(Update: 1-3-14)Theatrical Portrayals of Slavery and a High School Classroom

midnight cryMilwaukee residents will be able to see the historical drama, “A Midnight Cry” at First Stage January 10-February 9. The play, which includes live music, is inspired by the true story of a young slave’s journey to freedom through the Underground Railroad (Click for song clips).

UPDATE: I just read that the Skylight Theater is presenting “El Cimarron” about a real runaway Cuban Slave, Estaban Montejo. Click here for more information. The theater provides specially discounted shows for students and live talk back sessions following the performance. This will provide yet another unique perspective on slavery on stage.

My Civil War and Reconstruction course starts anew this coming12 years a slave semester. As a way to illustrate the sectional divide between the North and South,  I begin the course with a relatively in depth view of slavery (both southern defense and abolitionist perspective). I have used clips from the movie “Amistad” to show the Middle Passage, slave auctions, political debate and abolitionism. This year I will mix it up a bit to take advantage of these local theatrical offerings. I plan on having juniors and seniors attend a performance of “A Midnight Cry” and the movie, “12 Years a Slave,” as ways to analyze slavery historically but also compare how the peculiar institution is interpreted on stage and movie. I am very interested how students will react to each. The writing component of this assignment is a work in progress but Kevin Levin posted an excellent excerpt from Solomon Northup that would be a great reading for students to supplement student analysis.

Any ideas on how to compare these two performances or other primary source material that could be used would be appreciated! How do you think students would react to these two shows? How can the shows deepen their understanding of slavery and the Civil War?

A recent article in The Atlantic, “What Movies About Slavery Teach Us About Race Relations Today”, provides a great way to frame this project. The author writes that there are only 30 American films that are dedicated to slavery while over 180 films about the Holocaust.

Slavery is a past that is present in every detail of American life, from faith, to family, to love. It’s not one story, but many. To claim that story, there needs to be more than one, and for that matter, more than 30 tellings.

By viewing this movie and theatrical productions and participating in the discussions following the stage performances, I hope to learn more about why these plays were released this year. Is there more stage performances dedicated to slavery, do they see an increase and what do they provide the audience to better understand history and the present day?

Click to read a scene from “A Midnight Cry.”


2 thoughts on “(Update: 1-3-14)Theatrical Portrayals of Slavery and a High School Classroom

  1. Pingback: The Amistad slave rebellion, new book | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Slavery on Stage in Milwaukee: El Cimarron, a Cuban Nat Turner? | HistoricaLese

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