Workshop ELOCUTION: THE LIFE OF RICHARD BERRY HARRISON
by Jeff Culbert
I’m looking for an actor to play Richard B Harrison in a workshop of a solo play about his life. The character is an African-Canadian man above the age of 50. For COVID safety, rehearsals will be held remotely, by Zoom, and a remote reading will be recorded in January. The actor will be engaged using an Equity contract under its DOT policy.
Born in 1864 in London Ontario to parents who had both escaped slavery in the United States, Harrison made a career as a travelling elocutionist, reciting narrative poems and performing Shakespeare as one-man shows. In his 60s, he got his first professional gig on Broadway as the star of the biblical extravaganza The Green Pastures, playing the role of God. The show was so popular that he performed it for the rest of his life and shortly before his death in 1935, Harrison appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.
This play is about Harrison’s life, but it is also a demonstration of the art of elocution, so it includes performances of many of the pieces that Harrison had in his repertoire. The actor must be able to handle the various styles that Harrison used: from Shakespeare to narrative poetry to the southern dialect poetry of Paul Dunbar. In addition, the actor must be able to summon the power of the voice of an angry God chastising humanity, as Harrison did in The Green Pastures.
The text for some of the pieces in the show can be found below, so interested actors can get a sense of the content of the show by reading through them. For their auditions, actors are asked to record one of these pieces.
The play is called Elocution: The Life of Richard Berry Harrison, and the workshop will be directed by Jeff Culbert.
A series of rehearsals (via Zoom) begins on January 11th, 2021, and then a remote recording of a reading of the play will be made on (or around) January 19th.
Audition requirement: Choose your audition piece from the list below. Memorization isn’t necessary – a reading will do. Record it and send a Youtube or vimeo link to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with a resume and headshot. Please submit by Dec 20th, 2020.
Audition options (choose one): 1. Faust monologue 2. The Green Pastures monologue 3. Scene from The Merchant of Venice 4. “When Malindy Sings” 5. “Little Brown Baby” 6. “Lasca” 7. Richard III monologue 8. “The Dream of Eugene Aram”
1. Monologue from Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I've studied now Philosophy And Jurisprudence, Medicine,-- And even, alas! Theology,-- From end to end, with labor keen; And here, poor fool! with all my lore I stand, no wiser than before:
These ten years long, with many woes, I've led my scholars by the nose,-- And see, that nothing can be known! That knowledge cuts me to the bone.
I'm cleverer, true, than those fops of teachers, Doctors and Magisters, Scribes and Preachers; Neither scruples nor doubts come now to smite me, Nor Hell nor Devil can longer affright me.
For this, all pleasure am I foregoing; I do not pretend to aught worth knowing, I do not pretend I could be a teacher To help or convert a fellow-creature. Then, too, I've neither lands nor gold, Nor the world's least pomp or honor hold-- No dog would endure such a curst existence! Wherefore, from Magic I seek assistance, That many a secret perchance I reach Through spirit-power and spirit-speech, That I may detect the inmost force Which binds the world, and guides its course; Its germs, productive powers explore, And rummage in empty words no more!
2. Monologue from The Green Pastures, by Marc Connelly
De Lawd (in a voice of doom): Dat's about enough! (The guests are horrified) I’s stood all I kin from you. I tried to make dis a good earth. I helped Adam, I helped Noah, I helped Moses, an' I helped David. What's de grain dat grew out of de seed? Sin! Nothin' but sin throughout de whole world. I've given you ev'y chance. I sent you warriors and prophets. I've given you laws and commandments, an' you betrayed my trust. Ev'ything I've given you, you've defiled. Ev'y time I've fo'given you, you've mocked me. Listen, you chillun of darkness, yo' Lawd is tired. I'm tired of de struggle to make you worthy of de bread I gave you. So I renounce you. Listen to the words of yo' lawd God Jehovah, for dey is de last words yo' ever hear from me. I repent of dese people dat I have made and I will deliver dem no more.
3. Scene from The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare (read both parts, as in a one-person show):
Salarino: Tell us, do you hear whether Antonio have had any loss at sea or no? Shylock: There I have another bad match: a bankrupt, a prodigal, who dare scarce show his head on the Rialto; a beggar, that was used to come so smug upon the mart; let him look to his bond: he was wont to call me usurer; let him look to his bond: he was wont to lend money for a Christian courtesy; let him look to his bond. Salarino: Why, I am sure, if he forfeit, thou wilt not take his flesh: what's that good for? Shylock: To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
4. “When Malindy Sings”, by Paul Dunbar
G’way an’ quit dat noise, Miss Lucy-- Put dat music book away; What’s de use to keep on tryin’? Ef you practise twell you ‘re gray, You cain’t sta’t no notes a–flyin’ Lak de ones dat rants and rings F’om de kitchen to be big woods When Malindy sings.
