Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Plantation tour from the slave point of view: in art and in life!

I've been working for some time on a new full length play, Along the River Road, which deals with plantation tours, slave revolts and historic amnesia.  I was drawn to write this play because I've been appalled that the plantation tour industry has failed to recognize that the "romance" of the Old South was on the backs of enslaved people.  Most plantations focus on the charming lives of the planters, the "massahs," with no acknowledgement of the terror heaped on generations of those who were enslaved.  This "Gone with the Wind" version of slavery has a hold not only on the visitors to plantations along Louisiana's River Road, but on our nation as well.  We seem to have a collective amnesia regarding the truth of our national history.  I hoped my fictional Liberté Plantation, whose owner gives plantation tours from the slave point of view, would help open eyes and hearts, and that my imagined plantation would bring a different narrative to life.

It's been my great good fortune to be commissioned to develop this play through the Four Squared Collaborative Theater Project, which provides four public readings over the course of a year at four Cape Cod theaters, each followed by audience feedback.  A comment I've received is, "But is it realistic that someone would sink her savings into this plantation project?" 

And it turns out that the answer is YES!  I recently read an article about the Whitney Plantation, and less than a month ago, John Cummings and his inspired staff opened the doors to the only plantation museum in Louisiana with a focus on slavery.  You tour slave cabins before you tour the Big House.  You learn the names of hundreds of forgotten enslaved men, women and children.  You read their stories, you walk the ground they walked, and you are moved.

Yesterday I toured the Whitney Plantation.  It was like walking onto a set I imagined.  AMAZING only begins to describe it.  My hope is that my play, Along the River Road, will use the magic of theater to help people understand our collective history and our collective responsibility.  My sure conviction is that the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana can change the world.  For more info, see www.whitneyplantation.com.