Natalie Daise Reveals What it Takes to Become Harriet Tubman

This is Harriet Tubman’s year, according to Natalie Daise, a storyteller out of Beaufort, S.C. Daise presents her one-woman show, “Becoming Harriet Tubman,” as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. She originally put on “Becoming Harriet Tubman” at last year’s Piccolo festival, but especially wanted to perform it again to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Tubman’s death. Daise portrays four people at turning points in Tubman’s life, including Harriet’s mother, her first slave owner, a field worker and Harriet herself. Daise chats with The Post and Courier about life as a professional storyteller, as well as what it took to get into the life of Harriet Tubman.

Listen to a sample of Daise playing each of the four characters (Audio by Paige Cooperstein).

A lot of people will remember you from your family’s Nick Jr. show Gullah Gullah Island. How has your storytelling evolved since then?
Daise: I was already a storyteller before the show. My husband had written a book about Gullah culture called “Reminiscences of Sea Island Heritage.” He interviewed a lot of the elders on St. Helena Island and I brought those stories to the stage. At one performance, we met an executive producer from Nick and she said, “We could do a show with you guys!” I was pregnant with my second baby at the time and we shot the show in Orlando until he was five.

Can you explain a little bit about the Gullah culture?
Daise: My husband is Gullah and for many years people misunderstood the culture and the language. The Gullah stories I told were to preserve African culture in the coastal islands of the Carolinas and Georgia. Gullah traditions come largely from West Africa and we talked about things like the dietary practices, part of which is eating rice every day.

Natalie Daise, playwright and actor in “Becoming Harriet Tubman.”
Photo: Josh Austin

Why did you decide to tell the life story of Harriet Tubman?
Daise: People tend to think of African American culture as starting in slavery, but really that was just a transitional period. While I was telling stories about the Gullah culture, I came across Charlotte Forten, who was the first black instructor to white students on St. Helena Island in 1862. In her journal, she mentions coming into Beaufort, South Carolina, and having lunch with Harriet Tubman. I thought, “What?! How did I not know about this? Actually Harriet Tubman spent quite a bit of time in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

Take me through your writing process for Becoming Harriet Tubman.
Daise: I originally wrote a 15-minute show on her. As I got going, people would say, “Why don’t you do that Harriet Tubman Show?” And I thought, “I don’t really have a Harriet Tubman show.” But I was interested in who she was as a person and how she became an icon. I always tell this story, and it is true. A friend of mine said she hated one-person shows because it felt like being trapped in a closet with someone who wouldn’t shut up. So I thought the more perspectives you have, the more you can flesh Harriet out.

You portray four characters at formative moments in Harriet Tubman’s life. How did you decide which people to include in Becoming Harriet Tubman?
Daise: The first voice that came to me was her mother’s because of the research that I’d done, but I also felt I could really identify with her as a mother. I also chose a field hand because one of the iconic stories they tell about Harriet is how she got her skull fractured. I thought it’d be interesting to hear it from the field hand’s point of view because he was really the catalyst of that moment for her. Harriet Tubman is also included, but she does not tell her story until the second half because she is created really by her circumstances.

You performed Becoming Harriet Tubman as a part of Piccolo Spoleto last year. What made you want to perform it again this year?
Daise: The first time I did the show was February 2012. Someone said I should do it for Piccolo and so I said okay. It was a fairly new show last year, but shows are always evolving. Right now, it feels complete. I have such a relationship with her at this point. When she became complete, I just really wanted to do her. I thought she needed more time on the stage. Plus this is Harriet Tubman’s year. This year is the 100th anniversary of her death, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement. I will probably do something else if I do Piccolo again. But this year just felt right to do Harriet Tubman again.

If you go

  • Where: Circular Congregational Church, 150 Meeting St.
  • When: May 24 at 8 p.m., May 31 at 6 p.m., June 7 at 8 p.m.
  • Tickets: $18 Adults, $16 Students/Seniors

Opening Ceremony Photo Gallery

A team of reporters and photographers attended the festivals’ opening ceremony, and we took some time to get to know some of the other attendees and ask what they were looking forward to most at this year’s festivals.

Click here to check out our photo gallery!

For more information, read The Post and Courier’s full story about the opening ceremony.

Slideshow photos by: Christina Riley and Eesha Patkar

Taking a spin on the Auto-Banh

The last thing I expected to see in True Value’s parking lot on East Bay this past Wednesday was a large purple truck.  But there it was, the Auto-Banh Vietnamese Sandwich food truck. It smelled delicious, so, I stopped to read the massive chalkboard that served as a menu affixed to the side of the vehicle.

There were people milling around, but not a big crowd. A generator hummed nearby. Getting in line, I was helped very quickly, and ordered a lemongrass chicken sandwich.

