The Postman charts a route through Canada's history of racial tensions
Play takes audiences on a tour of Toronto's first black postman's route
The Postman winds its way through the avenues of Toronto's Harbord Village neighbourhood, taking the audience along the route of the city's first black postman. The man at the centre of the play (which was commissioned for the Pan Am Games in Toronto) took a much more monumental journey – Albert Jackson was born into the nineteenth-century world of American slavery and, as a child at his mother's side, embarked on a hair-raising escape to Ontario.
You could argue that the aspect of Jackson's life captured by the play's title – his application to be a Toronto mail carrier in 1882, the ensuing backlash from his postal colleagues that almost prevented his career from beginning, and braving the storm to become a successful postman – is not the most interesting period of his life. We can't forget Jackson's childhood journey along the Underground Railroad, and the fact that he arrived in Ontario as part of the largest family to have made the flight. Postman director David Ferry has incorporated all of this into the narrative.
The story of Albert Jackson also highlights a wealth of details from Toronto's past that don't sit easily in the city's memory, which is perhaps why he is not a household name. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was unsurprising that white postal workers would simply refuse to accept the idea that a black man would be joining their ranks. But Jackson also had supporters, from the postmaster who appealed to John A. Macdonald to intervene on Jackson's behalf (which Macdonald did), to the assertive middle-class black community who used their voices to win Jackson his postal route. During Jackson's tenure, the race-relations climate in the city changed enough that he was able to keep his job for decades, amassing enough money and property along the way that he died a relatively affluent man.
The Postman recalls the era by enlisting the help of over a dozen front stoops and sidewalks of the actual houses to which Jackson delivered the mail. Musicians traverse the route along with actors and playgoers, creating an atmospheric effect something akin to time travel. Even outside the play, Jackson's memory lives on. Patrons standing outside Harbord Fish & Chips only have to look to their left to see the laneway named for Toronto's first black postman.
The Postman presented by Appledore Productions and commissioned by Panamania presented by CIBC will be staged in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto (ticketholders will receive location information) on July 25 at 7pm, July 26 at 2pm, 6:30pm. $13 plus service fees from http://thepostmanwalks.bpt.me/
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