EDMONTON — A community theatre has cancelled its production of Shakespeare's "Othello" after receiving threats from people angered by a decision to cast a white woman in the lead role instead of the traditional person of colour.
Volunteer-run Walterdale Theatre Associates in Edmonton issued a statement late Monday that says it regrets to announce the cancellation, but it can't continue because the safety of cast members has been threatened.
Adam Kuss, president of Walterdale's board of directors, says the matter has been referred to police.
The production of the 400-year-old play about the powerful Moorish general of the Venetian army had been scheduled to open Feb. 8.
— Walterdale Theatre (@WalterdalePlays) October 24, 2016
Artistic director Anne Marie Szucs says in the same statement that Walterdale's vision of the play was a post-apocalyptic world in which traditional power structures were inverted and the focus was on the battle between the sexes.
Szucs has apologized to those offended by the decision to cast a woman in the lead.
"Othello" — a story about love, revenge and deceit — was to have been the third show of Walterdale's 2016-2017 season. The theatre says the threats surrounding the production were uttered in person and online.
Walterdale's statement said it casts plays based on an open audition which welcomes everyone. Roles are filled by those who attend the auditions for each play.
Decisions about the artistic vision of each production are the responsibility of the director, the artistic director and the theatre's board of directors.
"This is a heartbreaking decision, but as a community of volunteers and artists, we can't continue with a production where the safety of members of our cast has been threatened," said Kuss.
"We're sorry this caused offence."
Szucs, who was also the director of "Othello,'" said other members of the theatre community have expressed their concerns as well.
"We understand and appreciate those concerns. We're sorry this caused offence," she said in the company's statement.
"We will continue to build on the respectful interactions we've had with community members on this topic, and continue to engage with and welcome any groups or individuals who want to get involved in our productions."
Walterdale Theatre Associates has cancelled Othello. Full statement here. https://t.co/TLCf8kYe03
— Walterdale Theatre (@WalterdalePlays) January 31, 2017
The cancellation is not the first time in Canada that controversy has dogged the staging of the Shakespearean tragedy, believed to have been written by the great English bard in the early 1600s.
Backlash not new for Canadian "Othello" productions
Last November, a student theatre company at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., was forced to scrub its version after a backlash over its decision to cast a white woman in the title role of a black man.
Vagabond Theatre issued a statement on Facebook at the time that stated: "For the safety and mental health of our entire team we unfortunately feel the need to suspend our production.'"
An apology was also issued to Queen's black community.
Walterdale Theatre has operated in Edmonton since 1958.
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