JAMAICA MAN written and performed by John Blackwood. Presented by Blackwood Arts at Factory Studio. August 9 at 12:30 pm, August 10 at 3:30 pm, August 13-14 at 9:30 pm, August 15 at 5 pm, August 17 at 8 pm. Rating: NNNNN
Growing up white in jamaica, actor John Blackwood sometimes felt he was an honourary black man. The phrase, he realizes, is both welcoming and ironic. His first piece of solo writing, Jamaica Man , is a lightly fictionalized version of his 13 years living in the Caribbean, complete with the various dialects, voices and tunes that surrounded him.
"I went back in my memory and let several people float to the surface, walked around and summoned their voices to let them speak," says the actor, whose stage work includes Passe Muraille's Sir John, Eh? and Soulpepper's The Bald Soprano.
He's also known for his skill with a West Indian accent, and he's named Jamaica Man's narrator Arnold after a character he created in Hector Bunyan's Jamaican/Canadian script Prodigals In The Promised Land.
In his solo show, Blackwood presents some seven characters, all with different voices, including his factory manager father, a Cockney nanny, a rich white planter and a higgler - one of the women who sell fruit in the marketplace.
"There's no way of living in Jamaica as a white person without dealing with the disparity between white and black, rich and poor," the actor explains. "It's a tricky line to walk.
"It's culture, not colour, that makes the difference, and social status is the defining feature in Jamaica."
He's always wanted to draw on his Caribbean background for a show. He used snippets of his history in the collective piece Divided We Stand, about the backgrounds of second-generation Canadians, and The Torontonians, where he played both a Jamaican and an elite Rosedale type.
And who's the audience for Jamaica Man?
Blackwood hopes the West Indian community comes out so he can tell them how much he loves Jamaica, but he also wants to give whites his view of the island, which is far different from what they'd get in a travel brochure.
"And people will spread the word about the show differently," he says. "If a white audience likes it, they'll tell their friends. If a black audience responds positively, they'll bring their friends and see the show a second time."