Thursday, September 29, 2022

Walter Borden comes full circle

Neptune Theatre begins its diamond anniversary season with Borden's The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time, a play he started writing in 1974 just blocks away from the Neptune stage.

Last seen on the Neptune Theatre stage in the British farce Noises Off in 2019, Walter Borden returns to open the company’s diamond anniversary season with his autobiographical solo play, The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time, on stage now until September 25.

I want audiences to leave recognizing themselves in the stories and moments I capture, moving towards reflection and acceptance. After all, we are truly more alike, my friend, than we are unlike. – Walter Borden

Exploring Borden’s career, life, and the challenges of racism, impoverishment and homophobia he faced as a Black and openly gay man, it is a show that got its start in 1974, just a few blocks from the Neptune stage where he is now performing.

“Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to my niece’s place and sit in the same wicker chair I sat in 1974 when I started writing it,” says Borden on a Zoom call, fresh off the show’s first preview performance.

The Order of Canada recipient also took the opportunity to spend some time in his hometown of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, before starting rehearsals in Halifax. “I just immersed myself in the community where I grew up, and I was again in some of the places I talk about in the play,” he says.

Evolving as Borden’s life and career unfolded over the past 45-plus years, this latest iteration of Tightrope Time will be it’s last, whittled down with the help of director Peter Hinton-Davis from its original two hours and 20-minute run-time to today’s 90-minute version.

“Everything that needs to be said is being said,” says Borden. “This is it. No more changing of characters, no more anything. This is the last epistle.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean Borden is abandoning the show beyond the Neptune Theatre run with plans to perform the play at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, “and goodness knows where else.”

Borden is also continuing his work on a book of poetry based on the show, a project put on hold as he worked on this final version of his play. “The poetry is made up of the pieces that had to be removed from the script,” he says. “Those pieces weren’t necessary for the play, but they stand on their own as poetry.”

"Although it could sound simple, almost cliche, we all know that cliches are born out of the truth. To me there's not a single person who does not walk a tightrope. That is how you get from where you are to where you want to go or need to go: you're going to walk a tight rope." - Walter Borden on choosing the title for his play. Photo by Stoo Metz.
“Although it could sound simple, almost cliche, we all know that cliches are born out of the truth. To me there’s not a single person who does not walk a tightrope. That is how you get from where you are to where you want to go or need to go: you’re going to walk a tight rope.” – Walter Borden on choosing the title for his play. Photo by Stoo Metz.

In addition to Noises Off, Borden has performed in over 20 other productions with the Neptune Theatre during his career. So having him open this milestone season was the obvious choice for Neptune’s artistic director Jeremy Webb.

“Walter’s words, stories, indeed, his very breath is embedded in the foundation of Neptune,” says Webb. “The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time is a play that Walter has been creating and living for forty years. We are all so very grateful for Walter Borden’s work, his creativity, his guidance and his mentorship.”

In programming The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time as the opener to this anniversary season, Webb is reminded of the importance of recognizing and honouring those like Borden, who led the way. “It is their passion, heart and pure grit that will propel us forward for the next sixty years.”

Borden hopes that audiences leave recognizing themselves in the play and as “an illumination of the resiliency of the human spirit.”

“I try to convey that not only through my experience, which is predominant through the work but more importantly to see that illumination in these other characters that he introduces you to,” he says.

“And while you might be appalled at first by what they are doing or their lifestyle, you have to get beyond that to realize that they are trying, just like you, to forge ahead and use that human spirit to survive.”

The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time is the first in Neptune Theatre’s ten-show 2022-2023 season, which also includes the stage adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery, Elf: The Musical, Ballad of the Motherland and the long-awaited production of Billy Elliot the Musical.

The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time runs until September 25 on Neptune’s Fountain Hall Stage (1593 Argyle St, Halifax). Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information. 

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