Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Rebecca: the story of Rebecca Ebey"

Three years ago, Jill Johnson was rummaging around in the historical files at the Island County Museum and stumbled upon a diary.  Written by Rebecca Ebey, wife of Isaac Ebey, the diary described their early weeks and months of settlement here on Whidbey in 1852.  "I've read lots of pioneer journals", said Jill, "but this one was special, unique -- for it's depth of feeling and the beauty of it's prose."

Thus began the process to turn this historical document into a full lenght theatrical production.  "Rebecca -- the story of Rebecca Ebey" will premier on March 23, 2012 at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts as a part of their Local Artists Series. 

"Rebecca is the story of a woman -- and the pioneer community she helped found here on Whidbey," says Jill. "But it is also a story about a place...where the wind and the rain and the seabirds circling in the fields are much the same as they were when Isaac and Rebecca were here."

Ebey's Landing, Photo by Dan Pedersen
 "Rebecca" does not begin on Whidbey - but in Missouri - where both Rebecca and Isaac's families lived.  The production will move west, just as Rebecca did with her two sons in 1851 to the (then) Oregon Territory as part of the Great Migration.  "There will be authentic Oregon Trail music -- even dancing! -- and the journey will be enlivened by the voices of people who lived it."  Rob Prosch is the muscial director for the show and will stage the action as well.  Thoomas Allen will provide technical assistance with photographs and images, sound effects, and lighting.  Chris Fisher is the dramaturg for the production, assisting Jill with the script and Elizabeth Grant is the choreographer.

A grant form the National Storytelling Network, a national storytelling organization, helped Jill complete research at the Special Collections Library at the University of Washington.  Weeks of research into the letters and correspondence of the Davis and Ebey families deepened and enriched the story.

But the diary remains the core of the production.  "It's an intensely personal document," says Jill, "allowing Rebecca to pour out thoughts she would never have spoken aloud: her joy in the warmth and love of family and the beauty of the land, pride in the development of the tiny community and the region, frustration and fear of the challenges she faced."

Jill's image of "Rebecca", from the files of
Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve
But some of the most powerful moments in Jill's preparation process involved ongoing contact with the land.  This from an essay on September 30, 2011:

"I can see it now...the land.  It stretches out -- bands of green, yellow, and black: squash fields, hay stubble, and black earth, ringed by forest and shore.  For centuries Native Americans gathered camas root and nettles on this prairie and then burned it...year after year, layer after layer of ash, rich in nutrients which became ithe farms and fields of Ebey's Landing.  I stroll down the road, munching apples from a tree near the Ferry House.  The wind whistles in my ear and I can hear the surf sounds below.  Rebecca heard those same sounds; yesterday was teh 158th anniversary of her death.  Now...for just a is almost as if we share this landscape together."

Prairie Bottoms, Photo by Amos Morgan
 For more informaiton on the production, please contact the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, 800-638-7631 or 360-221-8268 or

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