Rising Star: Actor Richard Stewart talks to AfroToronto.com

27 Nov 2005

“There needs to be a re-emergence of the black male voice in theatre,
because at this time, it is mainly dominated by females.” --Richard Stewart

Richard Stewart is a rising star in Toronto’s acting scene.

Although acting has always been Stewart’s passion, it was not his first career choice.

Richard Stewart was born in Jamaica and raised in Ottawa by parents who were both ministers. Early on, as a teenager, Richard had a dream of playing in the NBA. But when that dream wasn't going to workout, he turned his eyes skyward and considered a career in aviation. He learned to fly small aircraft and obtained his pilot's licences while still a teenager living in Ottawa.

However, following an unfortunate motor vehicle accident which put an end to his aspirations in aviation, Richard Stewart decided to pursue a psychology degree at Carleton University, with the intention of becoming a family counselor.

His time at Carleton led him to the discovery of theatre. Stewart took acting classes at the Ottawa School of Art and Drama, and was featured in two productions during this time.

Since then, Richard Stewart has worked at a major bank, and upon moving to Toronto in 1996, pursuing his interest for aviation, he worked for the Toronto Island Airport.

“Acting chose me as much as I chose it,” he says with a smile.

He began his journey by attending Canada’s National Voice Intensive course in Vancouver, and then decided to move to Toronto. With the encouragement of friends, he auditioned for the Masters of fine Arts (MFA) program at York University, and was accepted graduating in 2003. While at York, he played King Henry in Henry IV, Claudius in Hamlet, and Dr. Miranda in Death and the Maiden. He also performed at the Stratford Festival for one season, appearing in Cymbeline directed by David Latham, and King John directed by Antoni Cimolino.

“The Stratford Festival was a great experience, and I love performing

Shakespeare. I grew up with the Bible (which is also in Old English), I’ve come to love the power of the language,” Stewart says.

What does Richard Stewart think of opportunities for actors in Toronto?

“The sad reality is that the opportunities here are somewhat limited. We need to make a commitment in this country to support artists,” he says. “Established artists in Toronto still have to prove themselves, whereas in the U.S., the focus is mainly on actual talent. They are more open to giving opportunities based on talent, rather than who you know or how long you’ve been in the industry.”

In addition, Stewart points out that black artists especially will also have to explore other areas of the industry.

“We as black artists will have to broaden our horizons, and start writing and producing our own stories, in order to be heard, and so as to create work for ourselves.”

In addition to his own work on stage, Richard Stewart also leads a group of black men, which was collectively designated as “The Lions Circle”. The group is committed to supporting secure black male masculinity, by creating a place where hearts, minds and spirits can be integrated and trusting relationships can be built. The group supports open and honest discussion about different issues of interest to the black community and provides an atmosphere where they can tap into their collective wisdom.

He is hoping that as his star shines, he can use his name and his influence to speak on the problems plaguing the black community.

Richard Stewart is currently starring in Oleanna at Hart House Theatre until September 24th. Oleanna is written by David Mamet, and directed by Graham Cozzubbo, and also stars Kearsten Lyon. It is a complex and intriguing story about two completely different individuals, their constant misinterpretation of the others’ (and their own) actions, and the continuing power struggle that results.

As for his future plans, Richard Stewart would like to get involved in television and film. Within the next few years, he hopes to have gained enough experience in film to be actively involved in producing Canadian material.

Oleanna is now playing at Hart House every night at 8 pm until Saturday September 24th,2005 with a special matinée show at 2 pm on Saturday. Tickets are only $20, $12 for students & seniors.

For more information on Richard Stewart and the Hart House Theatre, please visit www.harthousetheatre.ca