Canadian stage actors talk diversity

The Tony-winning musical “Hamilton” has been at the forefront of a rich range of theatrical productions featuring actors of colour in 2016, alongside Broadway’s “The Color Purple,” “On Your Feet!” and “Eclipsed.”

Closer to home, the Canadian stage has also showcased a racially diverse slate of performers.

Three actors currently starring in productions at the Stratford Festival share their thoughts on the subject of diversity and what aspired them to pursue careers onstage.

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Jason Sermonia

Age: 32

Starring in ” A Chorus Line” and “As You Like It.”

Theatre is the family business for Sermonia, whose wife Melanie McInenly and siblings Genny and Julius are also performers.

“Growing up, my parents would take me to see theatre in Toronto. ‘Miss Saigon’ was one of my first shows that I ever saw. I grew up in the dance competition world. I have two other siblings, so three of us were put into dance school, and I just loved dance.

“(‘Miss Saigon’) opened with the superstar Lea Salonga. She’s Filipino and I’m Filipino, so it kind of attracted me to that, for sure…. I saw a lot of acrobatic stuff in it and I was like, ‘Well, I think I can do this.’

“It was such an amazing beautiful story. The singing, the acting, the sets. This huge helicopter that came down — it was insane. For me to be an eight-year-old kid to see all of this was amazing.”

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Sarah Afful

Age: 31

Starring in “Macbeth,” “All My Sons” and “John Gabriel Borkman”

On what makes theatre distinct:

“Stratford is a corporation, so it is about making money. But it also has room for artistry…. And I think theatre has a freedom in that there’s different pockets. So you can sort of find where you fit and explore your own artistic vision where you fit. Everywhere I’ve gone in terms of theatre, I’ve been seen just as myself, for the most part, which I’m very grateful for. And I’ve been able to transcend stereotypes.”

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Alexis Gordon

Age: 25

Starring in “A Little Night Music” and “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”

On seeing an all-black production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway:

“It was so empowering to walk in and see the theatre packed with black people, which I hadn’t seen before, especially being Canadian. And it was just a story about humans that was happening in front of me, and I found that so empowering.”

On inspiring youngsters:

“Last season, I did a bunch of talkbacks with the Shakespeare School kids, knowing I was one of them 10 years ago. One of the kids asked what got me into theatre and I talked about seeing Karen (Robinson) onstage, and how I went: ‘Oh my gosh, I can do this.’ And two young black girls (said): ‘That’s exactly what I thought when I saw you.’

“It caught my heart. It’s one thing that I’m following my passion and my dreams. But with each show that I do, I’m teaching maybe one kid a show — or maybe 50, who knows? — that they can do this too, where they might not have believed they could before.”

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