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by Priscilla Kane Hellweg and Rachel Kuhn of Enchanted Circle Theater
Includes CD of entire performance
A few years ago, the Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue Committee asked us if we were interested in writing an educational theater production about the life Sojourner Truth—the brilliant abolitionist and women’s rights warrior who had lived in Western Massachusetts from 1843-1857. The Committee wanted to spread Sojourner’s powerful story to youth in our region. We enthusiastically said yes! Researching and writing Sojourner’s Truth: “I will shake every place I go to” was an extraordinary journey for us into a very rich, complex, and painful time in American history. In aspiring to tell Sojourner’s story, we wanted to be sure, as much as possible, to tell it in her own words. History is so often defined by who is telling the story.
This proved to be especially challenging as Sojourner could neither read nor write. We decided to focus on primary source documents wherever we could and place The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, the transcript of conversations between Olive Gilbert and Sojourner Truth from 1846-1850, at the center of play. We then pulled in other personal accounts of the time, added scholarly research, and juxtaposed signifi cant moments in Sojourner’s life with relevant events in American history. Throughout the writing process we researched spiritual music as a source of oral history and embedded it into the text, propelling the story forward. Finally, through a series of interviews, we created the voice of the Narrator which was essential in helping young people make the connection between Sojourner’s story and their own—a bridge between past and present.