NATF Playhouse 2020 - Special Listening
William's Leap For Freedom
adapted by Renee Pringle
Saturday, June 13, 2020 12:00pm
William's Leap for Freedom, hosted by Dion Graham, is an original one hour audio drama based on the life of freed slave William Wells Brown. The Audie-nominated performance was recorded live at the June 2010 NATF workshop in West Plains, Missouri and stars Mirron E. Willis as Wells Brown and features Barbara Rosenblat along with a multi-voice cast.
William's Leap for Freedom is a two part drama; a play within a play. This performance, was adapted for audio from the stage play, William Wells Brown's Leap for Freedom written for the stage by Dr. Cheryl Black of the University of Missouri Department of Theatre.
Dr. Black's play was written and produced in 2008 for the Missouri State Historical society's Missouri History in Performance Theater. In 2009 it was adapted for the National Audio Theartre Festivals by Renee Pringle of NPR, with assistance from mentor Sue Zizza.
Beginning with a fictionalized conversation between William Wells Brown and Mr. Polite, this audio dramatization then introduces part two of the play which features selected portions of The Escape or Leap for Freedom, as it relates to the tale of three slaves, Cato, Glen and Melinda. Brown often stated that this play specifically was autobiographical. The couple, Glen and Melinda, did exist, while Cato is Brown himself.
ABOUT WILLIAM WELLS BROWNWells Brown was born a slave in Lexington, Kentucky in 1814. It is said that his mother was the daughter of Daniel Boone and a black slave, while his father was known to be a member of the Wickliffe family of Kentucky and Louisiana.
Throughout his lifetime, Brown was a fugitive slave, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, an abolitionist, an anti-slavery lecturer, an historian, a medical doctor, and a poet.
Brown is the author of the first novel, the first drama, and the first travelogue published by an African American in the U.S. His particular life experiences gave him a thorough education and with that came an understanding of human nature, and of American culture and society, from 1814 through 1884.
In 1856, Brown decided to stop giving lectures at paid abolitionist engagements and instead began performing his dramas. Through drama he emphasized that all Americans, northern and southern, participated in deceptions necessary to support the system of slavery.
A popular form of drama at the time was the blackface minstrel. Using minstrel comedy in reverse, Brown was able to dispel familiar stereotypes and ridicule the perpetrators of those misrepresentations. In this way, Escape or Leap for Freedom is also a commentary on the minstrel style.
Brown consistently emphasized that blacks should use wit and trickery to fight against and survive their oppression, not heroic confrontation. His dramas emphasize the oppressive circumstances of black and white women; sexual violence against black women; the emasculation of black men; the hypocrisy of the religious community, and the paradox of a system of slavery in America, the so-called land of liberty.
Brown was known as a trickster among scholars. With guile, wit, and charm, he moved his white audiences to face issues without insulting them.
This production, directed by Pringle, with assistance from producer Sue Zizza was post produced by SueMedia Production's David Shinn.
Director Renee Pringle