Lorena Gale, actor, playwright, activist (born 9 May 1958 in Montreal, QC; died 21 June 2009 in Vancouver, BC). Lorena Gale was an award-winning actor and playwright who achieved a strong body of work in Canadian theatre. Her acclaimed 1995 play Angélique tells the story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, an enslaved Black woman who was hanged in Montreal for arson in 1734. Gale spent a season with the Shaw Festival and served as artistic director of Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop. She also appeared in more than 130 films and television series. In 2009, the Union of BC Performers created the Lorena Gale Woman of Distinction Award in her honour.
Education and Early Career
A third-generation Canadian, Lorena Gale graduated from Marianopolis College in Montreal in 1977. She studied at Concordia University and the National Theatre School. She also took a six-month course in New York with Toronto-born acting coach Paul Mann. In 2005, she received a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver.
Gale’s debut professional stage credits were for Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop; they included roles in plays by two groundbreaking African American playwrights — Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Joseph A. Walker’s The River Niger. Her role in the latter earned Gale the Montreal Gazette Theatre Critics Award for Outstanding Performance in 1981. In 1984, she appeared as Puck in Montreal's Geordie Theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After a season with the Shaw Festival, she went on to serve as artistic director of Montreal's Black Theatre Workshop in 1985. She then studied playwriting at the Playwrights' Workshop Montréal.
Mid-career and Playwriting
Lorena Gale moved to Vancouver in 1988. In 1991, she won a Jessie Award for best supporting actress as Normal Jean in The Colored Museum (1990), staged at the Firehall Theatre. In 1991, she married director John Cooper, with whom she frequently collaborated.
Activism was a lived experience for Gale. She spoke out, promoted Black causes and displayed her concerns for the Black community through her plays. These included, Angélique, Gale’s acclaimed play about Marie-Joseph Angélique, an enslaved Black woman who was hanged in Montreal for arson in 1734. The play won the 1995 du Maurier National Playwriting Competition and was staged off-Broadway in 1999. Je me souviens, her one-woman show about growing up Black in the wealthy Montreal suburb of Outremont, was a searing yet funny attack on white attitudes in French-speaking Montreal. It was a finalist for the 2002 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama.
What Colour is Black: Art, Politics and Racial Identity premiered as part of a multidisciplinary performance series at the Grunt Gallery in Vancouver in 1995. The Darwinist, a play about evolution and race, was never produced; it received staged readings at Playwrights’ Workshop Montréal, the Nightwood Theatre and Vancouver’s Playwrights Theatre Centre. The Darwinist also served as Gale’s MA thesis at SFU. Her last play, The Voice, is a monologue about faith and the power of self-reliance. It was staged in 2008 by Vancouver’s Solo Collective. It starred Mercedes Baines and was directed by John Cooper.
Film and Television
Lorena Gale’ amassed more than 130 film and television credits between the early 1980s and the late 2000s. Her film roles include The Hotel New Hampshire (1984), Agent Cody Banks (2003), The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), The Butterfly Effect (2004), Fantastic Four (2005), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), and The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008). Her television credits include The Beachcombers, 21 Jump Street, The Commish, The X-Files, The Outer Limits, Stargate SG-1, Smallville, The L Word, and the Sci Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica, in which she played the high priestess Elosha.
Death and Legacy
Lorena Gale died of cancer in 2009. That same year, the Union of BC Performers created the Lorena Gale Woman of Distinction Award as a tribute to her “enduring commitment to power, dignity, intelligence and truth.”