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Theatre Orangeville’s live show ‘Josiah’ launching Sept. 8

September 3, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Josiah is a Canadian hero, a Black man born in 1789 in Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland. Josiah Henson was an escaped slave who found his way to Canada, eventually establishing Dawn Settlement in Dresden, Ontario. He went back and forth from there to the United States, bringing other escaping slaves to safety.

Cassel Miles is the Black man bringing Josiah’s history and heroism to Theatre Orangeville’s outdoor stage at the Mount Alverno Resort, 20706 Heart Lake Road, ten minutes from the Opera House itself.

This astonishing two-hour, two-act, one-man show, called Josiah, opens at Mount Alverno Resort from September 8, running for 10 performances until September 19.

Cassel Miles has a long journey to this stage. In an interview via Face time with Mr. Miles and Artistic Director, David Nairn, Mr. Miles talked about his life and his involvement with Josiah.

Coming to Canada with his family at seven years, Cassel Miles grew up learning and wanting to be like a series of heroes: dancers, track and field athletes, actors. His first love, at nine years old, was tap dancing, which is a passion that has followed him into adulthood. Like all his lessons, he learned from the stars.

He was a track and field record-breaker, a scholarship supported performance student in Toronto and New York; he danced with several dance companies. This was followed by musical theatre: in the Shaw Festival, the Canadian Stage’s Angels in America and the US national tour of ‘Fosse.’

Then, he took a break.

Said Cassel Henson, “I wanted to go back to see if I still loved the theatre. I was in a play. During a performance, I had panic attack and I ran out of the theatre, out of the play and out of my acting career. Ten years of doing other things and one day, I realized that everything I was doing ended in something theatrical.

“After my breakdown,” he went on to say, “I saw a documentary about Josiah and I thought, ‘I want to be like him.’ I learned everything I could about him, bought every book, every DVD.”

In 2014, he and his partner, tired of living in Toronto, bought a house and moved to Kingston, where Mr. Miles’ parents were living.

He became involved with Battle Tree Productions in town and there he met

writer, director, Charles Robertson and it was he with whom Mr. Miles talked about Josiah as the subject for a play.

“So many people didn’t know this man,” he said. “All the stories about Black Liberation were about Martin Luther King Jr., Charles could see the benefit of such a piece. So, I gave him everything I had and he came back to me with the draft. He had put out it into a play, which he could do but a play for one person, no sets and 30 characters.”

The whole idea of nothing but himself on the stage was impossible to imagine at first: “I was used to musical theatre,” he exclaimed. “Used to all the cast, used to all the props, the sets!”

They ran the first workshop in 2019. 

He shook his head remembering it: “This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he was ready to admit. “Two hours, 30 characters. At the end, I just lay on the stage floor.”

In May, 2019, Rosemary Doyle brought the show to her Red Castle Theatre, Toronto for two weeks.

Then, they brought it to the Kingston Fringe, where they learned that “Josiah is not a show for a large stage… the jewel of the play [is]- we need to talk to the people [breaking the fourth wall],” Mr. Miles clarified.

The year 2019 saw them perform Josiah, as well, at the Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Located on the property in Dresden, where Josiah brought the people he rescued. He lived there until he was 93 and was the subject of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Harriett Beecher Stowe in 1852. 

Josiah sent his eldest boy Tom to school, who taught his own father to read and Josiah built a school to teach people about business and how to live in a free world.

“I love being Canadian and I think we should tell Canadian stories.” he averred.

Credit must be given to Vicki Hargreaves, founder of the Grass Roots Independent Professionals (GRIP), a space she created that was not being used for us to go to create.

“We went back into rehearsal from Tuesdays to Thursdays,” he explained. “Added movement, took lines and characters away and added others. Then we did a workshop. This is a very demanding play physically and emotionally.”

The truth of that was witnessed by Cassel Miles losing 20 pounds he had gained over Covid. “I need to be slim to be Josiah,” he said.

It is the eyes and the spirit of Josiah that Mr. Miles sought – to truly know the man himself in all his pain and determination. This is the guts of the matter.

“After George Floyd and the explosion of Black Lives Matter (BLM), suddenly it was all there,” he began. “I had to grow into his eyes, the moment when he receives Christ – to have that higher power, that connection. I had to have that base. Personally, after BLM, I had to deal with all those feelings – now, I truly understood the man, a storm of passion building within me – I channelled all of that. I am in him as he is in me.

“Josiah was beaten when he was five for wanting to read. When his son taught him to read, the whole world was open to him but he was angry at not having the chance sooner.”

He told the Citizen, “People will discover this legend [as] part of their history they didn’t know. He had to come to Canada to achieve this.”

“We always want to tell good stories,” says Artistic Director David Nairn. “The bottom line is, this is great theatre.”

The show schedule is Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. and two Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m.

Josiah will also be streamed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 5. For all the information and to buy tickets, go to or call 519-941-3423.

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