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Play tackles the tricky subject of consent

Philip Aikin

The topic of consent has been at the forefront of the #MeToo movement. But it is not always cut-and-dry. Can, for example, consent be withdrawn after it has already been given?

This is the subject of a new production of Actually, which is being produced by Philip Akin, the artistic director at Obsidian Theatre, a black theatre company, along with the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company (HGJTC). Written by award-winning playwright Anna Ziegler, it runs from Sept. 14-29 at Toronto’s Meridian Arts Centre (formerly the Toronto Centre for the Arts).

Actually is an interesting piece,” explains Akin. “It’s based in trying to work out what consent means and when does it disappear. It sets it in a freshman year at Princeton University. It’s about two people who are both freshmen, who have spent the first couple of months at school test driving adult bodies, and drinking a lot.

“They woke up one night and there becomes a question about whether consent was taken away in the middle of them having sex or not. It gets escalated up to a hearing at the university. We kind of meet these two people before their time at Princeton, and as they gradually get to know each other a bit that night, and their differing accounts of what happened.”

Akin says that, “It is going to be about race if you see a black man and a white woman.… We all bring who we are into the theatre, so that is going to play in. They both come from different backgrounds and they interact. There might be some level of exotification, but I try when I’m directing to make the characters as fully rounded human beings as I can.

“Then, that means there is room for nuisance. I don’t try to telegraph what I think the audience should be hearing. I like to leave a gap, so that we have two fully formed humans that interact. Then the discussion on the audience’s point of view is what they bring to it and how they perceive it. So I often say that, for me, a successful play is when a couple is on their way home from the theatre and having a really passionate conversation about a moment in the play.”

Akin says that he leaves space for ambiguity, space for a bit of chaos and space for the audience to bring themselves into the mix and try to figure it out for themselves. He says that set designer Sean Mulcahy has created an interesting sparse space and all of it is being utilized. The set is very different from that of past productions of Actually, as this one is set outdoors.

Actually stars actors Tony Ofori as and Claire Renaud. This is the first time Akin was worked with either one of them. The director met Renaud during the audition process and thought her insight into the character was great. “Claire has a really wonderful access to letting emotions just appear on the surface,” says Akin. “Tony, I have known for a number of years and is one of the actors that I tell people, I think has grown incredibly.”

This is HGJTC and Obsidian Theatre’s third joint production in which Akin has directed, the first two being The Whipping Boy and Driving Miss Daisy. Akin, who has been acting and directing for over 40 years, plans to resign as artistic director of the Obsidian Theatre in June 2020, after being at the helm of this critically acclaimed theatre company for 20 years. After exiting Obsidian Theatre, Akin plans to do freelance directing.

In his spare time, Akin enthusiastically collects and restores fountain pens, and runs an annual fountain pen show called Scriptus.


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