RISING (Scene 4)

Carolyn Nur Wistrand | Photos by James Thigpen


About RISING

RISING, written by Carolyn Nur Wistrand, a lecturer II in Africana Studies, won the 2011 Mario Fratti-Fred Newman Political Playwriting Contest in New York City with the Castillo Theatre. RISING was also featured in PlayLabs at the 2011 Great Plains National Theatre Conference Omaha, Nebraska.

Rising PosterRISING tells the story of American men and women, black and white, discovering the costs of freedom. On the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation, Helen Bruce, a free African American schoolteacher from Baltimore, begins teaching a night class for slave women on an island in South Carolina recently liberated by the Union Army. As they learn to read and write, the women struggle with what it might be like to be free in a re-imagined America.

RISING is the result of a Research & Creativity Grant awarded to three faculty members in the Department of Africana Studies, Guluma Gemeda Ph.D., Carolyn Nur Wistrand M.F.A., and George Moss M.A., to conduct research on the education of freed slaves on the Sea Islands of South Carolina during and after the Civil War. Nur Wistrand’s task was to write a historical drama based on the research uncovered by Gemeda and Moss.

UM-Flint’s Department of Africana Studies will present a FULL STAGED PRODUCTION OF RISING on campus, Sunday , March 25, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the KIVA AUDITORIUM. Free and open to the public.

(NOTE: RISING has been awarded a grant to tour urban schools in Michigan from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs & National Endowment for the Arts with additional funding from the Office of Research and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UM-Flint.)
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Historical Background: St. Helena Island, South Carolina

Shortly after the Civil War began in 1861, the Union took control of the Sea Islands on the eastern coast of South Carolina. When the planters fled inland, over ten thousand enslaved Africans remained on the islands. Designated “contraband” by the federal government, a plan went into effect to recruit Northern abolitionists to educate and oversee production of long staple cotton. By April of 1862, public education for freed slaves began in abandoned plantations, praise houses, and churches. RISING is a reminder of the sacrifices made by past generations to participate in the act of reading and writing.
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Scene 4:

October 27, 1862, Parlor. Fripp Plantation. St. Helena Island, South Carolina

Soft sounds from the Atlantic Ocean fill the dimly lit plantation parlor. French doors USC lead out to the veranda that faces the ocean. The parlor now serves as a schoolroom. A teakettle and cooking pot hang in the fireplace to the side. Chairs surround the table. Picture cards, a bible, books, pencils, slates, rulers, large map, teapot, cups, napkins, sugar bowl, and fruit bowl are on the oak table.

HelenMercyAmaretta
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HELEN sits at the table writing by a kerosene lamp. MERCY and AMARETTA enter from the offstage kitchen. MERCY, an attractive cook and midwife, has a natural kindness in her soft speech. AMARETTA, a spirited field and root woman, has more than a few memories of not holding her tongue.

MERCY:
We here for our lesson, Miss Helen.

HELEN:
Come in.

MERCY and AMARETTA cross into the parlor as HELEN rises holding the journal.

HELEN (CONT.):
How are you this evening?

AMARETTA:
Stirring.

MERCY:
Spared.

MERCY and AMARETTA cross to the oak table and take seats.

AMARETTA:
This sugar?

HELEN:
Yes, Colonel Higginson brought it over from the camp.

MERCY:
Sugar in October… Uhum.

AMARETTA:
Christmas since we seen that.

HELEN:
Is Reena coming?

AMARETTA:
Out by the marsh. Girl strain me.

MERCY:
You write in all them pages?

HELEN:
Just my thoughts.

MERCY:
Why you do that?

HELEN:
(passing out books)
So I can remember the day.

AMARETTA:
Too many bad thoughts up here.

HELEN
What about your good thoughts?

AMARETTA:
Maybe I can catch one.

HELEN:
I hope so. Let’s begin. Please open your books to Lesson 2.

HELEN, AMARETTA, and MERCY open primer books.

HELEN (CONT.):
What do you see in the picture?

AMARETTA:
Dog. Look like he running.

HELEN:
Let’s pronounce the words underneath the picture.

The lesson is conducted in rapid pronunciation as HELEN pronounces the words. MERCY and AMARETTA repeat the words.

HELEN/MERCY/AMARETTA:
(in unison)
“Dog—the—ran. . .”

HELEN:
Mercy.

MERCY:
“Dog…”

HELEN:
“The…”

MERCY:
“The…”

HELEN:
“Ran.”

MERCY:
“Ran.”

HELEN:
Good. Amaretta.

AMARETTA:
“Dog…the…”

HELEN:
“Ran.”

AMARETTA:
“Ran.”

HELEN:
Very good. Let’s look at the first line again. Remember there are 26 letters in the English alphabet and to make the first and last words we must use the letters “a,” “o,” “n,” “d,” “g,” “r.”