You ain’t got de nachel o’gans Fu’ to make de soun’ come right, You ain’t got de tu’ns an’ twistin’s Fu’ to make it sweet an’ light. Tell you one thing now, Miss Lucy, An’ I ‘m tellin’ you fu’ true, When hit comes to raal right singin’, ‘T ain’t no easy thing to do.
Easy ‘nough fu’ folks to hollah, Lookin’ at de lines an’ dots, When dey ain’t no one kin sence it, An’ de chune comes in, in spots; But fu’ real melojous music, Dat jes’ strikes yo’ hea’t and clings, Jes’ you stan’ an’ listen wif me When Malindy sings.
Ain’t you nevah hyeahd Malindy? Blessed soul, tek up de cross! Look hyeah, ain’t you jokin’, honey? Well, you don’t know whut you los’. Y’ ought to hyeah dat gal a–wa’blin’, Robins, la’ks, an’ all dem things, Heish dey moufs an’ hides dey faces When Malindy sings.
Fiddlin’ man jes’ stop his fiddlin’, Lay his fiddle on de she’f; Mockin’–bird quit tryin’ to whistle, ‘Cause he jes’ so shamed hisse’f. Folks a–playin’ on de banjo Draps dey fingahs on de strings-- Bless yo’ soul—fu’gits to move em, When Malindy sings.
She jes’ spreads huh mouf and hollahs, “Come to Jesus,” twell you hyeah Sinnahs’ tremblin’ steps and voices, Timid–lak a–drawin’ neah; Den she tu’ns to “Rock of Ages,” Simply to de cross she clings, An’ you fin’ yo’ teahs a–drappin’ When Malindy sings.
Who dat says dat humble praises Wif de Master nevah counts? Heish yo’ mouf, I hyeah dat music, Ez hit rises up an’ mounts-- Floatin’ by de hills an’ valleys, Way above dis buryin’ sod, Ez hit makes its way in glory To de very gates of God!
Oh, hit’s sweetah dan de music Of an edicated band; An’ hit’s dearah dan de battle’s Song o’ triumph in de lan’. It seems holier dan evenin’ When de solemn chu’ch bell rings, Ez I sit an’ ca’mly listen While Malindy sings.
Towsah, stop dat ba’kin’, hyeah me! Mandy, mek dat chile keep still; Don’t you hyeah de echoes callin’ F’om de valley to de hill? Let me listen, I can hyeah it, Th’oo de bresh of angels’ wings, Sof an’ sweet, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” Ez Malindy sings.
5. “Little Brown Baby”, by Paul Dunbar
Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes, Come to yo' pappy an' set on his knee. What you been doin', suh — makin' san' pies? Look at dat bib — you's es du'ty ez me. Look at dat mouf — dat's merlasses, I bet; Come hyeah, Maria, an' wipe off his han's. Bees gwine to ketch you an' eat you up yit, Bein' so sticky an sweet — goodness lan's!
Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes, Who's pappy's darlin' an' who's pappy's chile? Who is it all de day nevah once tries Fu' to be cross, er once loses dat smile? Whah did you git dem teef? My, you's a scamp! Whah did dat dimple come f'om in yo' chin? Pappy do' know you — I b'lieves you's a tramp; Mammy, dis hyeah's some ol' straggler got in!
Let's th'ow him outen de do' in de san', We do' want stragglers a-layin' 'roun' hyeah; Let's gin him 'way to de big buggah-man; I know he's hidin' erroun' hyeah right neah. Buggah-man, buggah-man, come in de do', Hyeah's a bad boy you kin have fu' to eat. Mammy an' pappy do' want him no mo', Swaller him down f'om his haid to his feet!
Dah, now, I t'ought dat you'd hug me up close. Go back, ol' buggah, you sha'n't have dis boy. He ain't no tramp, ner no straggler, of co'se; He's pappy's pa'dner an' play-mate an' joy. Come to you' pallet now — go to yo' res'; Wisht you could allus know ease an' cleah skies; Wisht you could stay jes' a chile on my breas'-- Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes!
6. “Lasca”, by Frank Desprez
Oh, it's all very well to write reviews, and carry umbrellas and keep dry shoes. To say what everyone's saying here, and wear what everyone else must wear, But tonight I'm sick of the whole affair, I want free life and I want fresh air.
