Hamilton’s Melbourne director Dean Drieberg’s new production Passing Strange to hold a ‘black out night’

Cessalee Stovall is the show’s associate director. As someone who grew up Black in the US, she’s able to provide context and personal experience to the show’s cast. She’s also the production’s equity and inclusion support officer, helping to ensure the whole team feels supported when navigating the show’s cultural terrain.

“There’s a lot of intersection between people’s individual identities and the work,” she says, “which means that it’s important for us to make sure that people have the ability to bring as much or as little of their own identity into the characters. It’s our job artistically to help support them on that journey, and also to fill in the information that’s either not part of their experience or that they’re not able to bring of themselves.”

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It’s not just the artists involved in the show who are being offered support. Passing Strange might be the first Australian show to offer a BLACK OUT night – a performance for audiences identifying as people of colour.

Such shows are increasingly common in the US, says Stovall. “Diversity and representation on stage is great but what if we had a whole audience of people who could come as they are, experience a night in the theatre and see themselves reflected… To really be able to live in that moment and have that shared experience, not only with the people on stage but with everyone in your audience, is quite a magical experience. The feedback is always so exciting, not only for the audience but also for the actors.”

Before his experience on Hamilton, Drieberg had already achieved success as co-founder of Watch This, an independent company that specialises in performing the works of Sondheim on an intimate scale. Hamilton confirmed that he could do the same at the blockbuster level: “it’s given me more trust in my own process.”

Both Drieberg and Stovall are also excited to be part of a broader change the theatre industry is undergoing. “If we look at all the major and independent productions that are happening at the moment, there’s definitely a more conscious effort to be more inclusive,” says the director.

“Our creative team on this show, musical director, my associate director, our choreographer, we’re all people of colour, and that’s rare in a full creative team. There’s still a long way to go but I’m definitely thrilled with where we’re at.”

Passing Strange is at Meat Market Stables, North Melbourne, from 24 June.

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