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Highlights: Former slave who sought Vt. governor’s help focus of script

  • Stephanie Berry will play the lead role in the staged reading of "Lucy Prince Walks to Norwich" at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Vt., on Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, at 2 p.m. (Courtesy photograph)

  • "Lucy Prince Walks to Norwich" co-screenwriter Richard Wesley in an undated photograph. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Filmmaker Nora Jacobson in her home studio in Norwich, Vt., on June 22, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/7/2019 10:00:19 PM
Modified: 8/7/2019 10:00:11 PM

If you never learned in history class about Lucy Terry Prince, welcome to the club — and to a live-action primer about the former slave who trekked up the Connecticut River in 1785 to talk Vermont’s governor into helping her resolve a dispute with a racist neighbor.

On Sunday afternoon at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Norwich filmmaker Nora Jacobson and veteran playwright and screenwriter Richard Wesley will co-direct a cast of New York-based and Upper Valley actors through a staged reading of the script for their proposed movie, Lucy Prince Walks to Norwich.

“I had heard about Lucy in passing over the years,” Wesley, who is African-American, said this week from New York, “but I didn’t know exactly what the specifics of her life were, the nature of her importance, until I read the research material that Nora had. The more I learned, the more the story grew on me.

“The opportunity to talk about American history and the roles people played in it made it that much more compelling for me.”

Jacobson first learned about Lucy Prince’s tale while assembling Freedom & Unity: the Vermont Movie, a six-part series about the Green Mountain State’s culture and history released in 2013. In preparing a segment on Vermont’s far-from-kumbaya history of race relations, director Jay Craven had interviewed former Dartmouth English professor Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina about her book Mr. and Mrs. Prince, which explores Lucy’s life with her husband, Abijah Prince.

After engineering his own freedom from a minister in western Massachusetts, Abijah courted, married and started a family with the much younger Lucy Terry. Before their marriage, Lucy had written Bars Fight, an account in verse of a 1746 Indian attack she witnessed in Deerfield, Mass., that is believed to be the first poem composed by an African-American woman.

“I read Gretchen’s book with great interest,” Jacobson recalled last week. “I started asking a lot of questions: ‘Who would Lucy have stayed with in Norwich? Her coming here would have been a novelty. How was she received? What did she do while she was there?’ ”

Next question was how to dramatize it. First Jacobson talked with Freedom & Unity producer Rob Koier about filming Lucy Prince’s walk as the kickoff to a series of 10 hour-long movies, called A Peculiar Freedom, about the evolution of the African-American experience in the state up through the Civil War.

“Trouble was, we’re both white,” Jacobson recalled. “We realized that we didn’t want just white Vermonters to do (the Lucy project). We wanted to collaborate with people who were closer to the experience.”

Then a mutual friend told Wesley about the project in early 2016, and the partnership began.

“I remember one discussion with (Koier) about how even then, in the 1780s and the early 19th century, there were these questions flying about,” Wesley recalled. “ ‘Who is an American? What is an American?’ And here we are in the first 20 years of the 21st century, still debating that.

“Now more than ever, this is a time for us to tell this story.”

Once the screenplay took shape, Jacobson and Wesley worked their respective networks to build the cast for the reading. New York-based stage and screen actress Stephanie Berry will portray the late-middle-aged Lucy, and British actor Obi Abili will read the role of the aging Abijah.

On a stage designed by Duncan Nichols, much of the supporting cast will look familiar to Upper Valley audiences. In addition to Will Moore playing the racist neighbor John Noyes, Mike Backman will read Lucy’s and Abijah’s former owners and Katie Kitchel will portray Noyes’ wife Orvis.

While a previous commitment will keep her from attending Sunday’s staged reading, southern Vermont performance artist and educator Shanta Lee Gander is looking forward to Lucy’s next steps. In the last couple of years around the Brattleboro area, she has been performing a one-woman show, built around Lucy reciting the poem for which she’s best known.

“It’s important for everyone to learn about African-American perspectives other than the narrative lens of a victim, or of white people rescuing them from their victim-hood,” Gander said. “I’d love to talk to Nora (Jacobson) as this progresses. It sounds so exciting.”

Upper Valley Arts and the Norwich Historical Society host a staged reading of the screenplay for Lucy Prince Walks to Norwich on Sunday afternoon at 2 at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. Admission is by donation.

Best bets

Amplified Arts stages three performances of Shakespeare in Love, an adaptation of the Oscar-winning movie, this week at its theater in downtown Claremont. While Thursday night’s show is sold out, tickets ($12 to $15) remain for Friday and Saturday nights. To learn more, visit amplifiedartsnh.com.

■The ArtisTree Community Arts Center hosts a night of traditional west-African drumming and dance on Friday night at its Hayloft space in South Pomfret. Before the 7:30 performance (admission $15), there will be a drumming workshop at 6 ($15 fee) and a dance lesson at 7 ($5). All ages and abilities welcome. To learn more, visit artistreevt.org.

■Sensible Shoes headlines the music-makers during the annual Taste of Woodstock on Saturday, taking the stage at 11 a.m. to play its danceable blend of rock and pop in the village’s downtown. The festival, which also includes food and drink from area vendors, runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

■The New York Theatre Workshop continues its summer residency at Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center with the staging of two plays-in-progress on Saturday at the Warner Bentley Theater. At 4 p.m., Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar (Disgraced, 2013), performs an as-yet-untitled dramatic monologue based on his experience as a Muslim-American.

And at 7:30 p.m., the workshop test-drives Look Upon Our Lowliness, Harrison David Rivers’ exploration of loss and laughter through the eyes and voices of seven men.

Admission is $10 to $15 per play.

