The History of African American Theatre by FPTzgvHR

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									The History of African American
            Theatre
      “Escape, or Leap for Freedom”
                    by
           William Wells Brown
The Pulpit as Performance Space
                 William Wells Brown (1814-1884)
•   Landmarks in African American Literary History
•   William Wells Brown was the first African-American to publish a novel, a play, a travel book, a military study of his people, and a
    study of black sociology. Throughout his life he was committed to the abolition of slavery. He made eloquent speeches putting
    forward ideas for reform. Later in life he took up the cause of the temperance movement.


•   Primary Works
•   Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself, 1847Three Years in Europe; or Places I Have Seen and
    People I Have Met, 1852; Clotel; or, The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States, 1853; The Escape; or,
    A Leap of Freedom. A Drama in Five Acts, 1858; Memoir of WWB, An American Bondman. Written by Himself, 1859; The Black
    Man. His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements, 1863; The Negro in the American Rebellion. His Heroism and His
    Fidelity, 1867; The Rising Son; or, The Antecedents and Advancement of the Colored Race, 1873; and My Southern Home: or, The
    South and Its People, 1880.



•   Recent Scholarship
•   Chaney, Michael A. Fugitive Vision: Slave Image and Black Identity in Antebellum Narrative. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2007.
•   Ernest, John. Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794-1861. Chapel Hill: U of
    North Carolina P, 2004.
•   - - -. The Escape; Or, A Leap for Freedom: A Drama in Five Acts. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2001.
•   James, Jennifer C. A Freedom Bought with Blood: African American War Literature from the Civil War to World War II. Chapel
    Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007.
•   Levine, Robert S. ed. Clotel, or the President's Daughter. Boston: Bedford, 2000.
•   Nelson, Emmanuel S. ed. African American Autobiographers: A Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002.
•   - - -. African American Authors, 1745-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.
•   Stadler, Gustavus. Troubling Minds: The Cultural Politics of Genius in the United States, 1840-1890. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota
    P, 2006.
                            A Brief Biography of Brown
   William Wells Brown (1814-1884): A Brief Biography
   William Wells Brown was the first African-American to write a novel, a play, and a travel book. He was born in Lexington,
    Kentucky in 1815. His father was the white owner of the plantation on which Brown was born.
   Brown held many diverse jobs as a youth which provided him with firsthand knowledge of the slave era South which aided him
    in his writing. Brown escaped from slavery in January 1834. During his escape he received help from an Ohio Quaker named
    Wells Brown (whose name he adopted when he became a free man). After his refuge he taught himself how to read and write.
    Brown became an active abolitionist and activist in the anti-slavery movement while working for a journalist for the abolitionist
    cause.
   He was also important in THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, which helped slaves escape to freedom in Canada. It was during this
    time that Brown married Elizabeth Schooner, a free black woman. They had three children together. After moving to Buffalo,
    Brown continued to participate in the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD and also spoke publicly on abolition, women's rights, peace,
    and temperance.
   In 1843 Brown was invited to lecture for the Anti-Slavery Society and gained renown as a public figure. The American Peace
    Society chose him as their representative to the Peace Congress in Europe in 1849.
   While Brown was in Europe he delivered over a thousand speeches and wrote some of his most important work, including the
    first African American novel Clotel; or The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States.
   He left Europe in 1854. In 1858 he published the first play by an African-American.
   While Brown was in Europe his wife died.
   In 1860 he married Annie Elizabeth Grey. Brown continued his political and literary activities. He was a major supporter of black
    recruitment efforts during the CIVIL WAR.
   He continued to write many literary and historical works including The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His
    Achievements, and The Negro In American Rebellion: His Heroism and His Fidelity. His final book My Southern Home, or The
    South and Its People, appeared in 1880.
   It is important to note that Brown's importance in African-American literacy is not only based on his interesting stylistic blends
    of melodrama, documentary, abolitionist tract, political critique but also in his willingness to address the issues of sexual
    exploitation of female slaves. Interestingly enough, the novel implicates Thomas Jefferson in this practice. The novel also
    challenges the inconsistencies that fail to protect the human rights of millions of African-Americans. Brown was able to address
    such issues in his literary works that reached a broad audience.
   In addition to writing his own works Brown was a contributor to Frederick Douglass’s paper, the Liberator, and to the National
    Anti-Slavery Standard and the London Daily News. Brown died on Nov. 6, 1884 in his home in Chelsea, Massachusettes.
                                  French Romanticism
French romanticism is a highly eclectic phenomenon. It includes an interest in the historical novel, the romance,
     traditional myths (and nationalism) and the "roman noir" (or Gothic novel), lyricism, sentimentalism, descriptions
     of the natural world (such as elegies by lakes) and the common man, exoticism and orientalism, and the myth of
     the romantic hero. Foreign influences played a big part in this, especially those of Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott,
     Byron, Goethe, and Friedrich Schiller. French Romanticism had ideals diametrically opposed to French classicism
     and the classical unities (see French literature of the 17th century), but it could also express a profound loss for
     aspects of the pre-revolutionary world in a society now dominated by money and fame, rather than honor.

