One memorable weekend last summer, seven gifted actors reopened the doors of history and let us hear the direct testimony of former slaves. The stories had been recorded by writers for the WPA who crossed the state over three years in the 1930s and interviewed the last survivors to have lived under slavery in North Carolina. The collected testimony from 176 witnesses filled more than 900 pages.
Last year, Bare Theatre artistic director Todd Buker adapted seven narratives from the collection, staging them with an all-star cast during Stagville's Juneteenth celebration. In their hands, what easily could have been a depressing evening instead bore witness to the resilience and buoyancy of those who outlived the "curious institution." As our guide conducted us by lantern light in this theatrical walking tour among the slave quarters and barns of the Stagville site, this production never permitted us to forget that these people saw the darker angels of our nature—and survived.
Let Them Be Heard is one of the most moving theatrical experiences I've had in years. Though there are multiple showings each night, the tickets for each are limited by the rooms in which the works are performed. The entire run sold out before opening night last year; even with this year's longer run, the same may well happen again. —Byron Woods