Voices: Past Performances

Written and directed by David Woods

 After working as a maid for the Goodman family in the small town of New Glasgow NS, Dot Paris is hired by the Quaker Oats Company as ‘Aunt Jemima for the Maritimes’ (from the 1920’s-1960’s, the Quaker Oats Company hired Black women across North America to portray the stereotypical figure to promote company products). Dot travels to Maritime small towns giving product demonstrations and became a celebrity to local audiences.  Many who line up for her baking demonstrations actually believe she is the large, Black woman featured on Aunt Jemima product packaging. Eventually Dot is considered one of the best Aunt Jemima impersonators in North America and moves to the US where she continues portraying the character and also lands a few cameo appearances in Hollywood films.


The play traces Dot Paris’ return to New Glasgow in 1965 after her retirement from impersonating Aunt Jemima. She buys a house in the town’s white neighbourhood and spends her days reminiscing about her glory days as Aunt Jemima with a small circle of friends. Occasionally she recreates her Aunt Jemima character for civic parades and special community events. But this is the 1960’s with the Black civil rights movement in full swing in the US. ‘Black is beautiful’ is the popular anthem of the new Black generation and there is an intolerance of the stereotypical depictions of Blacks on TV, in movies and on corporate products.


When a local Black journalist publishes an article exposing racism in New Glasgow (including mentioning the town’s racist adoration of Dot Paris’ Aunt Jemima), tensions rise between the town’s black and white populations and eventually there are a number of violent attacks on Black youths. Dot tries to remain above the fray and maintain her celebrity status with the town’s whites.  However her stance becomes complicated when her estranged son Jonathan (who she left in the care of her mother during her ‘Aunt Jemima days’) returns to New Glasgow to take part in a protest march organized by the town’s Black leaders.   During his first visit to his mother in years, the two argue over the causes of the conflict in the town (Dot blames young Black radicals).  Jonathan brings up her obsession with the Aunt Jemima character and tells her how damaging it was for him to grow up knowing she had valued playing that role over raising him.


After Jonathan leaves her house, Dot is tormented by truths told to her for the first time.  In the final scene she is struggling to remove a too large, too heavy framed photo print of her as Aunt Jemima that hung in her living room.  The photo which dominated her dining room, had been threatening to fall from the wall for years as it put too much weight on the nail that held it up. Now with the realization that she had become lost in her character, she begins to remove it from the wall and from her life.


Performance history

Nationally broadcast CBC Radio drama production Feb. 1994