■The Saint-Gaudens Memorial in Cornish continues the celebration of its 100thh anniversary on Sunday afternoon at 2, with pianist Henry Danaher, soprano Angela Biggs, violinist Lisa Ferrigno, flutist Melissa Richmond and singer-guitarist Lauren Bateman performing music connected with historic moments at the home of the late sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Admission is included in the $10 entry fee to the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park.

■Rutland-based singer-guitarist Krishna Guthrie joins local troubadour Jim Yeager’s weekly gig at the Woodstock Inn’s Richardson Tavern on Monday night at 8.

Theater/performance art

Catch Me If You Can, a musical adapted from the Tom Hanks/Leonardo DiCaprio movie, performances at New London Barn Playhouse through Aug. 18. Tickets $20 to $37.

Macbeth, Opera North performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy at Lebanon Opera House, Thursday night at 7:30 and Saturday afternoon at 5. Admission $25 to $50. Call 603-448-0400.

Music

JigJam, bluegrass, Thursday night at 5:30, during Feast & Farm Market at Fable Farm in Barnard. Free.

■Marc Berger, roots, Thursday night at 7 at Colburn Park in Lebanon. Free.

■HuDost, folk rock, Friday night at 5:30 on lawn behind North Universalist Chapel in Woodstock. Admission by donation.

■JukeJoynt, folk-rock, Friday night at 6:15 on downtown Lebanon mall; Draa Hobbs Quartet, jazz, Saturday night at 6:15. Free.

■Freese Brothers Big Band, Friday night at 6:30 at Haddad Bandstand in New London. Free.

■Singer-songwriters Harvey Reid and Joyce Anderson, folk/roots, Friday night at 7:30 at The Livery in Sunapee Harbor. Admission $15.

■Singer Susan Brison and guitarist Billy Rosen, jazz, Saturday morning and afternoon at Norwich Farmers Market.

■Sly Richard, roots/folk, Saturday night at 7 at Orford Bandstand.

■Classicopia duo of mezzo-soprano Erma Mellinger and pianist Daniel Weiser, performances from The Great American Songbook, Saturday night at 7:30 at Old South Church in Windsor, and Sunday afternoon at 4 at First Congregational Church of Lebanon. Admission $15 for church members, $20 for others.

■Cellist Norman Fischer and pianist Jeanne Kierman Fischer, classical works of Beethoven, Schumann, Ravel, Couperin and Lili Boulanger on Sunday afternoon at 2, at the First Congregational Church of Lebanon. Admission $25 for adults. Norman Fischer’s master class for cello, at 4 at neighboring Upper Valley Music Center, is free for observers. For more information, visit uvmusic.org.

■Grippo Funk Band, Tuesday night at 6:30 at Fairlee Town Common. Free.

■Cardigan Mountain Tradition, folk/roots, Tuesday night at 7 at Canaan Town Common. Free.

■East Bay Jazz Ensemble, Wednesday night at 6:30 at Quechee Green.

■Dr. Harp Blues Revue Band, Wednesday night at 6:30, at Ben Mere Bandstand overlooking Sunapee Harbor.

Bar and club circuit

Rebecca Turmel, pop/rock/folk, Thursday night at 6 at Peyton Place in Orford; Will Gardner, rock and pop, Sunday night at 6.

■The Jerrymanders, roots rock, Thursday night at 7 at Windsor Station; Turner Round, rock, Friday night at 9:30; Johnny O, rock, Tuesday night at 6.

■Repeat Offenders, rock, Friday night at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

■SIRSY, rock, Friday night at 8 at Taverne on the Square in Claremont.

■Singer-songwriter Will Michaels, Saturday afternoon at 4 on front porch of Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon.

■Guitarist Neil Fitzgerald, Saturday night at 7:30 at North Common Arts in Chelsea. Admission $10.

■Royalton singer-songwriter Alison “AliT” Turner, Sunday afternoon at 2 at SILO Distillery in Windsor.

■Sensible Shoes, danceable rock and pop, Sunday afternoon at 5 at Harpoon Brewery in Windsor.

■Rose Hip Jam, folk/roots, Sunday night at 5:30, weekly Loch Lyme Lodge supper buffet on Post Pond (admission $10 to $25); Derek Burkins, singer-guitarist Derek Burkins, Wednesday night at 5:30 during weekly cookout (admission $8 to $20). For reservations, call 603-795-2141.

■Saxophonist Michael Parker with singer Josh Hall, soul and jazz, Tuesday night at 6 at Crossroads Bar and Grill in South Royalton; and with guitarist Billy Rosen, jazz, Wednesday night at 5:30 at Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm.

■Jazz pianist Sonny Saul, Wednesday night at 6:30 at On the River Inn in Woodstock.

Open mics/jam sessions

Alec Currier’s open-mic at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon, Thursday nights at 8.

■Joseph Stallsmith’s hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass, Monday nights at 6 at Salt hill Pub in Hanover.

■Fiddler Jakob Breitbach’s acoustic jam session of bluegrass, Americana and old-timey music, Tuesday nights at 7 at Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

■Tom Masterson’s open mic, Tuesday nights at 7 at Colatina Exit.

■Jim Yeager hosts open mics on Tuesday night at at 6 at The Public House Pub in Quechee; and at Skunk Hollow Tavern on Wednesday night at 8.

■Open mic night, Wednesday at 7 at Orford Bandstand.

Looking Ahead

New London pianist William Ogmundson ranges from early Shaker melodies to boogie-woogie next Thursday night at 7 at First Baptist Church of New London. Admission $5 to $25. To reserve tickets and learn more, visit summermusicassociates.org or call 603-526-8234.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com or 603-727-3304. Send entertainment news to highlights@vnews.com.




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