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

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!

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.

 

Spoleto Festival USA 2013

Spoleto Festival USA 2013 runs from May 24 to June 9 this year, and includes opera, theatre, physical theatre, jazz, dance, music, visual arts, artists talks and other special events.

Spoleto Festival USA 2013

Check out the event schedule or download the brochure for more detailed event information.

Click here for a list of festival venues and information about each, or check out this page for ticketing information.

To get Spoleto Festival USA updates on your Twitter feed, follow @SpoletoFestival.

For more information, visit the Spoleto Festival USA website.