Epilogue: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

As mentioned earlier in this online journal, the cast of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy took a trip to Malaga Island, Maine, at the start of their rehearsal process — a way for the company to explore the setting of their show firsthand. The guides for that tour all attended last Saturday’s performance of Lizzie Bright, and today, guide Jim Tibensky sent director Robert Colby  a thank-you note, with a link to the below blog article (originally published here). We liked it so much, we wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!

 

Why CASKA and I Got Mentioned in the Program Notes of a Play in Boston OR Another of the unusual and wonderful places a kayak will take you

by Jim Tibensky

This September past I went to Maine, took the Maine Guide test, passed it, and planned a nice long kayak tour of Casco Bay. Eight times before I had done week-long kayak trips there, always as a guide for Omni Youth Services’ wilderness therapy program. This time I was going to do it with my friend Patty and no teens.

 

 

On what was supposed to be the first day of our trip, we were recruited to help lead a day trip of nine double kayaks. Alice, of Alice’s Awesome Adventures, the person who was hired to lead the trip, originally expected ten people. When the number increased to eighteen, she needed another guide. Two days after passing my exam, there I was.

The group that hired her was a theater troupe from Emerson College in Boston. They were putting on the play Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. And therein lies the tale.

The play, based on a book of the same name, tells the story of a mixed-race girl, Lizzie Bright Griffin, and a white boy, Turner Buckminster III, who become friends. She lives on the island of Malaga in Maine and he lives in Phippsburg on the mainland directly across from Malaga. At the closest point, Malaga is one-tenth of a mile from the mainland. One could easily be heard when shouting to someone on the opposite shore.

I have stopped on Malaga to eat lunch every time I have been to Casco Bay. But I never knew its story. Thanks to Emerson College’s theater team, I learned it. They went to Malaga to see it – to walk on its soil, to sit on its rocks, to hear its sounds, to breathe its air, and to commune with the spirits of the people who once lived there.

Since the civil war, people lived on Malaga. There were probably never more than about fifty people there at any one time. They were independent of the mainland for the most part. They fished, they built homes, they had families, they took care of themselves. Some of them were African-American, some were white, many were mixed. No one on the mainland cared much about Malaga until rich people started putting vacation homes in Maine in the early 1900s. In 1912 the governor of Maine ordered the state police to evict everyone from Malaga, hoping that someone would buy the island and build a resort or vacation home there. The homes that were not removed before the eviction were burned down. The people who could not find another place to live were placed in the Maine Home for the Feeble-Minded for the rest of their lives. The cemetery was dug up with the bodies being re-buried at that same Home for the Feeble-Minded. The five children of the Griffin family were buried in one grave. This all really happened.

No one ever lived on Malaga again. No resort was ever built there. No rich New Yorker built a vacation retreat there. Today it is a beautiful, peaceful, empty, wooded, haunted island that is owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. I won’t tell more. You can look it up at:

http://www.malagaislandmaine.org (watch the three minute video)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkHh-Y87wBY

http://www.pressherald.com/news/a-century-of-shame_2012-05-20.html?pagenum=full.

My wife, Gail, and Patty and I all went to Boston to see the play. It was amazing. The actors talked about how much it meant to them to be able to paddle to Malaga and experience it. The actress who played Lizzie calls herself “an honorary Malagite.”

I’m telling this convoluted story, in part, to praise the benefits of kayaking. You get good exercise outdoors with some of the greatest people in the world in some really lovely places and, once in a while, you meet talented young people who, by going the extra mile themselves, take you along with them into a world you thought you knew, but didn’t. And you get your name, and CASKA’s, in a theater program in Boston.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll…

This week, we’re focusing on a few local theater friends of ours, who have provided us with discounts to share with EmStage supporters. Today’s offer comes from Stoneham Theatre. Stoneham is offering a 25% discount off regular-price tickets for their production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s new adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

 JekyllPatchDR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE

adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
from the novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
directed by Caitlin Lowans

A new look at a horror classic – must close November 10!

Watch the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde trailer

Is there a good and evil side to everyone? And can we always tell the difference? In this new adaptation of the classic tale, Dr. Henry Jekyll undertakes experiments aimed at separating the best parts of his personality from the worst. When the result is the disastrous creation of his alter-ego, the savage Edward Hyde, Dr. Jekyll comes face-to-face with the very nature of good and evil. The San Francisco Chronicle calls Hatcher’s adaptation of this classic “a smart, tense, and suspenseful new take.” Don’t miss it!

To order tickets, call the Stoneham Theatre Box Office at 781-279-2200 or visit
http://boxoffice.printtixusa.com/stoneham/eventcalendar?v=0&i=0&g=0&g2=0&m=10&y=2013.