Key ideas from early French Romanticism:
     "le vague des passions" (waves of sentiment and passion) - Chateaubriand maintained that while the imagination
     was rich, the world was cold and empty, and rationalism and civilization had only robbed men of their illusions;
     nevertheless, a notion of sentiment and passion continued to haunt men.
     "le mal du siècle" (the pain of the century) - a sense of loss, disillusion, and aporia, typified by melancholy and
     lassitude.

The major battle of romanticism in France was fought in the theater. The early years of the century were marked by a
    revival of classicism and classical-inspired tragedies, often with themes of national sacrifice or patriotic heroism in
    keeping with the spirit of the Revolution, but the production of Victor Hugo's Hernani in 1830 marked the triumph
    of the romantic movement on the stage (a description of the turbulent opening night can be found in Théophile
    Gautier). The dramatic unities of time and place were abolished, tragic and comic elements appeared together
    and metrical freedom was won. Marked by the plays of Friedrich Schiller, the romantics often chose subjects from
    historic periods (the French Renaissance, the reign of Louis XIII of France) and doomed noble characters (rebel
    princes and outlaws) or misunderstood artists (Vigny's play based on the life of Thomas Chatterton).
Minstrelsy and Tricksters (American Genius?):
                   Cato and
The History of African American
            Theatre
        William Wells Brown’s
   The Escape, or, Leap for Freedom
                 William Wells Brown (1814-1884)
•   Landmarks in African American Literary History
•   William Wells Brown was the first African-American to publish a novel, a play, a travel book, a military study of his people, and a
    study of black sociology. Throughout his life he was committed to the abolition of slavery. He made eloquent speeches putting
    forward ideas for reform. Later in life he took up the cause of the temperance movement.


•   Primary Works
•   Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself, 1847Three Years in Europe; or Places I Have Seen and
    People I Have Met, 1852; Clotel; or, The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States, 1853; The Escape; or,
    A Leap of Freedom. A Drama in Five Acts, 1858; Memoir of WWB, An American Bondman. Written by Himself, 1859; The Black
    Man. His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements, 1863; The Negro in the American Rebellion. His Heroism and His
    Fidelity, 1867; The Rising Son; or, The Antecedents and Advancement of the Colored Race, 1873; and My Southern Home: or, The
    South and Its People, 1880.



