by Lynn on March 6, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Theatre Orangeville, Orangeville, Ont. until March 13.

Written and performed by Leslie McCurdy.

Leslie McCurdy is an actress, singer, theatre creator, social activist and a curious researcher determined to inform Canadians and others of the rich history of Black Canadian women who changed the course of history. She has come by this calling naturally. She is an eighth generation Black Canadian. Her great-great-great grandfather Nasa McCurdy was an agent of the Underground Railway in which African-American slaves escaped to Canada in 19th century.  Her father Howard E. McCurdy was a respected scientist, social activist for Black people’s rights, and a Member of Parliament for the NDP representing Windsor.

Leslie McCurdy grew up in Windsor, Ontario. She trained as a dancer and was set on joining the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in New York but an accident ended that career. Lucky for us this set back directed her into theatre where she wrote plays celebrating the achievements of Black women. The Spirit of Harriet Tubman was her first play that celebrated African-American Harriet Tubman, who was so important in leading slaves on the Underground Railway to Canada. Things My Fore Sisters Saw is her next play that celebrates four Black Canadian women in history: Marie-Joseph Angélique, Rose Fortune, Mary-Ann Shadd and Viola Desmond.

Leslie McCurdy is a wonderful storyteller and singer. She intersperses songs between segments and sings in a rich, strong, beautiful voice. She has distilled each woman’s story into a segment that captures the essence of each woman’s spirit, resolve, character and life experience. It’s enough to engage us and to want more. By making us want me, she whets our appetite to do our own research about these women and others. That is the gift of a true storyteller.

On the stage is a desk and chair stage right, a chair stage left and in the middle is a coat tree with the various costumes and head coverings Leslie McCurdy will wear for each character. She efficiently puts on a scarf or dress over her clothing for one character and then just as efficiently segues to the next character.

All four women who Leslie McCurdy talks about are fascinating. For those who think that only the United States had slavery, Leslie McCurdy sets the record straight. There was slavery in Canada.

Marie-Joseph Angélique, (born circa 1705 in Madeira, Portugal; died 21 June 1734 in Montréal, QC).  Angélique was an enslaved Black woman owned by Thérèse de Couagne de Francheville in Montréal. Angélique experienced terrible treatment both physically and psychological at the hands of her jealous owner.  Angélique was accused of setting a great fired in Montreal and she was found guilty. Was it true? We don’t actually know. What we do know is that Angélique was a strong symbol of Black resistance.

Rose Fortune, (born 1774 in Virginia; died 20 February 1864 in Nova Scotia).  Rose Fortune was a resourceful, successful business woman at a time when neither Black people or women were encouraged. She worked the docks in Annapolis Valley providing a kind of baggage service. She would help take the bags off the ships that docked there. She had great success and her business expanded. She also created a curfew for the docks and ensured the curfew was adhered to. For this she is considered the first “policewoman” in North America. She also helped those seeking freedom when they came to Canada

Mary Ann Shadd, (born 9 October 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware; died 5 June 1893 in   Washington, DC). Mary Ann Shadd was the first Black woman newspaper publisher and editor in Canada. She founded “The Provincial Freeman” that gave voice to the issues of Black people and women’s rights in Canada.

Viola Desmond (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). She was a very successful business woman and beautician in Halifax, Nova Scotia. On a business trip  to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia she went to the movies and bought what she thought was a ticket for the downstair section. She was told she would have to move to the balcony because she was now sitting in the ‘whites-only’ area. Desmond refused politely. She was arrested and forcibly removed, charged with among other things, failing to pay the one cent tax on the ticket. The matter went to the Supreme Court but justice was slow. After much effort from the Black community and others the Bank of Canada announced in 2016 that Viola Desmond would be the first Canadian woman to be featured on the $10 bill.  (A personal note: in my house these $10 bill’s with Ms Desmond on them is called “A Viola”.

Leslie McCurdy presented each story with enthusiasm and commitment. The show is very informative and engaging. And while I appreciate that Ms McCurdy has been doing this show for several years to many audiences, I think she could benefit with a director to offer an objective pair of eyes to help with pacing, nuance and the delicate variation that would take this show to the next level.

Theatre Orangeville presents

Plays until March 13, 2022.

Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes including a question-and-answer segment.

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