Philip Akin, one of Obsidian Theatre’s founding members, is stepping down from his post as Artistic Director after 13 years. Obsidian announced Akin’s decision to leave in a press release Thursday, as the company begins to search for its next AD.
Not to worry, though. Akin will finish off directing the company’s 19/20 season before the change becomes official next year.
‘Now we’re doing something totally different…’
While he’s enjoyed working with Obsidian, Akin says his decision to leave is about letting a new generation of Black artists take centre stage.
“I’m not looking for somebody to be a mini-me,” he says. “I’m looking for somebody who will say ‘Thanks Philip, and now we’re doing something totally different.’”
Having been with Obsidian since its inception in 2000, Akin has spent his career uplifting and advocating for unapologetic Black voices in the theatre. In Thursday’s release, he says it’s been his mission to foster spaces where creators are free to work without the need to ‘reach for whiteness.’
“My role I feel is to be that point, that spear, that person who will be unapologetically Black, and will be as honest and straightforward about it, no matter the consequences,” he says.
A career of successes
A prominent actor and director, and newly minted Artist Award laureate for the Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts, Akin is widely celebrated for his many accomplishments in the theatre.
He has won a number of awards, including—but not limited to—, two Doras for best direction (Topdog/Underdog in 2012, and Master Harold… And The Boys in 2017), and the William Kilbourn Award for the Celebration of Toronto’s Cultural Life in 2014.
But, Akin’s most lasting impression has to be in his tireless effort to support emerging artists. Not coincidentally, both Obsidian’s Mentor-Apprentice Program and Playwrights Unit grew massively under his leadership.
‘A hub for Black theatre-makers across the country’
Playwright, director and former Playwright’s Unit participant, Leah-Simone Bowen, says Obsidian’s programming under Akin was an important and empowering resource to her at the start of her career.
“When I applied, I was worried I wouldn’t get in because the play I had written was a comedic fantasy about Black people set far into the future. I thought it didn’t fit into the definition of a Black play,” she says. “But, I got into that program and on the first day Philip said, ‘Any play you write is a Black play because they will be speaking your words, because you wrote it.’ It was the best and most freeing piece of advice I’ve ever received.”
In their statement, Chair of Obsidian’s Board of Directors, Harmony Cohen, says the change in artistic direction is an important moment for the company, and for the broader theatre community, too.
“Under Philip’s leadership since 2006, Obsidian Theatre has grown to become a hub for Black theatre-makers across the country,” Cohen says. “We are now known as a company that creates space for risk-taking; values and pays for the work of artists; and which works for change by creating a culture of radical generosity.”
What happens next?
In the meantime, Obsidian is accepting applications for the opening position. And while he doesn’t have a say in the upcoming hiring process, Akin says he’s hopeful for his successor’s success:
“What I would hope for is when the next artistic director is coming on, for every award I got, they get three.”
But one thing’s for sure, whoever it is has a tough act to follow.