I needed a couple weeks after LET THEM BE HEARD to let it all sink in. This was a huge experience in many ways, and I’m still wrapping my brain around what we managed to accomplish.
It was historic, for starters, and I’m not just referring to the source material. This was Bare Theatre’s first performance in a historic site, and I believe this was the first time any theatre has been done in the original slave quarters and barn at Historic Stagville.
Not only that, but we think this may have been the first theatrical adaptation of the seven monologues included in LET THEM BE HEARD. There are others from other states included in the film Unchained Memories, and there have been other theatrical adaptations elsewhere around the country, but we have not found any other record of these narratives being performed anywhere.
One of our goals was to create awareness of Historic Stagville, and I believe we succeeded. The site usually has between 300 – 350 visitors for its annual Juneteenth event, a celebration of the day the last slaves were set free. This year, that day saw 970 visitors.
Among the four audience groups we had that night, there were some 120 people in attendance, meaning we raised over $1,000 for Historic Stagville. On top of that, our 29 Kickstarter contributors donated $1,301 to Bare Theatre for the creation of LET THEM BE HEARD, so they deserve much credit and many thanks for making this possible.
The publicity the show received was fantastic. We also need to thank the Durham Herald-Sun (read the article), The State of Things and WUNC 91.5 FM (listen to our interview), as well as The Independent Weekly and Classical Voice of North Carolina (read the review).
All four performances were sold out a couple of days before the event, and we were still receiving calls and emails from folks trying to get tickets. There have been many requests from those that were not able to see it and many who did see it to bring the show back to Stagville.
These numbers are all important and a great sign of how much this show resonated with the community, but most striking to me was our audiences’ reactions. I told the cast in advance not to expect applause – not because the show did not deserve it – but because people would simply be unable to applaud at the end. After such tales of tragedy and suffering, it just didn’t feel right.
Their faces were enough, however.
I saw many people who couldn’t speak afterwards, some choked up by tears, others silently burning with a simmering anger and frustration that such things could have ever happened on these lands and in our community. That is a testament to the power of the narratives themselves, and of the incredible talent and ability that our cast displayed in order to tell those stories.
We are currently in the process of creating audio recordings of these seven narratives, with the help of Triangle Radio Reading Service, a service for the blind. The actors have adapted readily to the studio and I am blown away by the recordings so far.
It looks promising for us to return to Stagville, but as yet we do not know exactly when.
It is very important to us to keep working on this project and to continue to tell these stories. I believe we succeeded in creating a safe environment for actors and audience to come together, and to give people a chance to listen.
There will be more to come on this, I promise.
We’ve talked about some of the history and about Stagville itself. Now it’s time for a look at the characters – men and women who grew up as slaves, viewed as “property” to someone else.
Tempie is the oldest character in our collection. She was 103 years old in the late 1930’s when she was interviewed by the Federal Writer’s Project. This means that she was in her 30’s during The Civil War, so she remembers slavery differently from the other characters, who were children at the time.
Tempie had a good relationship with George and Betsy Herndon, the couple that owned her, and in her interview she tells of fond memories working in a weaving room with the other slave women (and Betsy). She also recounts her marriage to Exter Durham, a slave from another plantation.
REVEREND SQUIRE DOWD
Squire Dowd was one of the very few slaves who received an education. He remembers being taught to read and write by the white children “as punishment” for the bad things he did. As an adult, he became a Baptist preacher and was fairly well-known in the Raleigh community, where he served in the ministry for 50 years.
Dowd has a self-described “conservative view” of slavery. While he seems to blame carpetbaggers and the Ku Klux Klan for much of the plight of African-Americans after the war, he also recalls several good times he had as a slave child.
Little is known of Fanny Cannady other than from her interview with the Federal Writer’s Project. Fanny and her mother seem to have been very close with her mistress, Sally Moss, but she was terrified of her master, Jordan Moss. She recounts the story of two slave brothers, Leonard and Burrus Allen, who were large strong men who were not afraid of their master. Fanny describes in detail a horrifying chain of events that begin with an off-hand comment from Leonard about Moss’s son. One of the brothers would end up killed by his master, the other whipped mercilessly.
Henry’s monologue in LET THEM BE HEARD is actually a combination of the two interviews given by Henry and his brother Clay. Both men were slaves, but on two different plantations in Raleigh. He talks about being beaten just for being black, saying “I had a whole heap of dem whuppin’s” (Clay’s line). He also recounts slave sales, including the sale of his wife after just one year of marriage.
(no photo available)
Andrew Boone begins his narrative by relating how the Works Progress Administration has cut him off. He says he can no longer work, that he has been squatting in tobacco barns for years, and that he has not had much food lately. Andrew’s former owner, Billy Boone, treated his slaves harshly and Andrew remarks on the fact that his master was a preacher. After slavery, Andrew moved to New York City, where he seems to have found a reasonable amount of success working for the entertainers Crawford & Banhay. While in New York, Andrew married and had children, but these successes appear to have all faded away by the time of his interview.
(no photo available)
Very little is known about Thomas Hall, who was 81 at the time of his interview. After beginning to give some details about his parents and owner, he seems to become more and more agitated and ends up refusing to tell the interviewer his story. He rails against the economic slavery and bigotry that continued after emancipation, and he says he hates Harriet Beecher Stowe and Abraham Lincoln for serving their own interests rather than trying to help African-Americans.
