Walter Borden still commands the stage and the audience


By Stephen Weir

Walter Borden

Walter Borden, the best Black stage actor in Canada, is currently busy performing in front of live audiences and educating people from the diaspora. At 81 he proclaims, “I am the mirror of your inner truth – I am you!”

However, there was a notable issue at the Sunday matinee attended by the Caribbean Camera. Almost all of the individuals in the Tarragon Theatre audience were white, and a significant number of them were older than the octogenarian actor standing before them.

Walter Borden

The play is titled ‘The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time,’ and according to director Peter Hinton-Davis, “It is Walter’s letter to the world. But instead of being a mere memoir, which looks backward, his epistle also looks forward to illuminating one’s calling in life.”

“It is an autobiographical 90-some-minute-long monologue. It is set outside of a parking lot ticket booth where a stooped-over attendant (Borden) opens the play by sitting down on a stool to get comfy as he tells the audience his life story.

Not all of what Borden says is true. He talks in the voice of 10 different characters: the fire-and-brimstone preacher, the young woman who has turned to prostitution because she can’t get welfare to feed her children, and he may or may not have been the role model for a male streetwalker, proudly talking about the number of “hand jobs” he has delivered.

Wow, give this man a Mavor Moore Award for delivering lines non-stop. Walter can really talk, wax poetically, and deliver old-style rap. It is an exhaustive hour-and-a-half performance without cue cards, prompters, or scripts Scotch-taped to the stage. Of course, he has had a lot of practice; he spent the last 4 1/2 years working with his producers on the script. Much of it comes from an early 1986 version he performed here in Canada called ‘Tightrope Time Ain’t Nuthin’ More Than Some Itty Bitty Madness Between Your Twilight & Your Dawn.'”

“It is easy to see that much of the storyline is based on his involvement in the hippy-era civil rights movement. Throughout, he deals with the experiences of being queer and Black.

Towards the end of the play, an Egyptian god projection appears on the back wall of the set. The god tells Borden, ‘Life starts with a bang, and at the end? Your life is just a smile.’

Borden describes himself as a Black-Indigenous actor. He was born and raised in Nova Scotia back in 1942. The actor, playwright, and poet has received numerous accolades, including the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal and the African Nova Scotia Music Heritage Award. Borden also received the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award in 2006. In the same year, he was named a Member of the Order of Canada, and in 2007, he received an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree.

The Sunday play ended with a standing ovation and demands for a curtain call. The  audience understood it, got it and loved it. The Diaspora has until October 15th to discover Walter Borden. The Tarragon Theatre is located at 30 Bridgman Ave, Toronto, south of Casa Loma