#152 – Philip Akin
Philip Akin has been acting and directing for over 40 years. In 2000, he was a founding member of Obsidian Theatre, Canada’s leading black theatre company, and has served as its Artistic Director since 2006. In this role, he has worked tirelessly to provide opportunities and guidance for emerging artists. In 2002, he was part of the team that launched the Obsidian Mentor/Apprentice Program, a one-of-a-kind program that has so far helped 61 black artists embark on exciting careers as directors, dramaturges, producers, production managers, lighting, set and costume designers with some of the most established performing arts companies nationwide.
The Men in White
by Anosh Irani
Directed by Philip Akin
A heartwarming tale of life, love, and cricket.
When Abdul’s cricket team want to end their losing streak, they decide to recruit his brother, Hasan, who is an expert all-rounder. But bringing Hasan from India to Canada will take more than just a plane ticket, and not all of the team agree with the cost. Alternating between Mumbai and Vancouver, this touching story follows these unforgettable characters as they discover that home can be found in a sport and unite family across nations.
Philip Akin, Phil Rickaby
Phil Rickaby 00:03
Welcome to Episode 151 of Stageworthy, I’m your host, Phil Rickaby. Stageworthy is a podcast about people in Canadian theatre featuring conversations with actors, directors, playwrights and more. I have been thinking a lot this week about goals. And, and, and getting to where I want in life, you know what I want to be when I grow up. And you know, I’ve known a long time what exactly what I want to be, quote unquote, when I grow up, you know, I want to be doing more writing, and I want to be doing more performing, of my own work so, and I found myself realising that I’ve been getting really sidetracked and that’s sort of coming to focus for me a little more after I got back from from doing fringe festivals and started going back to daily life, how much I allow myself to be distracted by, by other things, you know, day job and that sort of thing. And I’ve been, I’ve been thinking a lot about that, because, well, it doesn’t take me where I want to go, it doesn’t doesn’t help me get closer to what I want to do. And, you know, it’s important to me that I, you know, it’s the thing that I’m passionate about, and yet, it’s so easy to get sidetracked. And I was thinking this week about a quote from my favourite author, Neil Gaiman. And when he was addressing giving an address to he was doing a graduation, keynote. And he managed, he talked about how when he was younger, when opportunities would come his way. He thought about how that was getting him towards what he wanted to do. And, and the way that he, you know, what he wanted to do is to be a published author, a writer of fiction, and that sort of thing. And so when he, when an offer would come his way, say, for example, to be the editor of a magazine, he would imagine what he wanted being a published author of fiction as a mountain in the distance, and he’d look at that offer. And he’d asked himself, does that take me closer to the mountains? And if the answer was no, he would, he would turn down the offer, he wouldn’t, he would not pursue it, because getting to the mountain was really important to him. And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my mountains, and what I want out of my life, and, and how to motivate myself to not get distracted. So one of the things I did was I, you know, I took that, that, that that quote, and I made a little a little wallpaper for my phone, because you know, what’s something I look at every day is I look at my phone, and I pick up my phone, and the wallpaper is a picture of a mountain. And it just says, Are you closer to the mountain? And it’s a question that I’m finding really motivating. And so every time I pick up my phone, which let’s face it is too much I pick up my phone, and I look at it and ask me the question and, and I have to I have to answer for myself, is the answer yes or no? And so, I’m finding that that that since making that wallpaper, as I as I look at it, I, I’m answering the question more often with Yes, because I’m starting to, I’m doing things that take me closer to the mountain. So that’s good. And, you know, it’s really easy to get sidetracked and I’m sure that you’ve had had times in your life when when you get sidetracked. I mean, we all it happens to all of us, things become and feel like they’re more important than maybe they actually are. Or they’re important, but they’re not taking us towards what we want to do. And so it’s important to look at what you want and and and, and do what you can to get there otherwise, you know when you when you get to that you you know you you start to you don’t want to have regrets about not pursuing and not moving towards the thing that you really wanted. I’m curious what your mountain is like, Are you are you moving towards it every day? is there is there something that you’re doing that that helps to motivate you? If you want it like I can make the wallpaper that I made available to whoever wants it or you can make your own but you know, I’m just curious like how were you motivating yourself to move towards your mountain? You can you can tell me about that. If you want to drop me a line you can find Stageworthy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod. You can find the website at stageworthypodcast.com. If you want to drop me a line to tell me about your mountain or anything at all. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @philrickaby and My website is philrickaby.com. My guest this week is Philip Akin and Philip is the artistic director and a founding member of Obsidian theatre and is currently directing Men in White which starts October 13 and runs until November the fourth at Factory Theatre in Toronto. Why don’t we start out by talking about the show that you’re working on? Man? Wait. What can you tell me about about men? And why, aside from the fact that it’s about cricket?
