Welcome to the conversation!

Welcome to the conversation!

Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), made her the most famous American woman of the 19th century and galvanized the abolition movement before the Civil War.

The Stowe Center is a 21st-century museum and program center using Stowe's story to inspire social justice and positive change.

The Salons at Stowe programs are a forum to connect the challenging issues (race, gender and class) that impelled Stowe to write and act with the contemporary face of those same issues. The Salon format is based on a robust level of audience participation, with the explicit goal of promoting civic engagement. Recent topics included: Teaching Acceptance; Is Prison the New Slavery; Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North; Creativity and Change; Race, Gender and Politics Today; How to be an Advocate

This blog will expand the reach of these community conversations to the online audience. Add your posts and comments to keep the conversation going! Commit to action by clicking HERE to stay up to date on Salon and social justice news.

For updates on Stowe Center programs and events, sign up for our enews at http://harrietbeecherstowe.org/email.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Featured Guest Bios: Girl Power is Family Power

When a girl gets an education it helps her, her family and her community.  What happens when education is denied to women?  What role does poverty play?  What are the inequities in education and why is equal access important?

Patricia Salner, Achieve Hartford!
Ms. Salner is the Community Programs Director for Achieve Hartford! and is a long time Hartford area resident with deep roots in the not for profit and arts community.  In her role, she incorporates her passion for creating and administering educational opportunities for children with her long developed knowledge of Hartford as she works collaboratively with Hartford community members, including educational professionals, civic leaders, community based organizations and business professionals.  Prior to her joining the staff of Achieve Hartford! she was Executive Director of the Hartford Education Foundation, the predecessor entity of Achieve Hartford!, which largely focused on supporting innovative teaching in Hartford.  She is a Board member of the Connecticut Consortium of Education Foundations, the Women's Education and Leadership Fund at the University of Hartford, and the Hill-Stead Museum.  She is an honorary docent at the Wadsworth Atheneum.  Pat is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and is involved in a host of local community organizations.

Susan Lennon, Women's College Coalition 
Ms. Lennon has been president of the Women's College Coalition, an association of colleges and universities that are committed to the unfinished agenda of the 21st Century: The education and success of women and girls across all age, racial and ethnic, socioeconomic and religious groups in the U.S. and around the world - since 2004.  Susan earned her MPPM/MBA from Yale University School of Management and her bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of San Diego.  Her career has traversed the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, affording her a distinctive perspective on the competitive nature and complexities of the business of higher education in which colleges and universities must be mission driven and market smart, accountable and transparent.

April 28, 2011
Reception at 5pm. Conversation from 5:30 - 7pm.
Additional information at www.harrietbeecherstowe.org

Friday, April 15, 2011

Event Recap: Uncle Tom's Cabin On Stage

How do culture and stereotypes influence artistic decisions?  How can the stage be used to call attention to important social justice issues? 

Opening remarks from featured guests:

