and do it, it's just that simple," said Lori Mater, from Richmond Hill, Ont. after the vignette Thursday.
I would love to see a very diverse Charlottetown Festival, a festival that has all the faces of our nation represented.— Adam Brazier
"From what I try to teach my kids, it's doesn't matter. And to them it does not matter. If I don't follow that, how can I expect them to?" Mater said.
"It was really interesting — obviously it's not historically correct but I don't see any problem with that," said Sandra Gaudet from P.E.I. "I think it's kind of nice to start showing other races or nationalities in the vignettes."
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New black character to debut
Next week, audiences on the Players's Queen Square walking tour will also meet "Black Sam" — played by Ignace — a character from the Bog — the area of Charlottetown the city's black population called home more than a century ago.
Ignace is excited to play a black character from P.E.I.'s history.
"P.E.I. … is an incubator for change in Canada," Ignace said. "I think it's just a matter of time before we see a lot more."
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