Philip Akin 05:11
Well, it’s it’s, it’s about cricket
Phil Rickaby 05:18
is really just about cricket?
Philip Akin 05:20
That’s all we do is cricket bat cricket? No, it’s nominally about cricket. As it as it relates as a team sport it as it relates to a kind of the camaraderie or the fracturing of camaraderie that one finds when you’re on a team, or live for me, it’s probably closer to my days in martial arts, that kind of thing.
Phil Rickaby 05:46
Right, right. Yeah,
Philip Akin 05:46
where you have this kind of like unit and then then it can fracture under odd circumstances. So it’s, it’s a story about that it’s a story about religion. It’s a story about India, I mean, half the play is set in Dongri, which is a poor Muslim area of Bombay, and the desires of Hasson who wants to, you know, he would rather play cricket than be a chicken butcher. So, you know, and there’s a love interest. So it’s, it’s about? So in many ways, it’s a pretty interesting human story. And it also puts a bunch of people on stage that we don’t normally see. So I find that interesting. It’s tricky. as a as a play it, I’m trying desperately not to make it a tennis match play?
Phil Rickaby 06:41
Philip Akin 06:42
You know, because they’re alternating scenes, you know, one scene is in Dongri. Next is in Vancouver, and they alternate for the entire play. So I could just have the audience looking, you know, stage right stage left. And so that leads into a kind of a natural, more naturalistic interpretation. And I’ve been finding lately that I’m a little bored or pushback from naturalism. And so this one’s got gotten, I’ve taken a more philosophical intent in the worlds blending. And that’s represented in the stage and in some of the staging. And yeah, I’m kind of just moving away a little bit in interest from naturalism. Some, so that’s cool.
Phil Rickaby 07:31
Are there particular inspirations that are that you’re using in terms of moving away from naturalism?
Philip Akin 07:39
Um, I guess it’s, I just find it very confining. I mean, this play could be done. You know, he’s, he’s in he’s in a chicken abatoir. And, and, and that’s fine, right. Like, I mean, we could have hanging dead fake chickens. Or we could have real chickens. We could have mobile chickens. Sure. Or we could just have cutouts.
Phil Rickaby 08:05
Philip Akin 08:06
Right. But for me, mostly, it has to do with the way that the two sides of the stage intersect. And the fact that the all of this stuff in Vancouver happens in the clubhouse of the Cricket Club, right. And so we could have a clubhouse on stage left and a chicken avatar on stage, right? Sure. And instead, we have these two walls, one of linoleum that crosses a wall of astroturf, which crosses and then gets cut out into, like one foot squares, in sort of this interstitial space in the middle, so that people are kind of wandering in each other’s space, even when the other space. So it’s, it’s just, I don’t know, it’s just this thing in my head where I’m like, I’m not interested in doing it. Fully naturalist. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 09:04
I mean, there is something about the the tennis match on stage that I think we’ve seen before. And haven’t
Philip Akin 09:13
Phil Rickaby 09:13
a million times.
Philip Akin 09:14
Phil Rickaby 09:15
Um, and also, there’s the audience, I think, gets a little tired of the back and forth.
Philip Akin 09:20
Phil Rickaby 09:20
Philip Akin 09:21
And it also makes for different kinds of storytelling, I think and, and it closes down a little bit of, I don’t know, a little bit of the idea for theatre magic, right. Like, how do these two places really blend? Anyway, yeah, of course. The set, as it will be in the theatre is seven feet larger than the rehearsal hall. So I can’t actually ever there’s all these like cubes that get moved around. So I can’t actually spread out the fullness of the set in the rehearsal hall. So when we do a run, you do one scene in dongri. And then the stage management crew, the best in the world run out and move everything to a different configuration. So we can do the next scene and it goes back and forth, back and forth. All right. So it means that we’re not actually doing like a really smooth, clean run. And so all of that is waiting for me when I move on deck in the weekend.
Phil Rickaby 10:26
That’ll be that’ll be another challenge, then
Philip Akin 10:28
Phil Rickaby 10:28
You have to put it together.
Philip Akin 10:29
Because I don’t even know if the design that I’ve created, it all seems to be in my head. It seems like it all be what I think it is. But I could actually put it up on the stage and go, Oh, man, that that. That sucks,
Phil Rickaby 10:44
Hm. Well, there’s something incredibly indie about that. And yeah, and like working in one space. And then when you show up to the theatre, suddenly having to make all the adjustments in the world to make whatever you did in rehearsal. work in the space.