Alex Roe:
  • Interpretations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin are differences when it is on the Stage. Roe based his production on George Aiken's stage adaption of Uncle Tom's Cabin from 1852. 
  • The last time Uncle Tom’s Cabin was presented on stage in New York, the purpose was to restore Uncle Tom’s name. This was not Roe’s goal. He remained close to the text and addressed the complexities of the work such as the aspirations and flaws of our cultural foundation. 
  • There is a relationship between ignorance and opportunism as well as generosity versus selfishness. The story is both inspirational and shaming. 
  • In the play there is always a choice for each of the characters and it gives us the opportunity to question how we seek our power in the world and face perceptions of racial identity. 
  • Questions that needed to be addressed during production included:
    • Could we do it?  You never know what it’s going to do
    • Would it be offensive? You never know how it’s going to be recieved.
    • How do we cast it? Certain actors who auditioned struggled with the script. The use of the N word was required to remain true to the text; actors who could not follow the original text were unable to act in the play. The goal was to have actors who could embrace the characters and make the struggle of the character come to life, despite the discomfort.
    • Is it simpleminded to want to see the characters as you expect them to be? Casting “against type” was an option. Did race, age, and gender need to remain true to the original text? They saw a potential of robbing the audience of a certain experience and cast the play according to the original story.
    • If you cast 10 actors, how do you fill the roles of the 70 or so characters in the play? Auditions were critical.    
  • The actors are the ones who gave Roe the guidance he needed to accomplish this play, when he had no sense of how it should have been done. 
Greg Tate:
  • Tate has not read Uncle Tom’s Cabin; his first experience with Uncle Tom was not wanting to be “that”. 
  • His second experience was with Robert Alexander’s I Aint Yo Uncle. As the Stage Manager, Tate was making copies of the story and he started reading it as it came out of the printer. Over the course of rehearsal he became more familiar and realized he was wrong about what Uncle Tom really was. Tate compares Tom to John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”.
  • In the theater business you work on plays and art, you put your heart and soul into it, sometimes it’s a dud, sometimes it’s magical. This play was magical.
  • Racism is a common bond among Americans. It’s a tool used against us in a class war. It’s all around us. People can relate to it. The play itself was a microcosm of racism itself.
  • The original casting for this version of the play had a Japanese woman cast as Eva (who is the white daughter of slaveholder St. Clare in the original text). The actors who played Tom and Topsy had a huge problem with the casting of Eva. The idea of this white child’s power over this black male was gone. Eventually the director went back on his choice cast a white actress.
  • Tom, George, and Eliza, begin I Ain’t Yo Uncle by putting Harriet Beecher Stowe on trial for creating stereotypes. Tom wants to know why she painted him as a saint, not a man. The basis of the story follows the Aiken version of the play, but there are many changes. 
  • Topsy, for instance, comes out as a hip hop rapper.  She is violent and angry. You see her grow from a girl with no identity to a girl with an attitude who wants to burn the country down. 
  • A woman in the crowd at one of the productions stood up and shouted “You don’t have to be so mean!” Topsy yelled back, in character, “Yes, I do!” It was a visceral experience. Tate stated that this moment was one of the best moments in his career in theater. Everyone’s experience and emotion was there.
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin is so much a part of our fabric and our daily life. Part of the magic of the story. 
Group Discussion:
Why did the character of Topsy change in I Ain't Yo Uncle?
  •  In I Ain’t Yo Uncle, the playwright was trying to make a point about a child raised without parents, cultural identity, and identity all together. He showed what would happen when this child grows up and related it to what young African Americans feel today.
  • Topsy knows "wicked" so she is "wicked". Eva is the only one to tell her she can be different.
  • Topsy struggles to find an identity and in the end she turns herself into a slave to Miss Ophelia, whom she never has to leave.
  • The objectification of Topsy is so painful in the story. 
  • In 1995, at a college conference on women writers, the entertainment was set to perform songs about Uncle Tom's Cabin, which seemed great. Topsy was performed in a picaninny fashion which made the audience grab the microphone and denounce the entertainment.
When did the break between the original version of the story and the story full of stereotypes happen?
  • When freedom and equality were questioned in the 19th century. The characters offend us when our equality is questioned.
What other changes happened? 
  • The role of little Harry is very minor in the play. Roe decided to try representing Little Harry with a puppet. Puppets really show the objectification of the boy. Puppet was animated with one hand. 
  • Roe still gets emotional thinking about the bond of Eliza, who craddles the puppet to protect him from the trader. The trader takes the puppet from Eliza by the legs and his head hits the bench. 
  • The gasps in the audience (and attendees of the Salon) illistrate the power of theatrics. You really begin to invest into this wooden, styrofoam, puppet boy. He was loved and cherished, but was an object that could be bartered.
What was the struggle with the N word like?
  •  There are a lot of derogatory terms in 19th century pieces. 
  • It has been argued that words like the N word can take both the actor and the audience out of their element. The sensitivity will give pause to the audience. 
  • Roe stated that he respected the decisions of actors who auditioned, but the N word was required for the play. 
  • Because the N word has made a comeback, some of these actors may have had recent, bad experiences with the word. 
  • Has a lot to do with upbringing, attitudes, and beliefs
Would you say your experience with Tom onstage has changed your perception of the work?
  • Tate:  Majorly. The image of Uncle Tom is different than what he imagined. It was an experience to tour with the play, especially to follow the path of the Underground Railroad from the South, all the way up to Vermont. It's an inspiring story about the objectification of people.
  • Roe: If you want to live in this country and know yourself, race is an issue you deal with. It has changed his life working on the play from beginning to end. It changed his perception of the work and more importantly it changed his perception of himself.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Featured Guest Bios: Uncle Tom's Cabin on Stage

