Blackout sheds light
on 1969 SGW riots
A well researched and well played first theatrical depiction of the events
By Byron Toben
Back in February 1969, I was basking on the beach in Honolulu when a student occupation of Montreal’s Sir George Williams Hall Building hit the headlines (and wish I were there again now in this winter of our icy cements).
Thus, I did not get all the details until returning to Montreal and accepted the general feeling that some six students (mostly black from the Caribbean) played the race card on their bad grades.
… this piece combined agit prop theatre with intricate choreography…
Three of those arrested or convicted came from wealthy families. Roosevelt Douglas later became Prime Minister of Dominica. Cheddi Jagan Jr. was the son of Guyana’s Prime Minister. Anne Cools became a Canadian Senator.
Thus, I am indebted to Tableau D’Hôte Theatre for developing and presenting the world premiere of Blackout: The Concordia Computer Riots. (The then Sir George Williams combined with Loyola to form Concordia University later in 1974.)
Collectively researched and written by seven concerned persons inspired by director Mathieu Murphy-Perron, this piece combined agit prop theatre with intricate choreography in highlighting how the slow escalation of denial of reasonable requests to review allegations of racial discrimination resulted in physical occupation of the 9th floor computer center.
Some 400 student supporters were involved, records and machines damaged and a fire set.
To this day, it is debateable how much of this violence may have been created by the riot police that the University finally called in.
The performers often “broke the fourth wall” by engaging the audience in comment.
Not enough space here to detail the 13 fine performers and 17 creative team members involved. Suffice it to say that no cultural appropriation claims can be made here as all of the performers and most of the others were persons of colour.
Well OK, I’ll mention one. The popular Lucinda Davis appeared in two roles. Always good to have a “name” to help fill the seats. In any event, the 387 seats of the D. B. Clarke theatre were near filled each night. Not only was the premiere of this play in the same building as the events described, but co-incidentally, the theatre space was named for the then acting principal, Douglas Clarke.
‘The performers often “broke the fourth wall” by engaging the audience in comment.’
Though this play is the first theatrical depiction of the events, there was a 2015 NFB film documentary on the subject, called Ninth Floor. It was shown at that year’s Toronto Film festival.
Blackout ended at the DB Clarke Theatre on February 10.
Images: Mathieu Murphy-Perron
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.