The combination of crunchy pickled carrots, daikon radish, cabbage, and cucumbers with the soft bread worked in keeping my taste buds excited for the surprisingly fresh cilantro boldly keeping its own flavor above the mayo and nuoc chom. If those were the only contents of the sandwich, it would still have been delightful to devour. But there was the chicken, which added warmth and subtle sweetness to the sandwich that sealed the deal.

Given a tasty, memorable lunch with quick and pleasant service, I’ll be sure to find them again in Charleston.

The Auto-Banh Vietnamese Sandwich truck can be found online on Twitter, Facebook, or their at auto-banh.com.

Banners About Town

Spoleto Festival USA is ramping up their advertising this year with a selection of light pole banners throughout downtown.

Spoleto Festival Banners

The new Spoleto Festival USA banners. (Photo credit: Joseph DiDomizio)

 “We have expanded our downtown signage campaign this year and are very pleased with it,” said Paula Edwards, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Spoleto Festival USA. The city had previously purchased banners for an event in the spring, Edwards said, and after they purchased some additional hardware, allowed the festival to use them.

“We thought it was the perfect way to create Festival buzz and enhance our popular window display contest that local merchants participate in,” Edwards said. “Charleston is the perfect size city to do something like this in, in that something like Spoleto can completely consume downtown for a two-week time period. And we’re trying to do that visually as much as possible.”

If you spy a poster in a unique location, tweet your photos to @SpoletoChas!

If you’re interested in buying this year’s poster—the one featured on the street banners—you can find more information on the Spoleto Festival USA website.

Citizen Critics: Le Grand C

We love reviewing shows, but now it’s your turn. See what our citizen critic thought of Friday’s performance of Le Grand C by Compagnie XY.

Nancye Starnes

Nancye Starnes lives in Charleston and estimates that this is her 15th Spoleto Festival.  She was astounded by the “extreme athleticism” of the acrobats in Compagnie XY.
“I look forward to Spoleto all year long because of the opportunity to see incredible things like this.”

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 1 HUSK

(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

As Georgia (Nic Bell) and New Orleans (Briana Prevost) natives, we know authentic Southern food. Naturally, coming to Charleston as Spoleto festival reporters meant finding the best food in the low country. Our mission started with one simple goal in mind: finding (and eating) the best bowl of shrimp and grits in the city. Our first stop in our bi-weekly Shrimp and Grits Showdown was Husk.

Voted as GQ’s best new restaurant of 2011, Husk has been awarded many accolades, both from locals and critics alike, but it does have a reputation for being a little inconsistent. Our immediate reaction to Husk was how gorgeous it was. Situated in an old antebellum house, complete with a two tier wraparound porch, the restaurant had a rustic feeling with dark wooden floors and butcher block topped tables. Even the dishes were rustic and earthen.

Nic’s picks: When our shrimp and grits arrived, I was a little confused by the contents of the bowl. Perched atop the grits were wonderfully plump and tender shrimp, but it was all bathed in a disturbing amount of a tomato sauce. Included in the dish was peppers, onions, peas, and smoked pork.

The grits were velvet smooth and satisfying, not as gritty as most grits I’ve had, but not too watery. The smoked peppers, onions, and peas were a pleasant surprise, but the tomato was heavy handed and overpowered the subtle taste and texture of the star ingredient, the grits.

I appreciated the smoky flavor of both the pork and the tomatoes, but the overwhelming amount of tomatoes, in my opinion, ruined a perfectly good dish.

B’s business: Husk’s shrimp and grits comes in a huge bowl fitting for its contents. Comprised not only of shrimp and grits, but also a bed of peas, chives and tomatoes with tomato gravy sat atop the white corn confection.

Although a bit gritty, the grits were cooked just long enough and with just enough butter to be enjoyed by itself. The peas added an extra unexpected mini burst of flavor when combined with the subtle taste of cheese, however, the overpowering taste of the tomato and its juices took away any chance this dish had at making it an enjoyable hodgepodge of southern flavor.

Too bad too, the best part about Husk’s shrimp and grits was the shrimp. Jumbo and plump, the shrimp reigned supreme as both meaty enough to make this dish edible as a main course, yet flavorful on its own merits.

Expect the unexpected:

Nic’s picks: The cornbread. Studded with bits of bacon and topped with sea salt, this was a delicious compliment to the creaminess of the grits.

The burger. It’s not a stretch to say that this was the best burger I’ve ever eaten. Soft, supple bun, perfectly melted cheese, briny pickles, and pungent mustard for a great burger make. Also serve with potato wedges and homemade ketchup (which was delicious, and also coming from a man that HATES ketchup).

B’s business: Another unexpected treat was the cornbread. Baked with bacon and basked in butter, this cornbread had more of a savory fill than sweet but was just as moist as should be. For any sweet toothers (like myself) a slather of Husk’s Portland butter on the cornbread will fix this problem. And as the sweet butter melts into the cornbread, so will the cornbread into your mouth.

