Red Velvet tells the story of Ira Aldridge

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Where: Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, 2750 Granville St., Vancouver

Tickets: From $29 at artsclub.com

In Red Velvet, Quincy Armorer plays Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to play Othello on the English stage.

Lolita Chakrabiti’s 2012 play shows the American actor in his 60s, looking back on his life, particularly the moment in 1833 when he took the stage of a Covent Garden theater as Shakespeare’s Moorish military commander and left audiences and critics speechless. of the London theatre. both because of his skin color and because of his acting technique.

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“The style of acting is very different now than it was back then,” Armorer said. “There was a certain style of acting at the time, and the actors would have been trained significantly in how to do all the gestures and movements, the poses. There is a scene where Ira explains to another actor how he likes to listen and respond. He was connecting with the other actors and the characters in a different way.”

However, Red Velvet is less about acting technique than it is about the killer appearance of a black actor on an English stage in a major role. After venerable British leading man Edmund Kean was unable to play the role after falling ill, company leader Pierre Laporte surprises everyone (especially Kean’s titled son) by casting Aldridge, a friend and already successful actor. outside London. Theater critics of the time were horrified.

Aldridge may have started construction, but even 132 years later, Laurence Olivier was wearing blackface to play the character in a 1965 film (and receiving an Oscar nomination for his efforts).

“Looking at movements like Black Lives Matter, or even #OscarsSoWhite from a few years ago, the idea of ​​racial consciousness and conversations about representation are more relevant than ever,” said Red Velvet director Omari Newton.

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Omar Newton
Omari Newton directs Red Velvet for Arts Club from March 21 to April 21 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. Photo by Charles Zuckerman/ZuckermanWong /arts club

“And it’s incredible to know that there was a pioneering figure who played this character in 1833 and then for years, even into the 1960s, we still had people playing Othello in blackface. “We are still fighting in many ways for accurate representation and for people of color to get their fair share in terms of their contribution.”

Newton says that when he started thinking about how to approach the play, he saw a connection to Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror film, Get Out.

“In the film, there’s this idea of ​​being in ‘the sunken place,’ where you inhabit your body but don’t have full control over it. And you’re kind of stuck in a subordinate place and trying to communicate and get ahead, but the circumstances don’t allow you to do that easily.”

Armorer played Othello in 2012, an experience he says is “very useful for this production. You see a little bit of the play itself when the actors are getting ready, just some exchanges. And then in the first act, you see a scene between Othello and Desdemona. But most of this work revolves around production.”

The cast of the Arts Club production also includes Lindsey Angell as Ellen Tree (Demona of the play within a play), Sebastien Archibald as Charles Kean and Tess Degenstein in three roles: Halina Wozniak, Margaret Aldridge and Betty Lovell.

“The Vancouver public is in luck,” Newton said.

“In addition to being a memoir about a real historical figure, it is a love letter to theatrical performance and honors the evolution of theatrical performance. The Traditional Arts Club audience will love it and people who don’t usually go to the theater will also enjoy it, because it’s a very powerful story.”

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