The moving words of a spirited slave girl forced to hide in a tiny crawl space from her perverse master resonate Tuesday at Weber State University in Ogden.
The university's department of performing arts presents a readers theater production of "Scenes From 'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.' " The production is based on Harriet Jacobs' book and was adapted by Angela Berryman Choberka, an adjunct English professor at WSU and a teacher at Evergreen Montessori Academy, a private school in Ogden.
Choberka said Jacob's story is not only an incredible example of survival, but also a testament to what an individual can accomplish, even when the odds are awful.
"She became a great spokesperson and advocate for the abolitionist movement and worked really hard to help people who were refugees from slavery," Choberka said. "She never gained a lot of fame, and even today, a lot people don't know her story."
This production is part of the 2011 Weber Reads community reading project, which has been examining the autobiographical slave narratives of Jacobs and Frederick Douglass.
Jacobs' book, published in 1861, is an early example of feminist literature and was written under the pen name Linda Brent. Jacobs deals particularly with the troubles experienced by female slaves, including sexual harassment and abuse.
"I had a hard time listening to the first read-through without crying all the way through it," said Caril Jennings, marketing director for the WSU department of performing arts.
"When we talk about slavery, we think about people having to harshly toil in the sun," Jennings said. "We don't think about the interior lives of the house slaves."
Jacobs was treated relatively well by several early mistresses -- one even taught her to read and write. However, that mistress ultimately betrayed Jacobs and she was sold to the household of Dr. Norcam, a prominent member of his community whose private behavior did not match his "Christian" values.
"He is going after what she has been taught by her grandmother to protect -- her honor," Jennings said. "She is this Christian woman and expects that maybe this guy is going to behave like one, and he doesn't."
Jacobs escaped Norcam's vile intentions by hiding in her grandmother's attic for seven years before fleeing to the North, where she was eventually reunited with her children. Jennings praises Choberka, whose adaptation distills the dense book into several crucial scenes, about 40 minutes in length, that shed light on the horrors of slavery.
Choberka was a member of a writing project at WSU that brought teachers of English together to write the elementary and secondary school curriculum guide for Weber Reads. She came to the project well-versed in Jacobs' story, as she had previously included it in her classes.
Weber Reads created a perfect venue for her "dreamed-of" play about Harriet.
"She never gave up," Choberka said. "I just think the journey is pretty incredible."
The premiere performance of the play is the completion of the first step in her goal for the show. She hopes to develop it into a full-length script and eventually incorporate other theatrical and multimedia aspects.
The cast includes Rita Martin as Harriet the author, Alicia Washington as Harriet in her younger years, Jan Hamer as Jacobs' editor and Jennings as a scholar who fills is some the historical information.
Martin was recently seen as one of the Delany sisters in the Grand Theatre's "Having Our Say." Washington is a WSU theater graduate who has appeared in many Utah productions, including "A New Brain" and "Hairspray." Hamer is a WSU English faculty member and a frequent performer in readers theater at WSU.