I want free life and I want fresh air; And I long for the gallop after the cattle, In their frantic flight, like the roar of battle, The mêlée of horns, and hoofs, and heads That wars and wrangles and scatters and spreads-- The green beneath and the blue above, And dash and danger, and life and love -- And Lasca! Lasca used to ride On a mouse-gray mustang close to my side, With blue serapé and bright-belled spur; I laughed with joy as I looked at her! Little knew she of books or of creeds; An Avé Maria sufficed her needs; Little she cared, save to be by my side, To ride with me, and ever to ride, From San Saba's shore to Lavaca's tide. She was as bold as the billows that beat, She was as wild as the breezes that blow; From her little head to her little feet She was swayed in her suppleness to and fro By each gust of passion; a sapling pine That clings to the edge of a beetling bluff, And wars with the wind when the weather is rough, Is like this Lasca, this love of mine. She would hunger that I might eat, She'd take the bitter and leave me the sweet; But once, when I made her jealous for fun, At something I'd whispered, or looked, or done, One Sunday, in San Antonio, To a glorious girl in the Alamo, She drew from her garter a dear little dagger, And—sting of a wasp!—it made me stagger-- An inch to the left, or an inch to the right, And I wouldn't be maundering here to-night; But she sobbed, and, sobbing, so swiftly bound Her torn rebosa about the wound, That I quite forgave her. Scratches don't count In Texas, down by the Rio Grande.
She was alive in every limb With feeling, to the finger tips; And when the sun is like a fire, And the sky one shining, soft sapphire-- One does not drink in little sips.
The air was heavy, the night was hot, I sat by her side, and forgot—forgot; Forgot the herd that was taking its rest, Forgot that the air was close oppressed-- That the Texas norther comes without warning, In the dead of night or the dawn of morning-- And once let the herd at its breath take fright, And nothing on earth can stop its flight; And woe to the rider, and woe to the steed, That falls in front of its mad stampede!
Hark! Was that thunder? No, by the Lord! I sprang to my saddle without a word: One foot on mine, and she clung behind-- Away! on a wild chase down the wind! And never was the fox-chase half so hard, And never was steed so little spared-- For we rode for our lives: you shall hear how we fared In Texas, down by the Rio Grande.
The mustang flew, and we urged him on; There was one chance left, and you have but one-- Halt, jump to the ground, and shoot your horse, Crouch under his carcass and take your chance; And if the steers, in their frantic course, Don't batter you both to pieces at once, You may thank your star; or else, good-bye To the quickening kiss and the long-drawn sigh, To the balmy air and the open sky, In Texas, down by the Rio Grande.
The cattle gained on us—and just as I felt For my old six-shooter behind in my belt, Down came the mustang, and down came we, Clinging together, and—what was the rest—? A body that spread itself over my breast, Two arms that shielded my dizzy head, Two lips that close to my lips were pressed; Then came thunder in my ears, As over us surged the sea of steers, Blows that beat blood into my eyes, And when I could rise-- Lasca was dead!
I gouged out a grave a few feet deep, And there in Earth's bosom I laid her to sleep; And there she is lying—and no one knows-- 'Neath summer's sun and winter's snows; Full many a day the flowers have spread A pall of petals over her head.
And the little gray hawk hangs aloft in the air, And the sly coyoté trots here and there, And the black snake glides, and glitters and slides Into a rift in a cotton-wood tree; And the buzzard sails on-- And comes and is gone-- Stately and still like a ship at sea. And I wonder why I do not care For the things that are, like the things that were-- Does half my heart lie buried there In Texas, down by the Rio Grande?
7. Richard III monologue, by William Shakespeare
Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York; And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house In the deep bosom of the ocean buried. Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths; Our bruised arms hung up for monuments; Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings, Our dreadful marches to delightful measures. Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front; And now, instead of mounting barbed steeds To fright the souls of fearful adversaries, He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber To the lascivious pleasing of a lute. But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty To strut before a wanton ambling nymph; Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time Into this breathing world, scarce half made up, And that so lamely and unfashionable That dogs bark at me as I halt by them; Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, Have no delight to pass away the time, Unless to spy my shadow in the sun And descant on mine own deformity: And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
8. “The Dream of Eugene Aram”, by Thomas Hood
'Twas in the prime of summer-time An evening calm and cool, And four-and-twenty happy boys Came bounding out of school: There were some that ran and some that leapt, Like troutlets in a pool.
Away they sped with gamesome minds, And souls untouched by sin; To a level mead they came, and there They drave the wickets in: Pleasantly shone the setting sun Over the town of Lynn.
Like sportive deer they coursed about, And shouted as they ran, Turning to mirth all things of earth, As only boyhood can; But the Usher sat remote from all, A melancholy man!
His hat was off, his vest apart, To catch heaven's blessed breeze; For a burning thought was in his brow, And his bosom ill at ease: So he leaned his head on his hands, and read The book upon his knees!
Leaf after leaf he turned it o'er Nor ever glanced aside, For the peace of his soul he read that book In the golden eventide: Much study had made him very lean, And pale, and leaden-eyed.
At last he shut the pond'rous tome, With a fast and fervent grasp He strained the dusky covers close, And fixed the brazen hasp; "Oh, God! could I so close my mind, And clasp it with a clasp!"