•   Recent Sholarship
•   Chaney, Michael A. Fugitive Vision: Slave Image and Black Identity in Antebellum Narrative. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2007.
•   Ernest, John. Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794-1861. Chapel Hill: U of
    North Carolina P, 2004.
•   - - -. The Escape; Or, A Leap for Freedom: A Drama in Five Acts. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2001.
•   James, Jennifer C. A Freedom Bought with Blood: African American War Literature from the Civil War to World War II. Chapel
    Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007.
•   Levine, Robert S. ed. Clotel, or the President's Daughter. Boston: Bedford, 2000.
•   Nelson, Emmanuel S. ed. African American Autobiographers: A Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002.
•   - - -. African American Authors, 1745-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.
•   Stadler, Gustavus. Troubling Minds: The Cultural Politics of Genius in the United States, 1840-1890. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota
    P, 2006.
                            A Brief Biography of Brown
   William Wells Brown (1814-1884): A Brief Biography
   William Wells Brown was the first African-American to write a novel, a play, and a travel book. He was born in Lexington,
    Kentucky in 1815. His father was the white owner of the plantation on which Brown was born.
   Brown held many diverse jobs as a youth which provided him with firsthand knowledge of the slave era South which aided him
    in his writing. Brown escaped from slavery in January 1834. During his escape he received help from an Ohio Quaker named
    Wells Brown (whose name he adopted when he became a free man). After his refuge he taught himself how to read and write.
    Brown became an active abolitionist and activist in the anti-slavery movement while working for a journalist for the abolitionist
    cause.
   He was also important in THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, which helped slaves escape to freedom in Canada. It was during this
    time that Brown married Elizabeth Schooner, a free black woman. They had three children together. After moving to Buffalo,
    Brown continued to participate in the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD and also spoke publicly on abolition, women's rights, peace,
    and temperance.
   In 1843 Brown was invited to lecture for the Anti-Slavery Society and gained renown as a public figure. The American Peace
    Society chose him as their representative to the Peace Congress in Europe in 1849.
   While Brown was in Europe he delivered over a thousand speeches and wrote some of his most important work, including the
    first African American novel Clotel; or The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States.
   He left Europe in 1854. In 1858 he published the first play by an African-American.
   While Brown was in Europe his wife died.
   In 1860 he married Annie Elizabeth Grey. Brown continued his political and literary activities. He was a major supporter of black
    recruitment efforts during the CIVIL WAR.
   He continued to write many literary and historical works including The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His
    Achievements, and The Negro In American Rebellion: His Heroism and His Fidelity. His final book My Southern Home, or The
    South and Its People, appeared in 1880.
   It is important to note that Brown's importance in African-American literacy is not only based on his interesting stylistic blends
    of melodrama, documentary, abolitionist tract, political critique but also in his willingness to address the issues of sexual
    exploitation of female slaves. Interestingly enough, the novel implicates Thomas Jefferson in this practice. The novel also
    challenges the inconsistencies that fail to protect the human rights of millions of African-Americans. Brown was able to address
    such issues in his literary works that reached a broad audience.
   In addition to writing his own works Brown was a contributor to Frederick Douglass’s paper, the Liberator, and to the National
    Anti-Slavery Standard and the London Daily News. Brown died on Nov. 6, 1884 in his home in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
          French Romanticism and Melodrama

 French Melodrama’s Basics                                             Brown’s Text
The basic characteristics of French melodrama can be          Brown takes advantage of all the conventions
     summarized briefly: a virtuous hero or heroine is
     relentlessly hounded by a villain and is rescued            afforded by French Melodrama (spectacle,
     from seemingly insurmountable difficulties only to
     undergo a series of threats to life, reputation, or         disguise, abduction, concealed identity,
     happiness; an episodic story unfolds after a short          etc.) to set forth his abolitionist agenda,
     expository scene; each act ends with a strong
     climax; all important events occur on stage and             positioning Melinda and Glen as the hero
     often involve elaborate spectacle (such as battles,         and heroine; Mr. and Mrs. Gaines as the
     floods, or earthquakes) and local color (such as
     festivals, dances, or picturesque working                   villains; the brutalities of slavery and
     conditions); the typical plot involves disguise,            slave-catchers as seemingly
     abduction, concealed identity, and fortunate
     coincidence; strict poetic justice is meted out, for,       insurmountable difficulties; and American
     although they may succeed until the final scene, the        plantation life for “local color” (allowing
     villains are always defeated; comic relief is provided
     by a servant or companion to one of the principal           for, in Brown’s case, an African-American
     characters; song, dance, and music provide                  ritual to be incorporated into the play).
     additional entertainment or underscore the
     emotional value of scenes.                                  Cato provides most f the comic relief and
                                                                 also leads the CHORUS in song.
                     Performance History


The Escape was never meant for performance on a proscenium stage. Since neither
   slavery nor freedom welcomed blacks to the stage, The Escape was performed
   from the pulpit and other alternative arenas that allowed Brown’s voice to be
   heard. He transformed spaces with the power of his words, enacting over twenty
   character parts to audiences dedicated to the abolitionist movement. At a time
   when Christians abhorred the theater as an arena of ungodliness, Brown was a
   major catalyst in overturning this taboo for the abolitionist cause.
                                    Cato the Trickster