Philip Akin 10:58
Yeah. And I get that it’s, it’s part of the way that I work in my process. Is that the play? When, let me back up, when most times when you move a play on stage, it takes about two to three steps back in the acting. Right, right, you just step back. And, and I believe that what I deliver is I bring onto the stage, a play that is so into the bones of the actors, and they understand the arc of the play. It’s such detail, that maybe they take a half step back if that. And in fact, I guess I’ve got a little bit of men pride around the fact that when I deliver a show at the shell festival, the tech team looks at me and says, We’re so far behind where you are. Right. Right. So that’s built into the arc of my process of developing a play, people move on stage, we’ve solved all the problems. And I don’t have that here.
Phil Rickaby 11:59
Is that is that a good feeling? Is that does that put you off of them? Does that make you feel nervous about moving on to it?
Philip Akin 12:05
Well, it just the way why I do that is for the solidity of the actors, number one. Number two, it means that I don’t have to utilise all of the rehearsal hours in the preview period. Right? So usually, there’s a five hour slot, right? And I’m quite proud of saying, Listen, unless something has gone terribly wrong, and I’ve done my job poorly, we won’t need those rehearsal hours. I find too many times. And I found this as an actor, you end up at opening this, the entire cast is an exhausted wreck. And they do their opening night on adrenaline. And it’s like the crappiest show ever, right? And I go, that’s, that’s what I don’t want, right? I want a well rested company who has full control of their work and the play, and they deliver on the opening. A great show.
Phil Rickaby 13:07
That’s one of the things I think that an audience is not aware of a lot of times is that is that opening night, they’ve spent a week of doing a lot of times like five hours of rehearsal, plus two hours of performance and whoever that takes, and they stop to try to give as good a performance as they can well after doing five hours of rehearsal. And so it’s no wonder that that like the like, they’re putting a lot out there. And audiences have no idea of everything that’s going in there.
Philip Akin 13:36
That’s right. And when you factor in then that everybody you know, like we’re here eating for 10 out of 12 and then go into preview. I mean, you don’t get that back in energy. Wise. Right. So that’s why the second night the night after opening is always that immense. collabed Yes, yeah. Now, how do you not do that? You do that by giving over control of the show to the cast in the stage management team earlier. So that means I build my process in a way to let go have the work in preview. So previews is a way of me backing away, right. I’ve been known to just kind of go in previews and just say from my notes, well, I don’t have anything to say I’ve told you everything you need to do you need to execute Have a good night. See? Right. There’s nothing nothing else you can do. Because if I’ve done my work, right, right. And in this particular case, I think I’m doing my work right. But I’m missing a piece but this is the set that Yeah, the pieces are set. So that’s gonna be really interesting for me,
Phil Rickaby 14:44
what is it that that is there something in particular that drew you to this particular piece?
Philip Akin 14:50
Um, it’s a piece that normally I wouldn’t get offered okay. It I find I find it funny. I mean, I’ve been on panels and people talking to young directors and stuff. And they say, you know, always do work that you really love and and i don’t believe that I might have at one point, but I don’t believe it profoundly don’t believe it anymore. I find that was work that I really love. I sometimes let the love take over. And when I find a piece that I go, Yeah, I like it, or whatever. Or now I say, can I find a path through it. And if I can find a path through it, and it’s not a play that I’m like, passionately in love with, then I have to bring everything, everything that I am and have to make it work. And usually, then I find a way to love the play. Okay. So yes, I mean, I like I like this played on and I’ve always I’ve always liked it and and and all of that. I think there’s some one of the first questions I asked at the beginning of every rehearsal is, what are the traps in the play? And what are the traps in the character? And I think one of the traps in this play is that it’s going to be done like a sitcom. And, and so if we’re all in agreement, that that’s not what we want, then we’ve spent two and a half weeks going into the really dark places of the play, and are now just starting to bring it in terms of the comedy that it is I mean, you know, there’s a lot of heartbreak in it too. But, but the comedy could very easily become shtick.
Phil Rickaby 16:39
Philip Akin 16:41
So that’s interesting. Your comedy is interesting, I find. I didn’t know I was a comedic director until a couple years ago.
Phil Rickaby 16:49
It’s funny because a lot of people think, oh, comedy is just so easy. No, but it is not. It
Philip Akin 16:54
is not easy. And it is really not easy. When you start doing that stick the first day of rehearsal. And then by time you get to previews. everybody forgets really what made it funny? Yes. And now it’s all become gags
Phil Rickaby 17:11
Philip Akin 17:13
Okay. I mean, there’s kind of show that that’ll work for I just kind of go, wow. That’s, that’s not what, that’s not what interests me. So when I was when I was doing the two shark comedies done a show this summer. We never once in the entire rehearsal, talked about the humour. And they got outside. I think some of the actors are like, I don’t know, guy. There’s nothing funny. There all that. And they get in front of an audience and all of a sudden, it’s there. Because the situations Yeah, that make humour. Yeah. Are there. Yeah. So you build that? And then the humour comes naturally out of the situation? Not because you’re doing it again.
