Pioneer of Black theatre in Canada to retire

By Stephen Weir

Philip Akin

Philip Akin has announced that he will be stepping down after 14 seasons as the Artistic Director of Obsidian Theatre. In 2000, Akin, along with 12 other prominent Black artists came together with the vision for an organization by and for Black theatre creators.

Obsidian Theatre was formed, named for a black volcanic glass that alluded to creation and breaking new ground. He served on the board of directors, and as the company’s administrative producer before becoming Artistic Director in 2006.  Akin will remain in his position until 2020; but the search for new artistic leadership begins now.

As an artistic leader Philip is known for speaking his mind, always in support of Black artists, even if it isn’t the popular opinion.

In a release sent to the Caribbean Camera Akin talked about his willingness over the years to kick butt. “It was part of my DNA that walls should come down, and if it took smashing, then smashing it should be,” he wrote. “My role I feel is to be that point, that spear, that person who will be unapologetically Black, and will be as honest and straightforward about it, no matter the consequences.”

Obsidan reports that Akin’s departure comes at a time when the theatre is in a strong position, currently having a banner year for the organization with its most ambitious season yet. The plans for his last year 2020 are even bigger. Obsidian continues to grow and take creative risks, while remaining financially stable – a rarity in Canadian theatre.


Leaving on a high was always the plan for Philip, he dreaded becoming one of those Artistic Directors “who is dragged out kicking and screaming”.

Earlier this month it was announced that Philip was named the 2018 Artist Award laureate for the Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts, it’s hard to find a better note to end on.


Next season the last for Akin, Obsidian Theatre and the Musical Stage Company will co-present the long awaited remount of the musical Caroline, or Change at the Winter Garden Theatre January 31 to February 16, 2020. The production will debut reggae singer Jully Black and renowned Canadian Opera soprano Measha Brueggergosman.

Set during the turbulent time of the Civil Rights Movement in the US Caroline, or Change tells a story about ordinary people facing extraordinary change. This musical combines spirituals, blues, Motown and classical music with Jewish Klezmer and folk. The show ran both on Broadway and in London 30 years ago.