The history of The Ward — a downtown Toronto neighbourhood that, though gone, is now starting to be remembered as a critical location in the emerging city — underlies Post No Bills. This show put on by the Post No Bills Collective, currently running in the Toronto Fringe Festival at the Factory Theatre Mainspace, is an ambitious effort at representing the lives of the sorts of people who would have lived in the Ward. This show goes a long way towards illustrating elements of the past that early 21st Century Torontonians may have forgotten, or may simply have never had a chance to learn.
The Ward was a neighbourhood that once stretched from Yonge Street west to University Avenue, and from Queen Street north to College Street. Gradually eroded by different waves of construction, while it existed the Ward was best-known to Toronto as a slum. This neighbourhood, also, was the place where diverse immigrant groups were able to make their first homes in the modern city. That the Ward was forgotten so quickly by mid-20th century Toronto arguably says much about the priorities of the time, just as the rediscovery of this neighbourhood and its history by historians and activists in a more multicultural Toronto does about our time.
The action begins with the cast of Post No Bills at work deep underground in a strange storehouse of the past, four of them at work on an assembly line sorting out treasures from ruins while a fifth — Sherman Tsang, playing an archeologist — happens upon this strange scene and finds a letter. This find starts each character recounting a story dear to them, in speech and in dance.
Each reacts to this, and to recorded artifacts like accounts of the racist hysteria surrounding the Chinese laundry and the language associated with the citizenship textbook Discover Canada and the whole process of gaining citizenship in Canada. As the show progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that each actor, in their own way, is telling the story of someone trying to belong somewhere, of someone who is trying to find a home often in adverse circumstances.
Post No Bills is a compelling collection of stories, portrayed compellingly by the performers and deeply rooted in overlooked corners of Toronto history. Co-creator and researcher John Maize, among other members of the Post No Bills Collective, is to be complimented on the quality of the historical research that went into this production, while director Michela Sisti, assisted by Ximena Huizi, did an excellent job of keeping coherent a collection of diverse narrative strands that could have frayed in less capable hands.
One standout performer was Melanie Leon, whose character protested, in passionate speech and dance, the misogyny of Victorian Toronto that allowed the imprisonment of those women who were somehow inconvenient in a Magdalen Asylum for up to two years at a time. Another was Huizi, who told the story of a frightening experience as a young child in the middle of a Latin American revolution, the sort of crisis that has driven so much immigration to Toronto.
Post No Bills succeeds in sharing a few of the overlooked stories in Toronto’s past, and deserves to be appreciated for the way the Post No Bills Collective tells these stories. This show is made for the fan of Toronto history who is also interested in provocative experimental drama.
- Post No Bills is playing until July 15 at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. (125 Bathurst Street)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- July 6th at 10:30 pm
- July 8th at 4:00 pm
- July 10th at 7:15 pm
- July 12th at 5:45 pm
- July 13th at 3:30 pm
- July 14th at 5:45 pm
- July 15th at 12:00 pm
Poster by Chris Maddever.