The Josiah Project
In 2004 I happened upon a television documentary about a man named Josiah Henson. Up to that point I had never heard of him. As I watched the program I found myself becoming deeply entranced. Something about the man and his story touched me at my core. Why had I never heard about this man? More importantly, how was he able to think as he did and behave as he did given the excruciatingly humiliating circumstances he endured as a slave? I had to know more about him. Who was this man? Thus began my exploration into the life of ‘Father Henson’ as he came to be known later in his life.
Every book about him, every book that mentioned him, all four published versions of his autobiography, every archival magazine and newspaper article, anything and everything that I could find that would illuminate the life and achievements of this man did I devour. Reading his autobiography it dawned on me that his story should be better known in Canada. I began to wonder how I could bring his story to greater public awareness. The desire to tell his story as a stage play grew and I quickly realized, however, after dismal attempts to write it myself, that I am not a playwright. For over a decade I pitched the idea of presenting Josiah’s story as a theatrical stage play to anyone who would listen. Much like Josiah and his accomplishments, I would need assistance to achieve my goal.
In 2017, I had the wonderful good fortune to meet writer and director, Charles Robertson. Charles accepted the challenge and jumped on board quickly. We presented a play reading workshop of Josiah Henson: From Slave to Saviour in December of 2018 to positive feedback and constructive criticism, which lead to a staged workshop production at the Baby Grand Studio Theatre in Kingston in February of 2019. This, too, garnered encouraging feedback and positive criticism, which lead to a full production at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto in May of 2019. Again, the production received outstandingly positive feedback and exuberant acceptance. Our production journey was off to a promising start.
Our journey continued with well received presentations at the Kinston Storefront Fringe Festival in July 2019 followed by a critically appraised Emancipation Day presentation in August at the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site in Dresden, Ontario. The museum sits on the remaining five acres of the original 300-acre settlement of Dawn which became a destination on the famed Underground Railroad. At Dawn, Josiah strove to educate Black, Native and White peoples together in the creation of a vocational school called the British-American Institute. Josiah Henson-From Slave to Saviour is the story of the early years of an inspiring figure in Canadian history. He used his freedom to improve the quality of life for everyone; wholly inclusive; wholly “Canadian.” He is a Canadian hero.
The next production presentation will be on the Main Stage of the Grand Theatre in Kingston on October 23rd of this year. There are plans to tour the production to as many venues as possible. My hope is that the story of Josiah Henson enriches the lives of others as it has enriched mine.