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Article from the Daily News: 


A black box theatre is exactly what it sounds like: a big, black room with four walls and very little else.

No elaborate gilt, no plush velvet chairs, no sweeping curtain. No balconies or orchestra pit.

And no stage.

That’s precisely the point – and a plain black box can be a valuable teaching tool for the school’s Theatre & Film Studies students, says McMaster theatre professor Peter Cockett.

“A proscenium stage forces a ‘normal’ theatre relationship between the actors and the audience, which is that the actors are raised up and the audience is sitting quietly in the dark, passively receiving whatever the actors say on stage,” he explains. “In the black box, we’re able to renegotiate that relationship and propose new ways that the artists might connect with the audience.”

Fourth-year students in the Theatre & Film Studies program get to explore the dramatic and design potential of the new black box theatre in L.R. Wilson Hall over the next three weeks, as they present their Honours Performance Series. Shows run on Thursdays and Fridays from March 8 until March 23.

Working with third-year students in the program, who develop the shows’ sound, lighting, set and costume designs, the fourth-year students present mostly devised, or collective, theatre works – pieces that are created through the collaboration of directors, actors and designers.

“There’s an incredible amount of variety in the shows this year,” says Cockett, who points out that this is only the second year that the Honours Performance Series has been in the black box theatre. “We have one show that is a dance and theatre hybrid that deals with PTSD and sexual abuse. Another is a comic piece that incorporates magic realism. In our new space, we have the freedom and the flexibility to explore that variety.”

One piece that fully explores the potential for “immersive” theatre within the black box is Jamie Milay’s “because i am not a boy or a girl,” which uses multimedia, including installation art, looped sound, video art, poetry and lighting to explore the issue of identity.

“It’s an autobiographical piece about how my identity is fluid,” they explain. “We have this idea that you’re born a certain way, and you stay that way – but identity’s not stable. It’s always shifting, and it’s affected by things both inside you and outside – even things you haven’t experienced, like historic events. It’s about how my personal identity has been constructed, and how it’s continued to grow and change in so many directions.”

That fluidity is reflected in Milay’s staging, which is a “promenade” – with no seats in the theatre, the audience moves around the space, interacting with the performance in a much more intimate way than with a conventional theatre show. All four walls – as well as the centre of the room – are used in the performance, surrounding the audience within the action.

Milay, a student in both the Theatre & Film Studies and Multimedia programs, has always been attracted to the power of storytelling.

“Theatre is an empowering medium,” they say. “You invite an audience in, you tell them stories, they leave and reflect on it, and maybe come again. It’s terrifying, but cool.”