Use code JH25 to save 25%

 

…and now, for something completely different.

As you probably have noticed, Boston has a pretty rich theater community — and over the next few days, we’ll be focusing on a few local companies: friends of ours who are offering ticket discounts for members of the Emerson community!

Watch this space today, tomorrow, and Thursday. If folks are fans (like the links on Facebook, or leave a note in the comments), perhaps we’ll make this a regular series!

And now, we’re pleased to present our first featured production, from Puppet Showplace Theatre:

 

orphan2

The Orphan Circus”
by Les Sages Fous

Wed, Thurs & Fri, Nov 13, 14 & 15 at 7:30pm
32 Station Street, Brookline MA

Les Sages Fous are an award-winning company from Québec, Canada. Their celebrated “unusual” performance style combines puppetry, live acting, and ingenious production design.  “The Orphan Circus” is an awe-inspiring theatrical experience where two junk peddlers create a small circus of visual tableaux evoking the life of a cabaret troupe of derelicts and misfits — a place where the gruesome become the beauties and even impossible love can be fulfilled. Watch a short trailer about The Orphan Circus (NOTE: this link doesn’t include ticketing information)

“Imagine a close-up, dystopian Cirque du Soleil.” -Roxanna Myhrum, Artistic Director/Puppet Showplace.

“The Orphan Circus” is presented as part of the “Puppets at Night” series of evening puppetry performances for adults and teens at Puppet Showplace.

 

Special ticket offer for Emerson community: $10/ticket:
Use code 
EmersonNov2013 when you buy tickets online
LEARN MORE / BUY TICKETS

 

 

 

See ya there!

Meet the Characters of Lizzie Bright

This morning, at 10am, we kicked off our first performance of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. And it was great.

With the official start of the run here, we felt like it was a good time to introduce you to the characters of Lizzie Bright – a few actors even drop by in videos to tell you a little about their character and their experience.

This material was produced as part of the Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy education guide, by our education coordinator Bee Weinberg. Check out other educational resources here.

Want to learn more? Join us at one of our performances this weekend!

The Characters of Phippsburg

Turner Buckminster

A young boy, Turner feels out of place after moving to Phippsburg with his father. Turner’s high strung nature makes it hard for him to make friends, until he meets Lizzie.

Watch an interview with the actor who plays Turner here: Turner Buckminster Interview

Reverend Buckminster

Turner’s father, and the new preacher for Phippsburg, Maine. Having recently lost his wife, Reverend Buckminster is struggling to build a relationship with his son while establishing himself in a small  town.

Mrs. Cobb

An old woman, Mrs. Cobb teaches Turner piano lessons. She refuses to cow to the pressures of the townspeople, and sees the potential in Turner and Lizzie.

Deacon Hurd

One of the leaders of Phippsburg, Deacon Hurd is heading the movement to clear Malaga of its inhabitants in order to build a resort in town. Thinks the people of Malaga are dirty, stupid, and should be removed.

Willis Hurd

Deacon Hurd’s son. About Turner’s age, Willis doesn’t like Turner’s “big city” attitude. He struggles to decide which side is the right side on the Malaga question.

Sheriff

Working with Deacon Hurd, is trying to clear Malaga of the families that live there so the town can build a resort. Shares similar feelings with Deacon Hurd.

 

The Characters of Malaga Island

Lizzie Bright Griffin

A young black girl, Lizzie has lived on Malaga her entire life. She isn’t sure what to think of Turner at first, but her bright spirit and feisty attitude soon spark a friendship with Turner and Mrs. Cobb. Lizzie is fighting to protect her home and family from being taken from Malaga

Watch an interview with the actress who plays Lizzie here: Lizzie Bright Interview

Reverend Griffin

Lizzie’s grandfather, Reverend Griffin is a black man and a spiritual leader on Malaga Island. Old and of somewhat failing health, he helps Turner learn understand Malaga and what it means to the families that live there.

The Tripps

One of the families that lives on the island, the Tripps are a wild bunch that Turner meets when he visits the island. If Malaga is cleared, the Tripps will have nowhere to go.

 

Malaga Adventure: Why Lizzie Bright is a must-see

by Sarah Erkert, Production Dramaturg

Sometimes, as a dramaturg, you feel like much of the research you do on a play is for naught. The material can be dense and the relevance questionable, but you plunge through it hoping to find something that inspires you and that can inform the production. For Emerson Stage’s production of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, that inspiration came thanks to a visit that eighteen company members made in late summer to Malaga Island, the setting of our play. Thirteen-year-old Lizzie Bright Griffin describes the island she calls home as a magical place:

Malaga is the most perfect place God ever created. We have the tallest trees that if you climb ‘em, you can hide forever and we got all manner of birds and fish and the prettiest wild flowers and the prettiest wild natured children, at least that’s what the old folks say about us…. Malaga is a place, Turner the third, where every color of people, like every color flower live like one big family. You’ll never meet a stranger on Malaga.