Phil Rickaby 17:58
Yeah. No, you were you you’re you set your stakes high enough that it meant something and that the comedy came out of that. Yeah.
Philip Akin 18:04
So I find that interesting. That’s a great challenge for me. You know, I’ve I just love. I’m just taking on some stuff and looking at things in a different way. Where kind of philosophy or Yeah, philosophy is really guiding the what I’m doing with work now.
Phil Rickaby 18:26
Can I ask you the pitfalls of doing stuff that you love? And what is it that what’s the danger of only doing stuff that you love?
Philip Akin 18:36
I did a play this year called hang. Right? Kimberly Rampersad my director. I love that play. It probably did the worst box office for obsidian out of any show that we’ve ever done. I love that play. really, truly, truly Debbie Tucker Greene’s work I just love. And I just wonder if when you love it like that, if if it doesn’t give you some blind spots,
Phil Rickaby 19:06
that you can’t see the pitfalls.
Philip Akin 19:08
Yeah, and maybe and maybe now that I’ve been through that process, the next time I’ll be a little cleverer about how I I look at a play and the possible pitfalls for it. I just I just think that there’s a saying like that only do what you love is a generalisation. And I think generalisation is the the, it’s a sort of theatrical, formaldehyde. You know it in bombs, the work it makes museum theatre, it’s just so incredibly non alive. And so that’s part of the trap, right? And that’s just me, you know. I wrote a my last Canada Council multi year grant I spend a lot of time writing about why I chose plays to do with it sort of like in relation to my artistic growth. And I realised that in all the years I’ve been writing grants and reading grants and jury level, I’d virtually never read another grant that the artistic director said, I’m doing this play, because artistically, it’ll challenge me. It’ll be great for the theatre right here, right? It’s a big hit on Broadway, it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner is from our local community, but not saying this is still my art. This is still my process, my growth, and I need to I need to indulge in that I need to keep growing. Right. And that, that sort of changed the way that I looked at a bunch of stuff. Because, you know, I’ll keep going as long as I’m going, but I’m, I’m just interested in, in, in What don’t I know, and how can I get there? I’m doing a show in at National Theatre School in November, it’s seven stories by Morris panitch, you know, kind of wacky, and a standard, you know, standard set is, you know, brick wall, little ledge seven, you know, blah, blah, right? And so all of a sudden, I’m going I hate that. I just hate it. I hate that idea. And so we started talking, I’ve got a couple of fabulous young designers and, and we started talking about absurdism. And we start talking about surrealism and been gripped and Baba blah, and then the whole thing now it’s like, okay, there should be a Trapeze and, and the window should be these moving things. Well, you know, like, just just to take a totally take all of that, that that idea of absurdism and surrealism and like, mash it together. And just right, so a moment that we’re working on is I, I hate the idea in theatre schools of 21 year old students putting on grey wigs and asking old, I hate it, I hate them. And then you know, every time you have to pick a play, it’s anyway, makes me crazy. Yeah. So there’s a there’s a woman in there and the play is 100 years old.
Phil Rickaby 22:23
Philip Akin 22:24
And I kind of went, Okay, how can I take that kind of curse off of it. So what we’re looking at is at the top of the show, there’s there’s going to be 10. There’s 10 actors in the cast. There’ll be 10 Judy’s the the, the makeup, the costume, Judy’s onstage, and there’ll be dressed with various costumes, one of which will be the old lady wig, Lillian’s wig, and the actors are going to come out and kind of like negotiate. Which duty they’re going to pay. Yes. And that’s their costume. And then all of a sudden, you realise, oh, I’ve got this person. They’re going to play this old lady, right? It’s okay. Because and then and then to keep that metaphor going throughout. So we can see people and it’s right, yeah. And just finding as many ways as to circumvent the idea that this is any kind of a naturalistic play at all. Yeah,
Phil Rickaby 23:24
I thank you for doing that, by the way, because I remember when I was in theatre, so many, many years ago, there were people in my class and they only played all the old people roles. Yeah. And then they got into theatre school with only old people roles on their resume.