Then leaping on his feet upright, Some moody turns he took,-- Now up the mead, then down the mead, And past a shady nook,-- And lo! he saw a little boy That pored upon a book.
"My gentle lad, what is't you read -- Romance or fairy fable? Or is it some historic page, Of kings and crowns unstable?" The young boy gave an upward glance,-- "It is 'The Death of Abel.'"
The Usher took six hasty strides, As smit with sudden pain, -- Six hasty strides beyond the place, Then slowly back again; And down he sat beside the lad, And talked with him of Cain;
And, long since then, of bloody men, Whose deeds tradition saves; Of lonely folks cut off unseen, And hid in sudden graves; Of horrid stabs, in groves forlorn, And murders done in caves;
And how the sprites of injured men Shriek upward from the sod. -- Ay, how the ghostly hand will point To show the burial clod: And unknown facts of guilty acts Are seen in dreams from God!
He told how murderers walk the earth Beneath the curse of Cain, -- With crimson clouds before their eyes, And flames about their brain: For blood has left upon their souls Its everlasting stain!
"And well," quoth he, "I know for truth, Their pangs must be extreme, -- Woe, woe, unutterable woe, -- Who spill life's sacred stream! For why, Methought last night I wrought A murder, in a dream!
One that had never done me wrong -- A feeble man and old; I led him to a lonely field, The moon shone clear and cold: Now here, said I, this man shall die, And I will have his gold!
"Two sudden blows with a ragged stick, And one with a heavy stone, One hurried gash with a hasty knife, -- And then the deed was done: There was nothing lying at my foot But lifeless flesh and bone!
"Nothing but lifeless flesh and bone, That could not do me ill; And yet I feared him all the more, For lying there so still: There was a manhood in his look, That murder could not kill!"
"And lo! the universal air Seemed lit with ghastly flame; Ten thousand thousand dreadful eyes Were looking down in blame: I took the dead man by his hand, And called upon his name!
"And now, from forth the frowning sky, From the Heaven's topmost height, I heard a voice — the awful voice Of the blood-avenging sprite -- 'Thou guilty man! take up thy dead And hide it from my sight!'
"I took the dreary body up, And cast it in a stream, -- A sluggish water, black as ink, The depth was so extreme: My gentle boy, remember this Is nothing but a dream!
"Down went the corse with a hollow plunge, And vanished in the pool; Anon I cleansed my bloody hands, And washed my forehead cool, And sat among the urchins young, That evening in the school.
"Oh, Heaven! to think of their white souls, And mine so black and grim! I could not share in childish prayer, Nor join in Evening Hymn: Like a Devil of the Pit I seemed, 'Mid holy Cherubim!
"And peace went with them, one and all, And each calm pillow spread; But Guilt was my grim Chamberlain That lighted me to bed; And drew my midnight curtains round With fingers bloody red!
"All night I lay in agony, From weary chime to chime, With one besetting horrid hint, That racked me all the time; A mighty yearning, like the first Fierce impulse unto crime!
"One stern, tyrannic thought, that made All other thoughts its slave; Stronger and stronger every pulse Did that temptation crave, -- Still urging me to go and see The Dead Man in his grave!
"Heavily I rose up, as soon As light was in the sky, And sought the black accursèd pool With a wild misgiving eye: And I saw the Dead in the river-bed, For the faithless stream was dry.
"Merrily rose the lark, and shook The dewdrop from its wing; But I never marked its morning flight, I never heard it sing: For I was stooping once again Under the horrid thing.
"With breathless speed, like a soul in chase, I took him up and ran; There was no time to dig a grave Before the day began: In a lonesome wood, with heaps of leaves, I hid the murdered man!
"And all that day I read in school, But my thought was otherwhere; As soon as the midday task was done, In secret I went there: And a mighty wind had swept the leaves, And still the corpse was bare!
"Then down I cast me on my face, And first began to weep, For I knew my secret then was one That earth refused to keep: Or land, or sea, though he should be Ten thousand fathoms deep.
"So wills the fierce avenging Sprite, Till blood for blood atones! Ay, though he's buried in a cave, And trodden down with stones, And years have rotted off his flesh, -- The world shall see his bones!
"Oh God! that horrid, horrid dream Besets me now awake! Again—again, with dizzy brain, The human life I take: And my red right hand grows raging hot, Like Cranmer's at the stake.
"And still no peace for the restless clay, Will wave or mould allow; The horrid thing pursues my soul -- It stands before me now!" The fearful Boy looked up, and saw Huge drops upon his brow.
That very night while gentle sleep The urchin's eyelids kissed, Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn, Through the cold and heavy mist; And Eugene Aram walked between, With shackles on his wrist.