King Street Storefronts Get Festive

The entire city is preparing for the start of Spoleto, and the stores on King Street are no exception. With storefronts containing the festival poster and window displays inspired by it’s aesthetic for Spoleto Festival USA’s merchant contest, the shops on King Street are certainly showing their Spoleto pride.

Juicy Couture is promoting the festival with this simple window cling.

Juicy Couture

Shooz has installed this series of hanging pentagons inspired by this year’s poster.

Shooz

Copper Penny decked out both window displays with Spoleto colors and shapes.

Copper Penny 1

Copper Penny 2

American Apparel ran with the colors and shapes from the Spoleto poster.

American Apparel

Francesca’s surrounded their hand-stitched poster with orange products. 

Luna's

Spot any more festive window displays on King Street?
Send us your photos on twitter @SpoletoChas!

Southern Eats: Butcher & Bee

A restaurant review by Nick DeSantis

Butcher & Bee doesn’t have the most inviting entrance. Set far back from the road on 654 King Street past a barbed-wire fence, the sandwich shop’s humble exterior would be easily missed by a passerby if it weren’t for the restaurant’s circular logo unassumingly painted right above the door.

Those that stroll through the entrance, however, are instantly greeted with a relaxed, stylishly hodgepodge atmosphere. With no two metal seats looking like they match, the décor seems as if it were cobbled together from a scrap heap of chairs, stools and large, wooden tables of assorted heights.

In fact, the space’s high-ceiling and weathered interior makes it seem as if a sandwich joint popped up within an old factory. There is not a single whiff of high-brow pretension about Butcher & Bee (right down to the rolls of paper towels provided in lieu of napkins), but make no mistake: the food is truly premium, gourmet quality.

Butcher & Bee’s focus on fresh, local ingredients is evident in their curated menu, which is carefully scrawled out daily on a wall-sized chalkboard. It offers a limited number of eight sandwiches for lunch, but the selection changes daily and definitely slants more towards the unique rather than the familiar.

The Chana Masala sandwich, for example, brings together spiced chick peas, coconut jam and tomato curry within two halves of a deliciously brittle ciabatta roll to create a dinner plate sized Indian inspired sandwich that packed a spicy kick even when a bulk of my bites proved to be a bit too bready.

The best bet on the menu at the time I visited (12:30 p.m. to be exact, before the lunch rush, but after four sandwiches had already sold out), was the Korean Shortrib. It was a messy endeavor, with juicy short ribs slathered in spicy slaw and crowned with a fried egg within a spongy, absorbent brioche roll.

The sticky hands and balls of paper towel required to down this thing will be forgiven once the explosive flavor of the first taste is experienced. It’s even worth its rather hefty $12 pricetag, which will sadly be responsible for relegating this selection as an occasional indulgence rather than a lunchtime standby.

A selection of quirky beverages (like a surprisingly good cucumber soda), and simple, flavorful side dishes like a tasty asparagus and garlic and a fresh kale slaw round out the abbreviated menu, earning Butcher & Bee all of the local raves and national accolades it has received from publications such as GQ, New York Magazine and Food & Wine since it opened only 2 years ago.

Tourists and locals with plump wallets looking to reward their midday hunger with a unique Charleston original will find their lunchtime salvation with Butcher & Bee.

One for the money, four for the show

With so much theatre at this year’s Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto festivals, it’s hard to choose. But since you have to, here are four recommendations from our Theatre Blog Editor, Josh Austin.

Oedipus
Based on the classic Greek tragedy by Sophocles, this Spoleto Festival USA production comes to us from the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company. The show runs June 4-8 at Memminger Auditorium. For ticketing information, click here.

Bullet Catch
Writer and performer Rob Drummond, as his alter ego William Wonder, explores the history of the famous finale magic trick. This Spoleto Festival USA show runs June 5-9 at the Emmet Robinson Theatre at College of Charleston. For ticketing information, click here.

Clybourne Park
Piccolo Spoleto brings us this show, the winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Set in Chicago in 2009, the show explores gentrification in Chicago in a modern-day take on Raisin in the Sun. The show runs May 24-26, 28 and 29 at PURE Theatre. For ticketing information, click here.

Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson
This rock musical from the Village Repertory Company brands the seventh president as a guitar-playing leader of the American Frontier. This Piccolo Spoleto show runs May 30-June 2 and June 6-8 at the Woolfe Street Playhouse. For ticketing information, click here.

 

Festivals: They’re for the dogs

No, really. It’s not just people from around the country who flock to Charleston for Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto.

And here to prove it, the Dogs of Charleston blog:

Dogs of Charleston

 This blog is the brainchild of Greg Cwik, one of the Goldring Arts Journalists in town covering the festival. As Greg and the other reporters travel about the city, they capture photos of and facts about four-legged festivalgoers for your viewing pleasure. Dogs like Lucy:

Lucy the golden retriever

So check out Dogs of Charleston, and, if you’re feeling ambitious,
submit your own Spoleto-pup snapshop!