Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Sharing the spotlight

Michelle Ramsay & Lindsay Anne Black are one of Toronto's powerhouse theatre couples

Black's set and costume design for Birnam Wood (Theatre Rusticle), with lighting by Michelle Ramsay. Credit: Lindsay Anne Black

One can be fairly certain that Buddies in Bad Times Theatre has been responsible for a number of liaisons over the years, what with all those handy dark corners and tucked-away cubbies just perfect for an illicit rendezvous. But there’s at least one long-term couple who actually met in the harsh light of day, and lived to tell about it.

Lindsay Anne Black and Michelle Ramsay first met during a Buddies production of Volcano, with Black crafting props and sets and Ramsay working on the lighting design. Sounds like the perfect meet-cute, but it turns out it may have lacked the sparks that the instantly smitten Black was hoping for.
“I walked over to Michelle where she was working, smiled, and said, ‘Looks like I’m on break for a while; is there anything I can do for you?’ Black says. “Unfortunately, she sent me to run 50-foot cable for her, so I guess that approach didn’t work so well. But someone clued her in later.”
Ramsay is still a little abashed at the non-encounter but offers up a reasonable defence. “I honestly didn’t realize she was flirting with me,” she laughs. “I guess when I’m working I’m a really serious person. I put my head down and get the job done. But after load-in was finished, I bought her a drink at the opening, and there you go.”
That was seven and a half years ago, prior to a shared house and the requisite two cats. Now days and nights are filled with happy discussions about their frequent collaborations, including the upcoming stage production of Night of the Living Dead Live, at Theatre Passe Muraille. Fortunately, the interweaving of career and home is a harmonious combination, with the two ambitious gals passionate about their own and each other’s work.
“We’re total workaholics,” Black says. “So I think that’s one big reason why we live and work so well together. We brainstorm with each other and just seem to really get along. I really enjoy being around her.”
Ramsay feels the same and cites the differences between their jobs as a healthy distance in an otherwise close-knit coupling. “I think because our disciplines are so different, we don’t have any kind of competitive thing,” Ramsay says. “She’s very encouraging of my career, and I’m hopefully very encouraging with hers.”
There have been a few moments of misunderstanding, of course, but these tend to be more awkward than fractious. Black laughs when recalling one recent production.
“We were doing something for Theatre Rusticle,” she says. “Michelle was waiting for me to place some set pieces in order to do her work with the lights, but I was waiting for her to do the lighting so I could place the pieces. I think maybe we can be a little over-considerate of each other sometimes.”
Like any good relationship, respect is paramount when deciding what happens both onstage and off, and the two seem to have created a rapport that avoids artistic — and personal — conflicts.
“I really enjoy having a dialogue about the design and the look of the show,” Ramsay says. “There are things that we’ll disagree on, for sure, but I really think that leads to more interesting design. She might be suggesting something I would have never even thought of, and it becomes a more integrated design.
“It also helps that she’s such a generous person; she’s so open to whatever people suggest, to listen and explore it.”
Black is definitely a member of this mutual-admiration society and appreciates her partner’s fostering of a safe environment within which to share her ideas and entrust her work.
“I’m always excited if Michelle is going to be lighting something that I’ve designed,” Black says. “She knows that what I’ve built is important to me, and I know she’ll honour that.
“She has this aesthetic that I really appreciate. She’s so good at isolating and highlighting things on the stage and creating an environment. I find her so poetic and evocative in telling a story with colour and light.”