CATO Yes, massa; I'll tend to 'em.
(exit Dr. GAINES, left) I allers knowed I was a doctor, an' now de ole boss has put me at it, I muss change
my coat. Ef any niggers comes in, I want to look suspectable . Dis jacket don't suit a doctor; I'll change it .
(exit CATO -- immediately returning in a long coat) Ah! now I looks like a doctor. Now I can bleed, pull teef,
or cut off a leg. Oh! well, well, ef I aint put de pill stuff an' de intment stuff togedder. By golly, dat ole cuss
will be mad when he finds it out, won't he? Nebber mind, I'll make it up in pills, and when de flour is on
dem, he won't know what's in 'em; an' I'll make some new intment. Ah! yonder comes Mr. Campbell's
Pete an' Ned; dems de ones massa sed was comin'. I'll see ef I looks right.
(goes to the looking-glass and views himself) I em some punkins, ain't I?
(knock at the door) Come in.
(Enter PETE and NED, right)

PETE Whar is de doctor?

CATO Here I is; don't you see me?
Speeches of Justification
                                                     Close Readings
                                                      Act 3 Scene 2
Act 3, Scene 2
(The kitchen -- slaves at work. Enter HANNAH, right)

     HANNAH Oh, Cato, do go and tell missis dat you don't want to jump de broomstick wid me, -- dat's a good man! Do, Cato; kase
     I nebber can love you. It was only las week dat massa sold my Sammy, and I don't want any udder man. Do go tell missis dat you
     don't want me.

      CATO No, Hannah, I ain't a gwine to tell missis no such think, kase I dose want you, and I ain't a-gwine to tell a lie for you ner
      nobody else. Dar, now you's got it! I don't see why you need to make so much fuss. I is better lookin' den Sam; an' I is a house
      servant, an' Sam was only a fiel hand; so you ought to feel proud of a change. So go and do as missis tells you.
(exit HANNAH, left) Hannah needn't try to get me to tell a lie; I ain't a-gwine to do it, kase I dose want her, an' I is bin wantin' her dis
      long time, an' soon as massa sold Sam, I knowed I would get her. By golly, I is gwine to be a married man. Won't I be happy!
      Now, ef I could only jess run away from ole massa, an' get to Canada wid Hannah, den I'd show 'em who I was. Ah! dat reminds
      me of my song 'bout ole massa and Canada, an' I'll sing it fer yer. Dis is my moriginal hyme. It comed into my head one night
      when I was fass asleep under an apple tree, looking up at de moon. Now for my song : --
AIR -- "Dandy Jim" Come all ye bondmen far and near, Let's put a song in massa's ear, It is a song for our poor race, Who're whipped
      and trampled with disgrace.
[CHORUS] My old massa tells me, Oh, This is a land of freedom, Oh; Let's look about and see if it's so, Just as massa tells me, Oh. He
      tells us of that glorious one, I think his name was Washington, How he did fight for liberty, To save a threepence tax on tea.
(Chorus) But now we look about and see That we poor blacks are not so free; We're whipped and thrashed about like fools, And have
      no chance at common schools.
(Chorus) They take our wives, insult and mock, And sell our children on the block, They choke us if we say a word, And say that
      "niggers" shan't be heard.
(Chorus) Our preachers, too, with whip and cord, Command obedience in the Lord; They say they learn it from the big book, But for
      ourselves, we dare not look.
(Chorus) There is a country far away, I think they call it Canada, And if we reach Victoria's shore, They say that we are slaves no more.
      Now haste, all bondmen, let us go, And leave this Christian country, Oh; Haste to the land of the British Queen, Where whips
      for negroes are not seen. Now, if we go, we must take the night, And never let them come in sight; The bloodhounds will be on
      our track, And wo to us if they fetch us back. Now haste all bondmen, let us go, And leave this Christian country, Oh; God help
      us to Victoria's shore, Where we are free and slaves no more!
(Enter Mrs. GAINES, left )
                                 Jumping the Broom