Philip Akin 23:35
And and what do you do? Yeah, exactly. And the fact is, is by time most actors get to be able to play the age to play the old people roles. They can’t even play them anymore. Yes, because of either, you know, physical issues or memory issues. Because that’s what happens to us. I mean, I just turned down a great great acting role. And it’s because it was you know, I’m heading a be heading into my last year at obsidian, so I needed I just felt I needed to spend the time there. But the other part of it was in bed with yo Philip that a lot of words. A lot of words in this great part.
Phil Rickaby 24:16
Yeah. Can we I want to start asking you about my I want to start, one of the things I’d like to talk to you about is like why theatre? And for you do I mean, I was looking at your Wikipedia page? Did you know you have a Wikipedia page?
Philip Akin 24:32
Yeah, I they always get so much stuff wrong.
Phil Rickaby 24:35
I’m sure that they do it. Always. Always. There’s something in there about being the first theatre graduate of Ryerson.
Philip Akin 24:41
Yeah, that’s true.
Phil Rickaby 24:42
Um, so what what was your path before Ryerson? What What did you like about theatre? What brought you into theatre?
Philip Akin 24:49
Okay. theatre for me was salvation. We were the only black family in Oshawa. My parents came up in 53. I came up in 50. Before with one of my brothers, we were the only black family until I was about 1617. So you can you can imagine in the 50s and 60s, how much fun that was. And I was small, I was like five foot two. And so that and with big mouth, so it didn’t, it didn’t bode well. And I, we were my brother Layton and I were great readers. And we pretty much read out the children’s section of the aashirvaad Public Library pretty fast. And so it became a natural thing for us to grab our parents library cards, go down to the library on a Saturday, and we’d go into the adult section, we’d grab 10, Chromebooks each, come home, read them, the next week would do the same thing. Yes. And then I learned about, there was this library Club, which got to read and review all the new books before they put on the shelves. So I went, bonus, I’m going to go that turns out the library club was really just a sham, because what they really wanted to do was produce plays. Oh, okay. So I ended up being in a play, and they, we needed more people. So I recruited all my friends. And so we did, you know, a play and it was very successful. And then I went to high school and started, you know, working at the Theatre Club. But it was a place where I mean, there’s enough issues with with at that time of an in history of being black in a in an all white community, where a lot of people felt it incumbent to tear you down on every level. And something like theatre was something that I could do that was protective. And it afforded me a way to succeed because of myself. But also it people would like you and if they liked you, then they wouldn’t kick the shit out of you. So I kind of credit theatre and the 151 Chad burns Squadron Air cadet Squadron for really giving me a sense of personal accomplishment that I could do things and that even though you may have to it became somewhat isolating. But but it was it was you and your work. Yeah, that that was important. And I think a lot of that lingers in meat till today, where I’m really easy to to say about critics and whatever, you know, I don’t care. I don’t care though. The work. It’s I find it I find it really hard to actually even talk about what I the work I do anymore, because I just go the works on the stage. Yeah, you know, interact with that. And then you have an idea about what I was doing. Like, it doesn’t get any clear better with me pontificating. So yeah, but that that all started back there where, you know, just his scrawny little five foot two kid, you know, and was finding ways to survive. If human beings are kind of like metal to be worked in the blacksmith store of life. Yeah, you know, how you get hammered how you get heated, how what you get mixed with, changes the composition of who you are. And, and so I feel that we, the lot of a lot of things happen to people, and it kind of, you know, changes, we get hammered into into things good, bad, indifferent, we just get hammered into, into who we end up
Phil Rickaby 29:06
your, your, your career. Looking at that has been one of those. I mean, for years, I compared the Canadian theatre experience with the US theatre experience. And there was a long time where it seemed like you did a theatre, and maybe a little bit of television if you were in the US, but in Canada, you just did everything.
Philip Akin 29:24
Phil Rickaby 29:25
And you’re very much like looking at the things that you’ve done. You’ve done a lot of everything.
Philip Akin 29:30
Well, that was I mean, you know, I graduated what 75 and that was, I mean, that was the nature of the business in those days. I mean, I was always amazed when I’d work with American actors, and they’d be like, trying to make a distinction between a film actor or television actor or a commercial actor. And I would be like, dude, I’m working on a film today. Tomorrow. I’m at the CBC and then I’m doing radio drama and, and so there was a there was a ground That was amazing, which doesn’t happen anymore. Right? I mean, you know, the radio drama died off, which was a real shame and, and the business has changed a lot, right? Like, I mean, just just the quality of vocal work. I mean, I was I was directing out at Royal MTC, and they just put in a quarter million dollar sound Augmentation System for their main theatre, because their audience was having problems hearing the actors. And I don’t know, but are we not teaching that in theatre school? No, I don’t think we are. I don’t I don’t think a I don’t think it’s it’s not as simple as that. No, I don’t think it’s being taught in most theatre schools as much. I don’t think I think the first thing that new students do once they graduate is stop doing voice work. I think when you’re working in a lot of small venues, and then you don’t do it, and then all of a sudden you get a job. And you’re you’re I don’t know what the Tom Patterson at Stratford, and you’re working with an actor who doesn’t know how to project their voice out their back, right. And you go, but dude, half the audience is always at your back.
