BLACKNESS, QUEERNESS AND GOSPEL MUSIC
November 8, 2022
March 30, 2023
Gospel anthems, queer identity struggles and rebellion? Sounds like a party, let’s go! We asked theatre director Mike Payette a few questions about his latest project and Broadway hit show - Choir Boy - from the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Moonlight, Tarell Alvin McCraney.
This is a coming-of-age story we can get into, and it’s happening in Toronto from November 8-19.
Choir Boy was written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Moonlight, Tarell Alvin McCraney, and is about Pharus, a senior at at prestigious prep school and leader of its “legendary gospel choir.
“Conforming to their traditions becomes harder as he learns to accept his identity as a young gay man. Weighing reconciliation and rebellion, Choir Boy is a love letter to the healing power of music, featuring gorgeously sung a cappella hymns.”
Picking up on all the Sister Act vibes we want, we’re super excited about this show, and had the chance to ask director Mike Payette a few questions about the Toronto production, starring our very own Andrew Broderick!
Yohomo: Can you tell us about working with the cast for this show? What were some highlights for you? What is something you learned from these guys?
Mike Payette: The challenge of this show is also an invigorating artistic opportunity when it comes to the making of the choir; chiefly because every production of this show is unique by virtue of the range of voices within the cast. In this case, we did an extensive search across the country and we are blessed to have five exceptional triple threats who are mutually talented as well as superior human beings. The amount of vulnerability this play evokes for every artist involved is visceral, and they continue to give so much of themselves into the process from song, to movement, and of course connection to the characters and their respective journeys.
We’ve created an environment in which we can be rigorous but also encourage laughter and lots of play. It’s been lovely getting to know these wonderful actors who uplift, challenge and celebrate the range of performance possibility in the arts.
Why did you want to direct this show in particular?
Tarell’s text is so rich and every time I read it, I am in awe of his breadth of lyricism and connection to promoting and sharing the intersections of Blackness and queerness, but also the larger questions of survival and coming into oneself – regardless of what age you are. The play was created ten years ago, but the resonance is profound, and the world has changed and informed a lot about the lens in which we are telling the story today. For a director, it is a gift to be given another opportunity to keep learning from the text and to envision how to elevate all areas of the production in this new offering.
A trailer for the Broadway production of the play play above!
You've said this play is about brotherhood... did it feel like a sort of brotherhood putting it together?
Absolutely. Like many processes, it is so important to build a strong community with all artists involved. This includes all creatives and production teams as well. We are collected in our pursuit to honour this story through the foundations of this value.
How did this play resonate with you personally?
In many ways. These characters are far from home and are seeking ways to ground and find connection to something greater than they are in any given moment; they are very much in search of that. I can identify with that. More so, I wish a piece like this existed when I was younger to help support and uplift me during those formative years. I am reminded about what courage can look like against the odds and a world that challenges our collective ability to find individuality while seeking a home to feel safe and comforted.
The reviews for the play as really impressive across the board, as a director do you feel a certain pressure to make sure this iteration of the show is felt in the same way?
Of course. But we’re here to tell the story and that is what has guided me. We are not trying to compare productions but rather be a part of its legacy of Choir Boy’s impact.
Do you have any favourite gospel artists you listen to in your own life that we should check out?
Not particularly. But I’m often enthralled by contemporary artists who enjoy sampling some of our most iconic spirituals. You can hear this in RnB, hip hop and so much more. The history of gospel remains present today and all around us.
This is not a paid partnership article, we just love this play, and recommend checking it out if you can! Grab tickets at the CanStage website.