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“Rebecca” – at the Crockett Barn

August 7, 2012

Sunday afternoon… sun bright in a cloudless sky…a  brisk breeze off the sea … I was standing in the door of the historic Crockett Barn, right in the middle of Ebey’s Landing, the first national historical reserve in the US: 17, 500 acres of land that one Whidbey Island resident called “the most beautiful place on the planet”.  I was about to tell the story of Rebecca Ebey, the wife of Isaac Ebey, the man who first settled this land. The barn had been built in 1895 by the family of Rebecca’s dearest friend, Susan Crockett.  To my left, cars were slowly filling up the grassy parking lot. To my right, Crockett Lake and the sea glittered in the sun.

Back in the corner behind the burlap curtain that hid my “dressing room”, I paced back and forth as the audience came through the door, talking and laughing. The old barn was filling up… and so was I. I felt such a tremendous sense of responsibility; I wanted to “get it right”. I wanted the audience to – gradually, over the 75 minute performance – grow to like and respect Rebecca Ebey as much as I did. I knew it was not going to be easy. Rebecca – well educated, sensitive, physically frail – was not a typical “pioneer woman”. In point of fact, she was a fish out of water… but she handled the situation with such courage and grace, and she wrote about her life with such skill and sensitivity: how I wanted the audience to sense that! For months, I had struggled to portray this young woman – so very different from me in so many ways – authentically. I wanted all the technical aspects of the show to work. I wanted this performance to rise to the opportunity of presenting this story on the land where it happened..

Once onstage, I spoke directly to the audience, introducing Rebecca and her story. I could sense that they were unsure, but they were ready; they WANTED to know her. And that was all I needed at that moment. As I began the story of her trek from Missouri to Whidbey Island in 1851, I tried very hard to keep it light; get some laughs. Later moments in the show were very dark and I wanted a balance. But it was hard to do. Finally, I realized why; they were listening – hard. So I settled into simply telling the story.

The musicians, dressed in pioneer garb and providing some light “on the trail” moments, were wonderful. The audience laughed, clapped, and relaxed… halleluiah. And I was also able to grab some gulps of water – and rest a bit. Then – out on the bay – a ferry horn sounded! Murmurs and laughs from the audience… for a moment, we shared in this delightful serendipity!

Later, as the story darkened, the audience was right with me. When that happens, a performer gets a wonderful release… it means you can  go “full out”; give those moments all the dramatic power they possess without reservation. And I did – and then it was Intermission.

In the second half, I pushed ahead full stop. I had struggled so hard – in rehearsal – not make the scenes of Rebecca’s oncoming weakness and illness seem melodramatic. I knew that this would kill any empathy that the audience felt for her. It didn’t happen. At one point, I sensed that there was precious little coughing and clearing of throats. They were still listening….

At the end, I was completely spent. And I think the audience was too! As the lights came up and they began to file out, they exploded into conversation with one another! Then… it was quiet again. I looked around this beautiful old structure, the sun peeking through dozens of little holes like stars. Had this old barn spoken? Through me? I hoped so.

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