Phil Rickaby 31:23
Philip Akin 31:23
And, and so I don’t know, I mean, I, I’m a bit of a i, somebody jokingly called me the stallion of voice once. Because Because it is, it just frustrates me so much. And I, and I mean, even now I go to the festivals and stuff. And, and I’m going Wait, what can I hear? Why can I understand? Like, what? What’s happening there? Right. Like, and and so it’s I mean, the business is as profoundly changed.
Phil Rickaby 31:24
Yeah, I think we are a lot of people are working on smaller stages, especially with a lot of the indie work that’s happening is people are primarily working on on smaller stages. And then I guess forgetting if they knew it,
Philip Akin 32:07
well, I guess here’s, here’s my, my theory of voice in a nutshell. Okay. And this is what I say whenever I’m working with theatre students or Well, every cast Actually, I say, usually, actors have two voices. They have their theatre voice. Yeah. And they’re have they everyday voice. Yeah. And they’re both shit. They’re both shit, right? Because my standard of my everyday normal voice is what I’m using right now. Which means that I’m sitting on a couch, and I’m vibrating the back of the couch while I’m talking to you. There’s no special effort. There’s nothing.
Phil Rickaby 32:50
Philip Akin 32:50
Right. That’s what you have to have. You have to have your everyday voice when you order at Starbucks, that it’s properly placed resonant voice, you may ride a bicycle. That doesn’t mean you’re ready for the Iron Man triathlon tomorrow, right? If you’re not working your voice every single day, then you have no chance of doing Shaw or Shakespeare or August Wilson, or Stephen Adly Guirgis, all sorts of places. All sorts of plays. You actually don’t have the capability to do y’all think you do? Right? Because you did your voice work in theatre school? Five years ago? Yeah. And that would shit. Yeah. So you have it’s something that that has to be utilised every day. I mean, you sometimes see some people with, with who have all that vocal craft, and they can sit and do an intimate scene in in the Tom Patterson or on a festival stage, and you can still hear every word. Yeah. And that doesn’t mean loud. And it definitely doesn’t mean pushed. But it means a properly placed resonant voice. Yeah. And you can still do that. In a small theatre. Yeah. But the emphasis has to be that yes,
Phil Rickaby 34:17
we let ourselves get away with it, I think.
Philip Akin 34:19
Phil Rickaby 34:20
Philip Akin 34:21
It takes work to do it.
Phil Rickaby 34:23
Yes, it’s true. It’s true, right. One of the things when I when I was talking with with Luke Reese, he mentioned the importance of your mentorship to him. I wanted to ask you about the importance of being a mentor and did you have a mentor?
Philip Akin 34:44
Well as an as an actor, not so much. When I when I took over our being basically General Manager at obsidian, Naomi Campbell and Nancy Webster were very huge mentor wise for me. We talked about Oshawa stuff earlier. I mean, in my entire history of education, I never had one black teacher Hmm. So, I and I, and then all of a sudden, your, there’s just a different level of understanding etc. So for me mentorship is a being able to pass stuff on being somebody who people can just call you up. It’s about sharing what you’ve learned in the best possible way. And it’s Hmm, we always everybody likes to quote Maya Angelou, we stand on the shoulders of our, you know, blah, blah, blah. And so I think being a mentor is being the best shoulders you can. I’m not in I trained in Aikido for like, I don’t know, 27 years, it’s Japanese martial art. And I listened to my various teachers talk. And they always said that they, you know, say Sensei, you’re so good at talking. Oh, you should see my sense, right. And so what you what I got was this thing of this line of teachers, each one, which was slightly less than the one before. And I thought that doesn’t seem like a great way to survive long term. And so Wouldn’t it be better to think that I want people that I mentor or have the privilege of working with to be better than me? If if the people I work with, don’t take everything that I’ve done and leave it in the dust, then I actually fail. So I need to be not just the shoulders, but I need to be a springboard for them to be better than me. Yeah. Right. That to me is, is it is interesting, it’s exciting. And there are people who I just, I mean, I was looking at Kimberly Rampersad, I said, damn, girl, you’re, you’re doing more directing this year than I am. And this is my busiest year. And I’m so proud of that. Right? That she’s doing all of that kind of work. And there’s, there’s a number of, you know, any number of people who, who I really feel like maybe I just said the right thing at the right time, or gave the right opportunity. And what they did was was able to take a step read a great step for them. Yeah. And why everybody doesn’t do that. I don’t know. But I can’t worry about that. I just worry about what I do. And what obsidian does.