Is a ceremony dating back to the 1600s and derived from Africa. Dating back to slave days, jumping the broom together
      has been part of weddings for couples who want to honor that tradition. It also has roots in the Celtic culture and
      including but not limited to Welsh, Celtics, Druids, and Gypsies and some aboriginal or shamanistic cultures.
Some couples choose to incorporate it into traditional and non-traditional ceremonies. Broom jumping is a brief
      ceremony usually within the wedding ceremony toward the end. The jumping of the broom is symbolic of binding
      a couple in marriage and also can be used to symbolize fertility and prosperity of the couple.
The "Jumping the Broom" is a ceremony in which the bride and groom, either at the ceremony or at the reception,
      signify their entrance into a new life and their creation of a new family by symbolically "sweeping away" their
      former single lives, former problems and concerns, and jumping over the broom to enter upon a new adventure as
      wife and husband.
Jumping the broom or in some cases jumping over an imaginary line is an African ritual, or tradition still being practiced
      in some parts of West Africa. Jumping the broom is not associated with slavery. Enslaved Africans, as an
      affirmation of their cultural heritage practiced it during slavery in North America.
This "leap" into a new life (marriage as wife and husband is performed in the presence of families and friends. You can
      be as creative as you want when planning for this special ceremony.
The broom has both symbolic and spiritual importance in the African culture. The ritual itself was created by our
      ancestors during slavery. Because slaves could not legally marry, they created their own rituals to honor their
      unions. Some say broom jumping comes from an African tribal marriage ritual of placing sticks on the ground
      representing the couple's new home.
The straws of the broom represent family; the handle represents the Almighty; the ribbon represents the tie that binds
      the couple together.
                            Melodrama
                         Swept off Her Feet
MRS. GAINES Yes, Melinda, I will see that you are taken away, but it shall be after
a fashion that you won't like. I know that your master loves you, and I intend to
put a stop to it. Here, drink the contents of this vial, -- drink it!

MELINDA Oh, you will not take my life, -- you will not!

MRS. GAINES Drink the poison this moment !

MELINDA I cannot drink it.

MRS. GAINES I tell you to drink this poison at once. Drink it, or I will thrust this
knife to your heart! The poison or the dagger, this instant!
(she draws a dagger; MELINDA retreats to the back of the room, and seizes a
broom .)

MELINDA I will not drink the poison!
(they fight; MELINDA sweeps off Mrs. GAINES, -- cap, combs and curls. Curtain
falls)
                                               Close Reading
                                               Act 3 Scene 3
    MAJ. MOORE Yes, madam, I am. I rather like the Colonel's situation here.

    MRS. GAINES It is thought to be a fine location.
(enter SAMPEY, right) Hand me my fan, will you, Sampey?
(SAMPEY gets the fan and passes near the MAJOR, who mistakes the boy for the Colonel's son. He reaches out his
    hand)

    MAJ. MOORE How do you do, Bob? Madam I should have known that this was the Colonel's son, if I had met
    him in California; for he looks so much like his papa.

     MRS. GAINES
(to the boy) Get out of here this minute. Go to the kitchen.
(exit SAMPEY, right) That is one of the niggers, sir.

    MAJ. MOORE I beg your pardon, madam; I beg your pardon.

    MRS. GAINES No offence, sir; mistakes will be made. Ah! here comes the Colonel.
(Enter Dr. GAINES, center)

    DR. GAINES Bless my soul, how are you, Major? I'm exceedingly pleased to see you. Be seated, be seated,
    Major.

     MRS. GAINES Please excuse me, gentlemen; I must go and look after dinner, for I've no doubt that the Major
     will have an appetite for dinner, by the time it is ready.
(exit Mrs. GAINES, right)
(Interior of a dungeon -- GLEN in chains)

   GLEN When I think of my unmerited sufferings, it almost drives me mad. I struck
   the doctor, and for that, I must remain here loaded with chains. But why did he
   strike me? He takes my wife from me, sends her off, and then comes and beats me
   over the head with his cane. I did right to strike him back again. I would I had killed
   him. Oh! there is a volcano pent up in the hearts of the slaves of these Southern
   States that will burst forth ere long. When that day comes, wo to those whom its
   unpitying fury may devour! I would be willing to die, if I could smite down with
   these chains every man who attempts to enslave his fellow-man.
(Enter SAMPEY, right)

    SAMPEY Glen, I jess bin hear massa call de oberseer , and I spec somebody is
    gwine to be whipped. Anudder ting: I know whar massa took Linda to. He took her
    to de poplar farm, an' he went away las' night, an' missis she follow after massa, an'
    she ain't come back yet. I tell you, Glen, de debil will be to pay on dis place, but
    don't you tell anybody dat I tole you.
(exit SAMPEY, right)

								
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