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“Rebecca” – premiere at WICA

February 8, 2012

“Rebecca” – and the Land

I can see it now… in my mind’s eye: the land. It stretches out – bands of green and yellow and black: squash fields, hay stubble, and black earth – punctuated by farmhouses, sheds, and barns, ringed by forest and shore. For centuries, Native Americans gathered  camas root and nettles on this prairie and then burned it… year after year, layer after layer of ash, rich in nutrients which became the farms and fields of Ebey’s Landing.

“Rebecca – the story of Rebecca Ebey” is a story about a woman – and the pioneer community she was part of here on Whidbey Island. But it is also a story about this place:  the wind and the rain and the seabirds that still circle its fields, their cries echoing across the sky – just as they did when Rebecca and Isaac Ebey came here in 1851.

After more than three years of preparation, “Rebecca” will premier at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley, WA, on March 23, 2012. From stumbling across a diary at our local historical society museum to a full length theatrical production, it has been a long journey; almost as long in many ways as Rebecca’s from Missouri to the (then) Oregon Territory in 1851 as part of the Great Migration. That is part of the production as well – the journey made vivid through the voices of people who lived it. And then there’s the diary – beginning as Rebecca and husband, Issac and their two young sons first settled on the land that now bears their name in June 1851. An intensely personal document, it was the place Rebecca could pour out things she would never have spoken aloud: joy in the warmth and love of family and the beauty of the land, pride in the development of the tiny community and the region, frustration and fear at the challenges she faced. This is a pioneer journal unlike any I have ever read. All are interesting, but this one is unique for it’s depth of feeling and the beauty of it’s prose. Weeks of research at the Special Collections Library at the University of Washington yielded up boxes of letters and personal correspondence of Ebey and Davis family members which deepened and enriched the story. I remember an “aha” moment at the library when – suddenly – as I read a letter, an important thread of the story was revealed. It was everything I could do not to jump up out of my chair and shriek! Those moments more than made up for long periods of tedium and frustration.

But the most powerful moments in this preparation process have involved contact with the land. This from an essay on September 30, 2011:

“An old apple tree stands north of the Ferry House with a large hole in its trunk, its bounty scattered about on the ground. I gaze up and wonder: how old are you? 50 years? 60? Who planted you here? Did he or she live here long enough to taste your fruit? I wander about, searching the ground for good specimens.

Later, my pockets bulging, I take my first bite. Its tangy sweetness is a delight: a delicious culmination of this day and scene. The wind whistles in my ear and I can hear the surf sounds below. Rebecca heard those same sounds… over a hundred years ago. Yesterday was the 108th anniversary of her death. Now… for just a moment… it is almost as if we share this landscape together….”

For more information on the production, please contact the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, 800-638-7631 or 360-221-8268 or www.WICAonline.com.

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