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October 12, 2000 Director Kate Bligh finds freedom to explore her art in Montreal



Photo of Kate Bligh

Kate Bligh

by Barbara Black

Kate Bligh’s CV contains the following sentence: “I immigrated to Canada four years ago and I am learning about its culture and history as fast as I can.”

A white Englishwoman who is acting artistic director of Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop, and who has already earned accolades for a production in French — Bligh has jumped headfirst into her new environment.

She has been teaching in Concordia’s Theatre Department for two years. Last year, her student production of the James M. Synge classic The Playboy of the Western World earned high praise from The Gazette’s Pat Donnelly. Her approach was both original and meticulous, based on three months’ research in Ireland by a student dramaturg.
Next week, she directs her acting students in a workshop performance of Pinteresque, her own program of one-act plays and sketches by Harold Pinter. It’s called a workshop because the Theatre budget didn’t extend to sets this time out.

Bligh once met Pinter in the midst of a production in England, and was struck by his modest, ad-hoc approach to his own work. A contemporary of Arthur Miller, precursor of David Mamet, he is still Britain’s pre-eminent playwright.

“Pinter writes about the tragedies of small, ordinary people, especially English people,” Bligh said in a phone interview. She loves his three-dimensional characters, and the direct, clear dialogue that sometimes takes a jump into “Shakespearian juiciness.”

Her Concordia students were a little doubtful at first about adopting East End London accents. “But I played them some Mike Leigh movies, like Secrets and Lies, and they got really interested,” she said. Leigh, like Pinter, explores contemporary working-class domestic life with sympathy and a quirky humour.

Bligh grew up in multicultural southeast London. She has an MA in drama and theatre arts from the University of Birmingham and The Drama Centre, London, and did a diploma in stage management and technical theatre at Lamba, the august London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She put in an eventful decade directing and working in London, Edinburgh and Birmingham. It culminated in the Pacemaker Theatre, a company she founded in London to develop new plays.

She first came to Montreal in 1993 to take part in a new writing workshop at the National Theatre School. Already fluent in French (she has three A-levels and was head girl at her school), she noticed the openness and promise of life here. Back in Britain, “class still determines things, even in the theatre.” She also fell for the genius of Quebec writer/actor/director Robert Lepage.

Bligh has directed two plays so far for the Black Theatre Workshop, Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! last year, and this year, The Crossroads/Le Carrefour, by Kossi Efoui, in both English and French, at the Monument National. Both productions were well received.

“When they asked me to be acting artistic director, I said, I don’t think so. You should have a black director. But they said, We want your expertise, so I agreed. Now, I relish the irony.”

Theatre does its bit for the economy

A lot of our Theatre Department people were among the winners of “the best of anglo theatre,” chosen by local critics and published in The Gazette on September 9.

They include Ana Cappelluto for sets and lighting of Victoria (at the Centaur), actor Harry Standjofski for multiple roles in Reading Hebron, recent grads Jacob Richmond and friends, for The Qualities of Zero, named as best new play, and The Montreal Young Company, which includes former students.

In another issue of The Gazette, TV columnist Mike Boone praised the performance of student Joe Cobden in a new drama series produced by MTV called Live Through This. You can catch it on YTV.

As Boone remarked, “Live Through This created jobs in Montreal. And unlike this microchip plant that the government wants to lure here, the television series did not involve a 10-digit outlay of the taxpayers’ hard-earned cash.”