Phil Rickaby 37:44
When did you realise that it was important to for you to be a mentor?
Philip Akin 37:50
When I realised that there were so many people, so many black artists, who had nowhere to go, who were continually being stuck in the there can only be one where they were never felt that their concerns were addressed, and move forward. And what they do is, I mean, for years now, it’s been this whole brown to stage kind of attitude, where you hire black actors to play white people on stage and never have a discussion about what it means to be black in this situation. Right. So directors who will spend hours agonising over what cutlery pattern to put on a table will not address the fact that they’ve hired a black actor to play the daughter of a white couple. And that leaves artists feeling truncated and cut off and actually kind of castrated. Yeah. And that breeds a resentment and an anger. And I look at and I understand that full out. Yeah. Right. So if I can then turn around to them and say, Yes, I get it. And, and and how can we move it forward? That you find yourself in an obsidian rehearsal hall, where you’re telling a black story and you’re a black actor being a black person? And it’s that that’s the level of mentorship that I’m talking about? Right? sure that the phone calls that I get from? It grew up, things were a lot different. It was tough. Yeah, tougher. I think every age is tough, but at least I got a callus over some of the stuff. And when I get phone calls from black, young black actors, who are like doing kids tour throughout the Maritimes, right, and it’s the first time and all of a sudden they run headlong into in your face racism.
Phil Rickaby 40:02
Philip Akin 40:05
They call. And they call me because they know I’ve been through it and I can help them get through that. And that’s mentorship to you. Right? At obsidian, when you walk in the front door of our office, you’re 10 feet from where I’m sitting. So people walk in, you’re in the middle of the office, and all of a sudden, pull up a chair, and we’ll talk. Yeah, I don’t know of actually any other artistic director where you can anybody can just walk in off the street, and all of a sudden, everybody stops and has a conversation with you. Right,
Phil Rickaby 40:41
I’ve been in, I’ve been in a bunch of theatres, I can’t think of anywhere that happened. Right? Yeah.
Philip Akin 40:45
But that’s, that’s how you create that kind of relationship. And that kind of community where people feel that no matter what the issue is, they can they can call up and, and have a voice?
Phil Rickaby 40:58
Well, I mean, we talk about the theatre community, which doesn’t really exist. But it sounds like obsidian is, is a big part of and part of a community.
Philip Akin 41:15
Well, we try to be I mean, you know, it’s about the community that takes the effort to walk in the door. Right. So that’s, that’s also part and parcel of it. I mean, we do what we can, in the way that we can, I mean, theatre community, I mean, you know, look, it’s just, it’s just a gathering. It’s a gathering of people. And it’s a gravity I mean, the whole time I was coming up as a as an as an actor, I had no point felt part of the, quote, theatre community. Right. And I said this the other day to my accurate that wasn’t me, right, that I wasn’t in any of those groups. So that’s why I found it so profoundly amusing that I was asked at Shaw the last year to direct 1837 the farmers revolt because when they were doing Wait, you know, when all those guys when James Rainey and, and and all of the past memorise stuff, there were no black people there. No, yeah, we did. I mean, it was like we were we wouldn’t we were not even part of that recreation of Canadian history. And, and that’s probably predominantly how it felt. That’s fine. You know, I got to reimagine it and do it in an interesting way. But there wasn’t there will I’ve never felt that kind of like,
Phil Rickaby 42:42
you know, when when, when Luke was telling me about asking you to be his mentor, he said that you were speaking to a closet, York and you said, none of you will do this. But you can ask, Do you find that that that the ask is the barrier? Like you say that none of them will do it? And do you find mostly,
Philip Akin 43:05
I would say 99.9% of the people who I make that offer to and I make it to a lot of people in here 99.9% of the people will not will not take that step I I make at the end of every theatre, Ontario, you know, the where all the theatre school students, we collect the emails for every single black actor and then auditioned, I send them a personal email. And I say, I really love to meet with you. Give me a call. I’ll take you out for tea. I’ll take you out for lunch. Give me a call. Let’s talk. And I would say the majority of them never do it either. Why? I don’t know. But I think of it as evolution in progress. If you haven’t got the courage to do that. Then I don’t know how you act. I don’t know how you work. Luke, you know, I told his class that there was like 300 people in the room and I told them all that. And I talked with Luke a little bit and blah, blah, yeah. And then he never came around. And then he was in the slip programme at summer works. And I walked in the room and said, Look, Greece, he said, Yeah, I said, Why you treat me like I’m black? Why you didn’t even phone up? Why do you call What’s the matter with you? He got all embarrassed. That he came in? Yeah, right. I don’t know. I don’t know why people don’t do it. But that’s, you know, all I can do is make the offer as sincerely as possible. And the people who are meant to show up show up.
