The play Writing While Black opens at the Tarragon next week

By Stephen Weir

Hey, most folks don’t care that cop shows don’t let the truth stand in the way of an action packed storyline when shown on prime time TV.  But, what happens when the Black writer of said police stories is censored when he tries to work in a true story of his own painful encounter with the police into a new television?

Tony Ofori and Emma Ferreira

Later this month the Tarragon Theatre is staging the World Premier of Jason Sherman’s new play Copy That.  The comedy drama takes a caustic look at the entertainment industry by taking the audience behind the scenes of network television.  This is the story of four writers struggling to get their new cop show script approved for production. When the team’s only Black writer (Toronto’s Tony Ofori) is roughed up in an actual cop encounter, the fallout threatens to not only kill the show, but expose the systemic racism at the heart of popular entertainment itself.

The play is currently in rehearsals at the Tarragon Theatre in midtown Toronto (Spadina/Davenport area) in preparation for its November 7 – December 8 run.  The Caribbean Camera caught up with director Jamie Robinson to talk about the play and how it deals with the very topical issue of police brutality and the Black community.

“The play opens with four very funny writers working on a script for a Network TV show about cops.  These crazy staff writers are trying to get the script written to deadline. Every so often they hear the voice of the unseen network executive giving them directions on what they are writing,” explains Jamie Robinson.

“ The interaction amongst the writers is very comedic.  That all changes when Colin tells the others about how he and Maia (Emma Ferreira)  had a real life encounter with the police,” he said.

Colin works the real life story of how he is roughed up by the police into the script. “ What he writes is powerful, and initially everyone wants it exactly how it happens in to (the TV series script).  But with the pressure from the network – how can you be critical of the police when the show is about good policing?  – changes are made to the storyline.”

The play is written by Jason Sherman, a multi-award-winning playwright and screenwriter based in Toronto. He is currently the writer in residence at the Tarragon and has worked closely with the cast in bringing his work to the stage.

According to the director, Tony Ofori shared with the writer and his fellow actors his own experiences with Toronto police.  “ He has had several encounters with the police even while just simply going home.  Tony has helped us get a clear understanding of what has been happening in the city.”

“The play does take place in a single room and we never say where we are.  We could be in the US. We could be in Canada. Given the cast, the writer and the theatre, we think of this as being set here in Toronto but it could be anywhere – sadly the problem is universal.”

Does the network respond positively to Colin’s Writing While Black, or does this play have a sad sad ending? The director isn’t about to spill the beans, “ I’ll just say that the audience isn’t going to see the ending coming – it’s an eye opener!”

Copy That opens November 6th with a week of previews. The official grand open takes place November 13th. The play closes on December 8th although the Theatre is already talking about extending the run to handle the demand for tickets.