J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Behind Blood on the Snow

The Summer 2016 issue of Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, includes a short article by me about Blood on the Snow, the play that the Bostonian Society commissioned and hosted this spring.

As I noted back in early May, this play was produced within the same walls as the events it fictionalizes: the Massachusetts Council’s discussion of how to respond to the Boston Massacre.

For readers from out of town, the article offers some more detail:
One of the Old State House’s main rooms was designed for the governor to meet with his council, the gentlemen selected to advise the royal appointee but often at odds with him. In recent years, the museum refurnished the Council Chamber using inventories from the mid 1700s. Visitors can sit in the governor’s upholstered chair at the long wooden table and examine reproductions of official documents. Nat Sheidley, the society’s historian, came to view the space as “a set that wanted to be peopled.”

But how? The Old State House already uses other methods of bringing history to life: a program of costumed interpreters called “Revolutionary Characters” and an annual outdoor reenactment of the massacre by dedicated volunteers. As he considered possibilities, Sheidley was struck by Boston’s response to the marathon bombing of 2013. Exploring how the community reacted to an earlier calamity could move the Council Chamber beyond politics to show “human beings living through the trauma.”

To dramatize that moment, Sheidley had to find the right playwright. Patrick Gabridge brought experience in writing dramas about historical events and for specific sites. Just as important, he came with a background in producing plays and had many contacts in Boston theater. He could assess the dramatic potential of the Council Chamber and recruit director Courtney O’Connor and a cast of ten.
Read more about the results, and the potential for similar projects elsewhere, here.

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