News / Toronto

Actor Walter Borden to re-enact King Lear scene as call to action for homelessness

For Borden, an Order of Canada recipient, the performance is a continuation of his lifelong dedication to activism.

Stage legend Walter Borden.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

Stage legend Walter Borden.

Nothing can come of nothing; speak again.

This line on persistence from Shakespeare's King Lear rings true for the city's advocates for the homeless, who have gathered every month for almost 20 years to add names to the Toronto Homeless Memorial.

In a first for the event, this month's tribute — held Tuesday at noon — will feature live theatre: a scene from the Bard's play, performed by legendary stage actor Walter Borden on the steps of the Church of the Holy Trinity.

“This winter we’ve seen a massive coming together of famous Torontonians, including artists and writers," said Cathy Crowe, a street nurse and advocate. “It’s a bubbling of talent and concern to the surface.”

For Borden, an Order of Canada recipient, the performance is a continuation of his lifelong dedication to activism. He first got involved in his hometown of Halifax, taking up the civil-rights causes of the '60s.

"Activism to me is just being very involved in whatever aspect of society that requires people to address an issue, and address it forcefully and meticulously and continuously," Borden said.

During Borden's scene, the crowd will be invited to chant along: "Oh I have ta’en too little care of this!" — Lear's response when he realizes he is homeless and as king did not do enough for his people.

​"It’s connecting suffering to wealth, and what happens when people with wealth and power don’t respond to the suffering," Crowe said, noting that the theme is intentionally provocative.

Borden echoes Lear's sentiment about the responsibility of the upper class.

"We’re talking about a societal shift at the highest level," he said, adding that too often tax write-offs and scoring publicity are more motivating than true empathy.

The advocates are demanding 1,000 new shelter beds be opened immediately, not over three years as Mayor John Tory has proposed. In addition, they want to see standards created for the facilities and more forceful calls for affordable housing from city hall.​

Crowe hopes the performance brings new people to the memorial, which is both a time to mourn and a time to search for solutions.

“Every memorial is different from the next one, but in common there’s always a lot of emotion and a lot of information that’s shared about what’s happening next and what people can do.”

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