Modern historians now believe that Malaga Island represented one of the most successfully integrated mixed-race communities in the United States until quite recently…but the people of nearby Phippsburg did not celebrate Malaga’s multiracial and multicultural heritage as Lizzie did. Driven by distrust — and economic interests — the more affluent community engaged in a public campaign of slander and yellow journalism against the island which ultimately culminated in the Malaga community’s eviction from the island in 1912. While Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy focuses more on the friendship between Malaga resident Lizzie and Phippsburg newcomer Turner, this historical conflict provides the backdrop for our play…and a reason for our pilgrimage.

As the fog cleared and our sea kayaks neared a small shell midden beach on the north side of the now uninhabited island, Malaga appeared exactly as Lizzie described it. Beautiful fir trees rose above us, and the opaque blue water met the solid rock cliffs of the mainland just a few hundred yards off the western edge of the island. We stepped onto the thin, moss-covered soil where Lizzie and the islanders had lived, and looked over to the neighboring town of Phippsburg, the town that had considered the shanties and mixed race community of Malaga an eyesore. It was hard to understand their point of view, as the place today does seem like “the most perfect place God ever created.” Though all the island’s structures were razed long ago, the spirit of its community still lingers.

Those who have read the young adult novel on which the play is based may recall how the wind is itself a character in the story, whispering at times, roaring at others, as it foreshadows and comments on the action of the story. Author Gary Schmidt must have visited the island, as the wind is indeed as ever-present as he describes it. It whistles on the windy shores, rustles through the tall firs, and carries the slightest hint of a musical tone. There is only one place on the island, not far from its eastern edge, where the wind is silent and respectful: the site of the community’s former cemetery. Its graves were long ago exhumed by the State of Maine, but the natural hollow where they had rested still seems to hold their spirits in peaceful silence. It’s just as Lizzie explains to Turner, “See, spirit never dies when it’s where it belongs.”

It’s hard not to feel connected to the community of Malaga when you’re standing in the middle of that silence, but with that connection also comes responsibility. The story of Malaga was brushed over and ignored for nearly a century. The descendants of Malaga were shamed for their heritage, and the neighboring communities talked of it in hushed voices. Thanks to the work of some Maine institutions, such as the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, WMPG-FM, the Maine State Museum, and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the legacy of Malaga lives on. Descendants of the families on Malaga Island have shared their stories and memories so the lessons of this time will not be forgotten. It’s just as Lizzie says: “How you going to remember what they meant to you if you don’t ever speak on ‘em?”

We will, and we are, this November in the Semel Theater.

For tickets, or more information about Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boyclick here.

An Actor Speaks: Malaga Adventure

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is the next show at Emerson Stage, with public performances in the Semel Theater Nov 1-3 (two school matinees, playing Oct 31 and Nov 1, are already sold out).

The show’s historical context comes from the true events that happened on Malaga Island, Maine in 1912 — which is why, in the first week of rehearsal, director Robert Colby took 18 designers and actors on a field trip to Malaga Island.

Reyn Beeler is a junior BFA acting student who plays Deacon Hurd in our show. Here, he shares a few thoughts about his experience of Malaga Island. 

Going to Malaga was a truly transformational experience. It solidified the ensemble nature of the cast and production team — but more importantly, it provided a lot of insight as to why we needed to produce this play.

The story of the people of Malaga and their struggle is a little known moment in history, even within the state of Maine itself. To actually see the island and walk on its shores and to see how the families could have possibly lived was inspiring.

When we were kayaking to the island there was a point during the journey where we could all see the juxtaposition of Phippsburg with the small island of Malaga. That moment, in my opinion, was the most informative moment for me as an actor developing my character of Deacon Hurd — the relationship between the two main locations of the play was awesome. Phippsburg had this gigantic American flag flying, and bunch of clean houses all neatly assembled near the shoreline in the middle of this beautifully maintained grass. In contrast, Malaga was a wondrous mass of fern, moss, uprooted and fallen trees, shells, and swamp.

Physically seeing the different atmospheres of each location helped me understand the possible perceptions the Deacon would have had of the two communities in his time period. I can only hope to translate even a fraction of the spirit that exists on Malaga to the stage when presenting its story.