From the first 1852 productions turning Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, into a stage play, the characters were stereotyped.  How do culture and stereotypes influence artistic decisions?  How can the stage be used to call attention to important social justice issues? 

Greg Tate: Co-Artistic Director, Hartbeat Ensemble
Mr. Tate spent 13 years with the San Francisco Mime Troupe before moving to Connecticut to create Hartbeat Ensemble.  During that time he was Production Stage Manager, Lighting Designer and Master Electrician for over twenty national and international tours.  He also acted in or co-authored the Mime Troupe productions of I Ain't Yo Uncle, Back to Normal, Social Work, Escape from Cyberia, and others.  While with Hartbeat Ensemble, he has co-written and performed in Graves, News to Me, CNA Is The Soul, Ebeneeza - A Hartford Holiday Carol, The Pueblo, and Plays in the Parks 2006 - 2010.  From 2006 - 2008, Greg served on the Board of Trustees for the Network of Ensemble Theaters. In 2007 he was elected Vice-President of that organization. 

Alex Roe: Artistic Director, Metropolitan Playhouse
Mr. Roe is a director, actor, and playwright who has worked across the US and England. Since 1993, he has lived in New York City, and he became Artistic Director of Metropolitan Playhouse in 2011.  For Metropolitan, he has directed over 20 productions, and under his oversight, the company has revived significant American works of the past, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Drunkard, The Contrast, Year One of the Empire, The Octoroon, The Scarecrow, Metamora, Inheritors, Margaret Fleming, Sun-Up, and Fashion.  Mr. Roe holds a bachelors degree in Literature from Harvard College, and is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographer's Society.

This June Mr. Roe will be participating in a panel discussion with other Stowe scholars at the Stowe Society's conference at Bowdoin College.  

April 14, 2011
Reception at 5pm. Conversation from 5:30-7:00 pm.
Additional information at: www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring Series Announced!

We're happy to announce our 2011 Salons at Stowe Spring Series!

April 14, 2011
Uncle Tom's Cabin on Stage
Greg Tate: Co-Artistic Director, Hartbeat Ensemble
Alex Roe: Artistic Director, Metropolitan Playhouse
From the first 1852 productions turning Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, into a stage play, the characters were stereotyped.  How do culture and stereotypes influence artistic decisions?  How can the stage be used to call attention to important social justice issues?

April 28, 2011
Girl Power is Family Power
Patricia Salner, Achieve Hartford!
Susan Lennon, Women's College Coalition
When a girl gets an education it helps her, her family and her community.  What happens when education is denied to women? What role does poverty play?  What are the inequities in education and why is equal access important?

May 12, 2011
Why So Cheap?  There Is More To This Story!
Danelle Ragoonanan-Storph, Project Rescue
Neil Patrick, US Department of Labor
John McCarthy, formerly of CT Department of Labor
What everyday items are made by slave labor? How does American consumerism affect people around the world?  Where does consumer responsibility start and end?

May 26, 2011
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity
Deborah Ullman, YWCA of the Hartford Region
Jennifer Smith Turner, Girl Scouts of Connecticut
The key to progress lies in empowering women and unleashing their potential. What are communities doing to support females from an early age?

Thanks to our members and funders, Salons at Stowe are free events!
Reception: 5 - 5:30pm
Discussion: 5:30 - 7pm
RSVP to (860)522-9258, ext 317 or info@stowecenter.org

Why is Harriet Beecher Stowe a model for people who want to make a difference?
Come at 4:00pm for the "Her Words Changed the World" tour of the Stowe House.

Can't make the discussion in person? Contribute and ask questions online. We'll be sure to ask your questions during the Salon and post the response immediately.