Gerrit Smith: A Playwright’s Journey

Kyle Bass, the playwright of Possessing Harriet, returns to Peterboro to present “Inventing Gerrit Smith: A Playwright’s Journey” for the annual recognition of abolitionist Gerrit Smith’s birth in 1797. The Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum will host the special program at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 2, 2019, at the Smithfield Community Center, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro.

Bass spent time at the Gerrit Smith Estate during his preparations for writing a play commissioned by the Onondaga Historical Association about Harriet Powell, an enslaved woman who escaped from slavery with the help of a waiter at a hotel in Syracuse, with shelter in Smith’s home in Peterboro and transportation to Canada.

After months of research and writing, Bass created a powerful and poignant drama that debuted at Syracuse Stage Oct. 17, 2018. The setting is 1839 in the attic of the Smith home in Peterboro where Harriet is secreted while waiting for the final leg of her journey to Canada. Bass, through the four characters (Tom Leonard, Harriet Powell, Gerrit Smith and Elizabeth Cady [Stanton]), pulls the audience into the human factors and tensions of two mighty movements swelling in the nation with their pulses beating from Central New York.

Bass and the four outstanding actors accomplish more in the 90 minutes in that setting to illuminate the strains and stresses of the time than heritage efforts have mustered in 90 months. Bass will share his learning experience as he “intended to invent and write a drama, not edit and present a documentary; not to exhibit but to reveal.”

Bass earned a master of fine arts degree from Goddard College, where he has taught creative writing since 2006. He is the associate artistic director at Syracuse Stage, teaches playwriting at Syracuse University and is the Burke Endowed Chair for Regional Studies at Colgate University for the spring 2019 term.

A two-time recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for fiction and play writing, Bass has many one-act plays, full-length plays and screen plays to his credit, is the drama editor for the journal Stone Canoe and is the creator and curator of Cold Read Festival of new plays.

Following the program, a walk to the site of the setting of the play will be guided. The public is encouraged to attend. Admission is free. For more information call 315-280-8828 or email info@gerritsmith.org.

    Kyle Bass (Courtesy of Brenna Merrit) the playwright of Possessing Harriet a play that debuted at Syracuse Stage in 2018, returns to Peterboro NY to present Inventing Gerrit Smith: A Playwright’s Journey for the annual recognition of abolitionist Gerrit Smith’s birth in 1797. The Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum will host the special program at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, March 2, 2019 at the Smithfield Community Center, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY 13134.

 Possessing Harriet cast (Courtesy Brenna Merrit) in the 1839 attic setting in Peterboro NY. (L-R) Lucy Lavely as Elizabeth Cady, Daniel Morgan Shelley as Tom Leonard, Nicole King as Harriet Powell, and Wynn Harmon as Gerrit Smith. Play wright Kyle Bass will present Inventing Gerrit Smith: A Playwright’s Journey for the annual recognition of abolitionist Gerrit Smith’s birth in 1797. The Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum will host the special program at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, March 2, 2019 at the Smithfield Community Center, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY 13134.

       Wynn Harmon as Gerrit Smith in Possessing Harriet (Courtesy Brenna Merrit)

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