Phil Rickaby 44:45
there been a couple of people who have it was Jackie Maxwell said that the secret that nobody tells you, she said, Yeah. But that she’s saying is that people want to help you and all you have have to do is ask. And that’s I’ve seen that just for doing this podcast, right that people, you know, want to do it. But generally like, I think when we’re young, we’re afraid to ask. Even if people say that you can’t i think i think there is a certain amount of Oh, do I dare ask so and so to question at all, even when they’ve told us that we’re that we’re not that they’re welcome to.
Philip Akin 45:25
Phil Rickaby 45:26
And I think maybe that’s maybe that’s you for
Philip Akin 45:28
fear as well. Yeah. But fear. Fear is, fear is fear is a thing. I mean, you know, this guy showed up. And he’s just going to be in town for year two is, you know, an actor, his buddies, his wife works for a concert. So he happened to be here. And so he came, and he showed up at the office, and he’s dropped in and he’s come to the obsidian shows. And when I got a call saying, Hey, we’re looking for a guy, and it was in his age group. And do you know of anybody? So who’s got the job? Yeah. Right. Yeah. So I find it amazing that people will get dressed up and spend two weeks schmoozing alcoholicly at TIFF, in the hopes that something will happen as and wouldn’t actually take the time to say, Hey, I just like to come and talk to you about theatre, or about art or about. I mean, there are people who do I mean, I had this young woman from Saskatchewan, she she claims she’s the only black actor in Saskatchewan. And she, she showed up in Toronto, and we had a great talk. Right? So it’s about the people being brave. Yeah. And as artists, if we’re not brave, then what are we?
Phil Rickaby 46:56
That is an excellent point. That’s an excellent point. It does take bravery to do this and stick with it. Yeah. Yeah. I was going to ask you what your favourite thing about being a mentor is, but I think you’ve you’ve like really sort of expanded on that. In terms of the work that you’ve done Are you able to say this, I loved doing this? This was my favourite I have my heart was in this there’s Is there any particular thing stands out for you?
Philip Akin 47:26
Well, they’re different shows for for for different reasons. I mean, intimate apparel, because it was the first show that you know, like, it’s when I met Lynn Nottage and, and doing her work and then doing ruin, which we did so well. But the part I was one of the parts I was really pleased with was, we asked the audience to donate money to the pansy Hospital, where they did genital reconstruction for, you know, rural Congolese women. And, and, you know, we sent $35,000 down to to do that. There was top dog underdog, which I didn’t like the play much, and then grew to love. You know, I remember walking out of doing the mountain top rehearsal one day and going, Man, it’s not working, it’s not working. And me saying to myself, Philip, the process works, just shut up and do your process. And that’s the first time that I felt like, I did have a process. I knew at work. I just had to trust it. And believe it, and it would happen. So 1837, you know, which was a play Oh, man. I was like, oh, what am I doing with this chestnut? And yet, we just did such wonderful stuff with it. It was such a great group of people. So you know, it’s, it’s not just one it’s bits and pieces of, of a lot of place. Yeah. Um,
Phil Rickaby 49:13
what are you most looking forward to in the upcoming obsidian season?
Philip Akin 49:18
Wow. obsidian season? Am I even I’m not even directing anything this year. Oh, my gosh. I’ve wanted to do that for a while.
Phil Rickaby 49:27
Not direct. Yeah,
Philip Akin 49:28
yeah. Yeah. Because Because it I mean, we started with the artistic director doing all the directing for monetary reasons. And and then it quickly has become a trap, because it’s not giving a chance for other people to direct things. So you know, if you want to, if you want to mentor and do next gen stuff, you got to have other people to do things, right. Yeah. There’s so there’s all the shows, I think are are really interesting. I mean, I’m really I’m really keen on on the Judas Noir. The the dark town thing that we’re doing and because that is that is mentorship brought full forward the oral tutorial which is, you know, happens to be opening tonight. I think it’s a really interesting season. I mean we were, we were well rewarded by the Canada Council. And I think we’ve turned around and abused all of that extra money to broaden our reach in a big way.
Phil Rickaby 50:29
Nice. Well, I wanted to thank you for sitting down and talk withme
Philip Akin 50:33
Oh, my pleasure. Thanks a lot and look forward to seeing Men in white.