You are now in the main content area

What's in a name?

Honouring the faculty for whom our studios were named.

By Jeanette Reyes

Jean Charles Black

Namesake of the former teaching wardrobe on the first floor of 44 Gerrard St East.

A black and white photo of someone smiling wearing big glasses, a collar and a necklace
Students working in a colourful costume studio.

The Jean Charles Black Teaching Wardrobe, formerly on the first floor of 44 Gerrard St. East.

At the beginning of my research, there were two key figures in the school that I could not differentiate between. Jean Charles Black and Sandy Black were tied in the same stories. I came to believe that maybe they were just one person! Thanks to Peter Fleming, I was able to connect with Jean Charles Black, and oh boy, conversing with Jean offered a true escape to the past.

Jean Charles Black trained in Great Britain and had extensive professional experience in costume and wardrobe. She was hired in 1973 to take over the Production side of the school. She was asked by Jack McAllister to take after Blu Brennan, the first costume instructor at the school - and taught everything that had to do with costuming such as pattern drafting, draping, sewing etc. At the same time, she was also teaching wardrobe at York University. Jean was a busy bee; if she wasn’t teaching, she was helping out with show productions. Jean noted, “nothing went out of the wardrobe room that I wasn’t proud of.”

A person on a costume work table looks and smiles in the black and white photo

Photo courtesy of X Archives and Special Collections.

a teacher helps a younger student

Photo courtesy of X Archives and Special Collections.

Sandy Black

Her husband was Sandy Black, the first head of technical production and later the school’s chair. Sandy brought complementary attributes to Jean's working style - he was gentle, sweet, and quiet. When they would attend parties and events, both were very social. They were both THE production bosses, the power duo.

A newspaper clipped image of a graduate with their parents

Jean Charles Black, and Sandy Black with their daughter at graduation. Photo courtesy of X Archives and Special Collections.

Community Impact - LOFT

Jean Charles Black also made an impact on surrounding local communities. When Black was the school director, LOFT Community Services reached out to get more support for the production of their Christmas concert fundraiser. After the success and partnership of the first show, Black agreed to provide Technical Production support from the school annually. Black introduced many to LOFT, and students always come back to volunteer. Thanks to Jean Charles Black, the relationship between LOFT and the theatre school is more vital than ever.

Bunny Ball

Jean was also the one who started the graduation celebration that we call “Bunny Ball.” She noticed that the students worked “too damn hard,” and there needed to be a way to celebrate together with other than just a graduation ceremony. She made sure it was a fancy dress-up affair. It was around Easter time, so they decided to name it Bunny Ball. 

Two people at a table, one interviews the other with a microphone

With a student, Jean Charles Black hostst a Theatre School event. Photo courtesy of the School of Performance Archives.

Students and Children

Jean was very supportive of the students and their kids. One time she bought a playpen for a staff member’s daughter, since they were working in the same office space. She would often run around and play with Tony Abram’s nephew, Dom, and later in the years with Peter Fleming’s daughter, Katie. 

Swear Jar

I’m sure you can already tell what this is about from the title, but believe it or not, Jean made a swear jar. At the time, students would use swear words so frequently in almost every sentence and as an adjective to describe things, she had to put some courtesy back into the classroom. If a student swore, they would have to put a quarter or more into the jar. After every year, Jean would donate the money to a charity. I asked her how many trips she had to make or how full the jar got; she remembers that it was a decent amount. The swear jar rule was intact for about 10 years. 

A blanck and white photos of students working in a costume shop

Students constructing costumes in the Jean Charles Black Teaching Wardrobe room. Photo courtesy of X Archives and Special Collections.

Where is she now?

Jean is quietly enjoying her life somewhere on the globe, but I know she will always answer the phone if I need help with anything. 

*The Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force has submitted its final report with recommendation to develop principles to guide commemoration at the university and to respond to the history and legacy of the university's namesake. Included in the list of 22 recommendations agreed to by the university's administration, is the call to change the university's name.