MERCY:
Letters be sound.

HELEN:
Absolutely. Let’s review the sounds of each letter on the second line.

HELEN/MERCY/AMARETTA:
(in unison)
“A—o—n—d—g—r.”

HELEN:
Excellent. Close your books. Now, let’s repeat the first line with the three cards. “Dog the ran.”

AMARETTA/MERCY:
“Dog the ran.”

AMARETTA:
Don’t sound right.

HELEN:
Exactly. But if we place “the” first, we will form a sentence.
(placing “the” card first)
“The dog ran.”
(scrambling cards)
Now you try it.

AMARETTA:
(placing “the” card first)
“The dog ran.”

MERCY:
(holding up card)
I likes the picture.

HELEN:
That picture represents a noun.

MERCY:
Look like a dog.

HELEN:
A noun is a person, place, or thing.

AMARETTA:
All that?

HELEN:
Every person is a noun and every place is a noun. This is St. Helena Island. An island is a noun, because we have given the island a name, St. Helena, it is a proper noun.

AMARETTA:
A name proper?

HELEN:
Yes, if I were to say “woman” that would be a noun, but if I were to say, “Amaretta,” that would be a proper noun, because I have stated your name.

MERCY:
Which card say proper?

HELEN:
The cards are pictures of nouns. The word “proper” is an adjective.

AMARETTA:
You say proper noun.

HELEN:
Proper is an adjective because it tells us something about a noun. A woman is a noun but an adjective tells us more about her. Is she nice? Is she happy?

AMARETTA:
Got mean women around here.

MERCY:
Mind you.

HELEN:
What about your names, did you practice your penmanship?

AMARETTA:
(pulling scrap of paper from apron)
Been trying to make my name sensible.

HELEN:
May I see it?

AMARETTA hands HELEN the paper.

HELEN (CONT.):
This is a very strong “A.”

AMARETTA:
Three “A’s” on my name.

HELEN:
Indeed.

MERCY:
What your title, Miss Helen?

HELEN:
My first name is Helen and my last name is Bruce.

MERCY:
Bruce your title.

HELEN:
Legally, it is very important that everyone have a first and last name.

AMARETTA:
Don’t have a mind to carry no title.

HELEN:
But you are going to need one.

AMARETTA:
Massa and Missus just sit down to supper when the big gun shoot break at Bay Point. Jump up and leave the whole table. We run in the marsh and hide. Massa yell, “They coming! Get in the boat before they send you to Cuba!” Nobody move. Soon as the smoke settle Yankees all over this place. Call for everybody come in the yard. Soldiers line us up. “All you from Fripp plantation over here. Coffin plantation over there. Anybody belong to Eden get on the side.” Massa say we his at sunrise—in the evening Union boy say we contraband. Soldier bring Massa Fripp book to the Captain. Everybody look to see what he do now. I told that Captain, “don’t give me no title say Fripp when Jordan roll!”

MERCY:
Shout it out in the Praise House, sister!

AMARETTA/MERCY:
(falling into the song)
“My brother sitting on the tree of life
“And he heard when Jordan roll
“Roll, Jordan, Roll, Jordan, Roll, Jordan, roll!
“O march the angel march, O march the angel march
“O my soul arise in Heaven, Lord
“Forty yards when Jordan roll.”

AMARETTA:
(fanning herself)
You make me sensible of the holy book?

HELEN:
Absolutely.

MERCY:
My man the best carpenter around here before he go off with the volunteers. We gonna marry when he get a pass. How Mercy Carpenter sound?

AMARETTA:
Put a knife in your back Cousin Thursday hear it.

MERCY:
He ain’t coming here.

AMARETTA:
The brother coming. Soon as Edisto Island free he coming. Cousin Thursday come around—marry him.

MERCY:
I ain’t got time to hear it.

AMARETTA:
We be in that field—back broke planting these rows with our men at Hilton Head.

HELEN:
Does it help, the Union paying you wages?

AMARETTA:
Ain’t seen it yet. Need to be planting our own patch…corn and slip potatoes. Food for the winter got to get in the ground now. Captain promise cloth, molasses, coffee…shoes. It coming up on winter.

MERCY:
Is we contraband or is we free?

HELEN:
That is why we are fighting this war. You are going to be paid for your tasks as soon as Mr. Verner ships that cotton North.

AMARETTA:
Need to bring us some cloth, molasses, bacon—something. Massa Fripp give out cloth at spring and Christmas. Union boys been here since last winter—ain’t got nothing since they come.

Reena REENA enters with a fanner basket on her head and a bucket of fresh water in her hand from the kitchen.

AMARETTA (CONT.):
Mind now, mind before I knock you! You bring salt marsh in here! Knock you hard!

REENA:
Don’t be mannish.
(setting bucket by fireplace)
Got you fresh eggs, Miss Helen.

