Monday, August 6, 2012

          MELVILLE, MUMBET AND MOHICANS                      Created by JoAnne Spies in collaboration with Mari Andrejco and Nathan Smith                                  

                       Travelers on the Path of Truth
                                       Songs, Stories and Poems

Learn the story of Elizabeth Freeman ~
Hear Mohican songs ~
Walk where Melville walked ~
Enter a living timeline 

     Mari Andrejco    Ann-Elizabeth Barnes    Jana Laiz   
 Jennifer Reis    Elfi Six    Nathan Smith    JoAnne Spies 
     Shawn Stevens   Sean Vernon and Special Guests

     SATURDAY, AUGUST 18  @3:00pm
                                                   Arrowhead Museum
                                       780 Holmes Road
                                       Pittsfield, MA
                                       (413) 442-1793

$5 - $10 donation
Also:  3rd Annual Mumbet Walk to Freedom  9 am – 10:30, August 18
Starting at Ashley House, Ashley Falls, MA, near Bartholomew’s Cobble 
to the home of Theodore Sedgewick on Main Street in Sheffield  more info:


                                                           Ishmael by JoAnne Spies

                        Ishmael says in Moby Dick: 'When I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor.'

Though we're sitting in what was Herman Melville's backyard, it's my hope that everyone will feel the exhilaration and freedom that comes from setting off on a journey. We're traveling in time to visit the first people who were here and we'll be meeting profound souls who shaped our lives today: Umpachene, Elizabeth Freeman, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville.

These characters came together when I learned that Mohican musician Shawn Stevens was coming in August for a ceremony at the Stockbridge Congregational Church. It made sense that he would sing his songs at Melville's house during this season of 'Call Me Melville.'  I had just met Ann-Elizabeth Barnes and learned about her passion for telling the story of Mumbet (Elizabeth Freeman.) Mumbet is buried in the Stockbridge Pie and is such a part of the history of Stockbridge, we could weave together the Mohican and African American strands of our history and honor all these great spirits together.

The roots of this piece are in Me & Melville, a performance I made in 1997 for Celebrate Berkshire Women Artists. I had just bought a computer and then you could join a list-serv! Imagine my amazement as I found I could lurk and learn from Melville scholars like Herschel Parker and many others.
At that time there was a discussion about whether Herman Melville had thrown his wife down the stairs and if he had eaten up oranges that were earmarked for the kids. I put these lines into a song and sang it in Melville's barn at Arrowhead, where I performed the whole show. I also learned that Melville was sympathetic to the plight of young girls who worked in the mills.How do we know the true story of a person's life, especially an historical figure like Melville?

Melville says : "Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges."

There's a story of an African village that deals with criminals by putting them in the middle of a circle and appreciating them. Each person in the circle says something good about the wrong-doer and appreciates them. That's the intention of  Melville, Mumbet and Mohicans, to honor the best, not only in Melville, but in each of us as well.

How do we learn the true story of the Mohicans, Mumbet and Melville? First step is gathering together to listen and learn.

Melville also says: "Truth is in things, not in words." How fortunate we are to experience the land at his home, Arrowhead.

Another root of this performance/community event lies in 'Karaoke Confession,' a piece I created in March 2012 that explores the theme of forgiveness using Norman Rockwell's paintings as a launching point  link for Karaoke Confession.  Actors and writers Mari Andrejco and Nathan Smith were a part of this production and I hoped they could be a part of the Melville show. They've both jumped in feet first as collaborators and also show up in the full glory of their characters ~ Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau. We get a fuller sense of Berkshire history with Emily Dickinson talking back to Melville and Thoreau taking a stand for civil disobedience.

It was synchronistic that the co-writer with Ann-Elizabeth Barnes of A Free Woman on God's Earth is Jana Laiz. She is now the writer-in-residence at Arrowhead, and she completes the circle of presenters in MMM.

It's also fitting that we honor Emily Dickinson, a woman who turned twenty when Melville wrote Moby Dick
and had just published a poem anonymously called Valentine.
We're fortunate to hear Sean Vernon's songs based on Dickinson's poemsat this event!

It's been bracing to look at these unique journeys:  Mumbet's walk to Freedom, the Many Trails of the Mohicans, the sea voyage of Ishmael on the Pequod and Emily Dickinson's travels in her imagination. I feel grateful to find the traces and walk with everyone on August 18th at Arrowhead.

                                               ~>     Herman Melville bio

Here are links to each person appearing in Melville, Mumbet and Mohicans.
Many thanks to these masterful artists. I wish we could spend an hour with each of them and have a day-long event.

Mari Andrejco

Ann-Elizabeth Barnes

Jana Laiz

Jennifer Reis

Elfi Six

Nathan Smith

Shawn Stevens

Sean Vernon