Harriet Tubman played a pivotal role in the function of the Underground Railroad that was the pipeline for freeing hundreds and slaves and leading them to freedom in Canada. She is also just one of nine Blacks designated Persons of National Significance in Canada with plaques erected to celebrate their landmark achievements.
Though they may know the name, most young people are not familiar with Tubman’s courageous heroics and story that will be showcased in an upcoming play during Black History Month.
Young People’s Theatre (YPT) is presenting The Power of Harriet T that explores the life of the legendary Underground Railroad conductor who risked her life to secure her freedom and that of countless others.
Director Tanisha Taitt says Tubman transcended geographical borders even though she was known as an American hero.
“What she did is directly tied to Canadian history as well, but so few students know that her story is part of the social tapestry of both nations,” said Taitt, a graduate of Seneca College’s theatrical performance program. “It’s paramount they understand our collective history and her prominent role and link to Canadian history. What she was able to accomplish is testament to what one person can do and she’s just an incredible example to both young men and women of what it means to be just and courageous.
“Students need to be aware of human rights violations and socio-political struggles that were faced in the past and about the cruel reality of slavery so that they might live more evolved and involved lives. For me, as a director, it’s very important to tell stories that matter and resonate…Harriet Tubman is one of the great heroes in human history. I want to convey to our audiences her strength, courage and tenacity and paint for them a picture of feminism at its best.
“She stood for equality for everyone and not just a single race or a single gender. To me, that is what true feminism is. It’s about tapping into that part of ourselves that’s nurturing and maternal and acknowledging the equal value and the worthiness of protection of every human being.
“Kids often can’t appreciate the struggle that pre-existed them simply because they don’t know about it. They must understand that people have suffered and overcome before them, they reap the rewards of that and that the fights most worth winning are hard fought and victories don’t come easily.
“I’d like them to take pride in Harriet’s great act of humanity and feel the desire to strive for and celebrate the best of what humans can be. I also want young girls – particularly girls of colour – to see how fierce she was and how fierce any woman can be if she so chooses.”
Tubman’s story in the play will be told by Oyin Oladejo and Dienye Waboso, who are cast in the roles of a young and old Harriet Tubman respectively.
A student at Humber School of Creative & Performing Arts (HSCPA), Nigerian-born Oladejo played Sherelle in Trey Anthony’s Da Kink in My Hair while Canadian-born HSCPA alumni Waboso, who spent 16 years in Nigeria, has appeared in several plays, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Binti’s Journey.
“It’s the first time I have worked with Oyin and she didn’t exactly fit what the role was on paper,” said Taitt, who was a 2011-12 YPT resident artist educator. “During the audition, I saw something raw and real in her that appealed to me. I am familiar with Dienye’s work and it felt very natural when she auditioned. I have always been curious to work with her.”
YPT artistic director, Allen MacInnis, approached Taitt to direct the play.
“I am an actor and my first instinct was that I wanted to play the part,” said Taitt, who is also a songwriter. “But after reading the script and thinking about it, I realized this was an opportunity for me to craft a vision of Harriet Tubman that’s new.”
Award-winning playwright, Michael Miller, wrote the play that runs from February 7 to 22.
“Harriet Tubman had faith not only in herself, but in in her cause,” said Miller, who is the recipient of the Chalmers Canadian Play Award. “Unlike the people who owned her, she actually believed in democracy and freedom and through her actions and the work of other conductors on the Underground Railroad proved a better world could exist for all people. She was a great daughter, a marvellous sister and a great example of making a way out of no way.”
Tubman, who died in 1913 at age 93, is buried at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.
BY RON FANFAIR