HELEN:
Thank you, Reena. Please put them in the bowl. Did you work on your penmanship?

REENA:
Yes, Miss.

REENA takes eggs from the basket on her head and places them in the bowl on the table as JUDE FRIPP, a young white man, appears on the veranda catching REENA’S eye.
Jude Fripp
HELEN:
We are going to practice writing sentences. We’ll use the cards to help us.

REENA:
(gazing at JUDE)
Can’t stay long.

HELEN:
Is something wrong?

REENA:
Here my name.
(pulls paper from head wrap and reads)
“Reena Fripp.”

AMARETTA:
Massa made you fat as his pig.

REENA:
Is you alone in here, Miss Helen?

HELEN:
Yes. Mr. Verner left for Beaufort this afternoon.

REENA:
I see them loading down on Land’s End.

HELEN:
They should be back tomorrow.
(turns as JUDE limps from view)
Sweet Jesus. There is someone out there.

REENA:
He gone.

HELEN:
Did you see him?

REENA:
A soldier—passed him coming in.

HELEN:
(moving towards the French doors)
That boy was limping.

REENA:
(crossing to HELEN)
Nothing wrong with him.

HELEN:
Are you sure?

REENA:
He a soldier. I seen him.

HELEN:
He looked wounded. There could be a rebel around here.

REENA:
No rebel come here.

HELEN:
That’s not true, there have been four sightings—we should get word to Colonel Higginson.

MERCY crosses to the fireplace, where the kettle hangs.

REENA:
Captain shoot him!

HELEN:
He would not shoot one of his own men.

REENA:
Shoot him he leave camp. Told that boy, “Get back to camp before Captain shoot you!” Run down the road…dog come up and bit him.

HELEN:
A dog?

REENA:
Plenty blood hounds by the marsh.

MERCY brings kettle to the table and prepares tea.

HELEN:
We must notify Colonel Higginson tonight.

REENA:
It no blood hound.

HELEN:
Then what are you saying?

REENA:
He fell, that’s all.

AMARETTA:
That girl strain me.

HELEN:
What are you hiding?

REENA:
Give him my word I don’t tell.

HELEN:
(authoritative)
Tell me the truth right now!

REENA:
He been drinking whiskey.

HELEN:
I see.

AMARETTA:
Come in here and spoil the lesson. Knock you dead!

HELEN:
We’ll continue on Thursday.

MERCY:
Need to rest these bones before day clean.

AMARETTA:
Got to be in the field early.

HELEN:
Take some sugar. Here, use these napkins.

AMARETTA and MERCY place teaspoons of sugar in napkins.

AMARETTA:
Sun rise sweet on my first two rows.

REENA:
(sucking sugar)
Sleep here—make you safe, Miss Helen.

MERCY:
Mind you do. Night, Miss Helen.

MERCY exits.

HELEN:
Good night, Mercy, Amaretta.

AMARETTA:
Night, Miss.

AMARETTA exits.

REENA:
(lying on the floor)
Pine smell sweet by the fire. You ain’t gonna tell Captain is you?

HELEN:
No—since you gave that boy your word but you must stop lying. Our soldiers need to be sober to win this war.

REENA
I tell you.

HELEN:
That will be my prayer tonight.

HELEN crosses to her room with the kerosene lamp and enters. JUDE reappears at the French doors. REENA crosses to the French doors, stealthily opens them and exits. ZULEE, a young Gullah woman with a severed right hand enters from the kitchen. ZULEE looks around the room, crosses to a hidden passageway that leads into HELEN’S bedroom, pushes on the concealed door, and crawls inside.

Continuum

Experience the other powerful scences and performances in RISING during the FULL STAGED PRODUCTION OF RISING on campus, Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the KIVA AUDITORIUM. Free and open to the public.*

Full Cast of RISING:

Helen Bruce Helen Bruce….portrayed by….Dia Price
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Fletcher Walker Fletcher Walker….portrayed by….Randy Owens
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Brigid Tally Brigid Tally….portrayed by….Jessica Back
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Dr. Gordon Dr. Gordon….portrayed by….Dean VanDerkolk
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Amaretta Amaretta….portrayed by….Tawana Parks
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Mercy Mercy….portrayed by….Arnita Evans
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Reena Reena….portrayed by….Tasiphoney Hardnett
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Zulee Zulee….portrayed by….Jenee’ Price
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Carper Carper….portrayed by….Phil Kautz
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Mr. Verner Mr. Verner….portrayed by….Phillip Barnhart
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Patroller Patroller….portrayed by….Joe Schipani
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Jude Fripp Jude Fripp….portrayed by….Aaron Snider
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Inmate Inmate….portrayed by….Martha Tillmon-Dunn
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TIDBIT: The background image on this page is a map of St. Helena Sound circa 1861.