(no photo available)
Dave’s narrative is actually a story about his grandparents. Dave was an excellent storyteller, and the first time I read this story it actually made me cry. It is almost Shakespearean in its tragedy. Dave’s grandparents, Cleve and Lissa, lost their infant daughter (Dave’s mother) when they were purchased because their master did not want to also buy the baby and have it impede their ability to work. Some time after this, Cleve realized that the master was planning on selling Lissa. Unable to bear the loss of his wife after losing their child, Cleve decides to resist, knowing full well the consequences.
Reservations are going fast and all four shows will likely sell out. Complete details are available at www.baretheatre.org.
Also, we have a short video about the project on our Kickstarter page. Bare Theatre is donating all ticket sales to Historic Stagville, so we are asking for contributions to help us pay for the production costs.
In the early days of Bare Theatre, we would just do shows out of the blue. Carmen would start asking people, “Hey, you want to do MACBETH?” and people would just say yes and it would happen. It would be crazy and hard work and a total blast and we would do it.
We’re sort of making a return to that now. With the close of ONE NIGHT OF ABSOLUTE DISMAY, our seventh season had been a short one since we were not able to do Rogue Company last summer. The next show on the docket was LET THEM BE HEARD (which I promise to write about soon because people are already emailing me about it) – which isn’t until June. We were going to have some time off.
I use the term “time off” loosely. It’s only time off for the actors and crew. Heather and I have been hard at work laying out our vision for the company and for the next five years, and working on our 501(c)(3) application so that we can begin a real development campaign (that is tax-deductible!). I’ve also been working on cutting LET THEM BE HEARD to a manageable length (and it is close!).
However, it just seemed like we had a really rollicking season, even if it was short, and we wanted to keep the party going. Not only that, but since DISMAY was a Durham-only show, and LET THEM BE HEARD and the TBA Rogue Company show will only be in Durham, this meant that we would not be back in Raleigh (where most of us live) until the Fall.
We decided to damn the torpedoes and do a show in Raleigh.
It wasn’t hard to talk Olivia into directing – in fact she was talking us into it! She was thinking about GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. I suggested Christopher Durang’s humbly-titled DURANG/DURANG because, well, we already know “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” (which is like a quarter of the evening) and, well…it’s hilarious.
Now I’m really stoked. I know that the next few months are going to be insane. I know my house is going to get a bit neglected during this period. I know there’s way to much to do…but we’re doing “Wanda’s Visit!”
So please, go ahead and put May 10 – 20 on your calendars. Make your phones beep at you before the shows start. I’m being really serious about this, because if you come you are in for one heck of a good time. The dysfunction in these six plays is just bombastic.
We are going to need to laugh before June. The stories from the real former slaves behind LET THEM BE HEARD are just heartbreaking. The very first one I ever read had me in tears. The pain they were subjected to is something that no one in America today really knows. That said, it’s not all sadness. Some of the tales told by Tempie Herndon – who was 101 years old when she was interviewed – are just beautiful.
I believe it will be a powerful experience and one that you will not forget. Please put June 9 on your calendar, because we will only be presenting four performances of LET THEM BE HEARD that day – inside a slave cabin and barn on Historic Stagville’s plantation site – and there will only be limited availability.
INFO FOR LET THEM BE HEARD AUDITIONS WILL BE POSTED IN APRIL.
There will be much more to come as we develop these projects. Thank you for those who commented on our last post – we value that feedback and we are considering those suggestions!
I want to take one last opportunity to thank everyone involved with ONE NIGHT OF ABSOLUTE DISMAY, from the playwrights to the actors to the crew (especially our wonderful Stage Manager Michelle!) to our audiences. Thank you for helping us make DISMAY our biggest one-act show yet! This annual series has steadily been growing over the last three years, and we appreciate your help in making that trend continue! This has been a short but fantastic season.
Now, we look forward to the next season…
Being that this is a blog, and blogs allow more direct communication with our community and audience, I want to hear from you. Actors, audience members – I’m going to keep this post short in order to hear what YOU think!
Ideas on the table so far:
- Let Them Be Heard (June) – an original adaptation of the Works Progress Administration’s Slave Narrative Project. This is a collection of monologues taken directly from the recorded narratives of former slaves of North Carolina. The script is being finalized, and this project is tentatively scheduled to go up in June – more details to come.
- Bare Theatre’s Rogue Company (July)– for those unfamiliar, Rogue Company is Bare Theatre’s annual free conservatory for Triangle students between the ages of 14 – 22. These shows are usually physically intense and bloody. Past shows have included: Titus Andronicus, The Crucible, King Lear, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Julius Caesar, and Henry V. We are looking for a new Rogue Company director, and we are open to suggestions as to what this next show should be.
- Fall Show (October-ish) – Bare Theatre usually presents a show in or around October. Heather is cooking up a production of her favorite Shakespeare play, As You Like It – that will be done with live original bluegrass music. This was slated for the Fall slot; however, we are pushing this production back to 2013, which leaves this opening for something equally wonderful.Possible ideas include an October/Halloween show (since we are one of the few companies in the area who don’t do a Christmas show!). This could be a night of Grand Guignol theatre of the macabre, a murder play such as Rope, or some other such horrible or bloody presentation. Maybe a ghost story?I plan on directing a Richard Wilbur translation of a Moliere comedy at some point (probably either The Misanthrope or Tartuffe, although The Bungleris another strong possibility) – this could be an option for the fall show as well.I’m also looking forward to creating an entirely original clown show in the future – field research will soon be under way…More on that, later!
So now I open up the floor.
To All Those Who Love Drama, what would you like to do/see at Bare?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!