St. Thomas University’s flagship theatre company has undergone a major reorganization placing inclusivity, diversity, equity, and increased student engagement at the forefront. BBP’s Lisa Anne Ross walks us through the changes and what’s in store for the 22/23 season.
After more than 60 years producing plays as Theatre St. Thomas, one of the province’s longest running theatre institutions has made some major changes to the way it operates. No longer known as Theatre St. Thomas, and no longer a student-led club, Black Box Productions is ready to write the next chapter in the school’s colourful theatre history under the careful guidance of students, staff and alumni. Taking its name from the university’s Black Box Theatre located in James Dunn Hall, Black Box Productions is the school’s new “home for theatre” and aims to continue the long standing relationship that exists between the university stage and the broader theatre community.
“Theatre St. Thomas was St. Thomas University’s flagship theatre company,” said Lisa Anne Ross, a Fredericton-based theatre artist and part-time instructor at STU, who for the past few years has been actively involved in keeping the university’s theatre program moving forward. “It was a student-led club in name only. So I think what Black Box Productions is doing is just taking it one step further and finalizing that reality with the goal of honouring what Ilkay Silk built over the years that she was here.
Ilkay Silk was the director of drama at St. Thomas University from 1978 until her retirement in 2014.
“We are St. Thomas University’s formal theatre company now, and we are no longer a student-led club,” said Ross. “And we thought as part of this transformation it would be an exciting time to rebrand.”
Along with a new name and a new logo, Black Box Productions also ushers in a restructuring of the organization and the way it operates.
“When TST was a student-led club we had an executive that was elected by the members every year,” said Ross. “I felt that because the three member executive was an elected group, it placed a huge burden on those students because it always ended up being a lot of work for no credit. So in collaboration with the students we decided to form an advisory committee with the purpose to guide, support and oversee Black Box Productions.
“I have loved working with this committee,” said Ross. “There are fifteen students and alumni on it in addition to myself, Chris Saad, our Technical Director, and Dr. Andre Loiselle who is also the Dean of Humanities here at STU. Everyone is really active and really engaged.”
The first major task for this new-found committee was to draft a mission statement. Something that would reflect the shared goals of the committee with respect to the past, present and future of theatre at the university.
“We asked ourselves, what is Black Box Productions? What do we want it to be? What role can we serve in the community? What are our values? In the spring we put all these issues together to create what we call our guiding principles. I’m really proud of it because it was a really collaborative action that truly came from the students themselves.
Black Box Productions is St Thomas University’s home for theatre. We bring together students, staff, and members of the community to create bold and relevant theatre. Open to all, our company is committed to fostering inclusivity, diversity, and equity—recognizing that this action requires an ongoing commitment to the ever-evolving nature of our community. Through mentorship, training, and collaboration, we aim to be a meaningful part of the broader theatre community, all while recognizing the influential history of theatre at St. Thomas.
Along with announcing these changes to STU’s theatre community, Black Box Productions has also shared its plans for the upcoming school year which include an 2SLGBTQIA+ Theatre Festival, a sketch comedy show, a devised creation, and a new logic bending, digitally inspired pantomime.
“Every show this season was programmed with the idea of creating more space for students to get involved,” said Ross. “And I think we have achieved that based on the number of students who came out to audition. Our plan is to do very little cross casting between each show with the idea of creating more space and more opportunities for students to be part of the season.”
Upcoming Productions at a Glance:
Plain Site Theatre Festival | November 17-19, 2022
The Other Dean’s List | December 1-2, 2022
The Fofana Kingdom – February 2-6, 2023
Mr. Information – March 16-18, 2023
The fun begins in November with the 4th annual Plain Site Theatre Festival. Curated by STU alum Alex Rioux, in partnership with Solo Chicken Productions and Black Box Productions, Plain Site is New Brunswick’s premier 2SLGBTQIA+ theatre festival dedicated to promoting queer focused storytelling and visibility by providing emerging artists and students a safe space to develop their craft under the guidance of established 2SLGBTQIA+ artists.
“The Plain Site community is growing,” said Ross. “It is a delightful festival. Alex has done such a great job in shaping a really nice space where queer voices can be fostered by established queer artists. This year’s festival will include four new readings and four main stage productions.”
Following the recent success of his sketch show Snakes Are Cool, which ran at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre back in March, STU and Second City alum Jake Martin will introduce audiences to his brand of sketch comedy with The Other Dean’s List.
“We had 55 students audition for this year’s season and I know a lot of them were really interested in the sketch comedy show,” said Ross. “That was part of the reason we really wanted to put some sketch comedy in the season. There are a lot of students who might not want to act in the traditional sense. But sketch comedy helps us create more space for new students to get involved.”
In February, Black Box Productions will produce the devised creation piece The Fofana Kingdom, directed by STU alum, artist, activist, and educator Saa Andrew Gbongbor. The Fofana Kingdom will take audiences back to the ancient way of life in Africa as a lens to view the clash of globalization and immigration in the modern era.
Andrew, originally from Sierra Leone, has been active for many years as a cultural and community organizer in Fredericton. He studied Human Rights Law at STU, performs as a dancer, percussionist and singer, and founded Battle for the Arts NB, an organization that uses arts and culture to amplify and empower youth voices to excel through the arts.
“The Fofana Kingdom is an epic story of discovery told through the African lens,” said Ross. “In theatre, especially here, a lot of theatre is told through the Euro-colonial lens. We’ve already started casting it and we have people from all over the globe. We have people from India, Ecuador, Mexico, and Rwanda. I’m super excited to have Saa here. He’s always working to support other people and I wanted to give him the chance to do his own craft and have the time for himself to make something truly his own.”
The season concludes with Mr. Information, a pantomime with music written by STU student Noah Deas and directed by STU alum Nathanael Telman.
“This show will be in partnership with the Fine Arts department,” said Ross. “Mr. Information will be something very new for us. It’s actually a student’s thesis project and it’s a musical. I’m really excited about it.”
On top of this ambitious season, Black Box Productions will also be hosting a series of workshops throughout the school year. The first workshop, Discovering Stage Management, led by STU alum Wei Qing Tan, takes place this Sunday.
Follow the links below to stay on top of all the projects, workshops and productions Black Box Productions have coming up.