Video: Harlow House tradition plays on
It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1920s, but this year there was a twist. The young Plymouth thespians putting on the Corn Planting play at the Harlow Old Fort House were even younger than previous student performers.
“This is the first time the play has been done by third-graders,” said Hedge School teacher Margaret Shea. In the past, fifth graders have played the roles of the Pilgrims settling into a strange land.
After a long and arduous sea voyage, the Pilgrims must endure a difficult winter on their new plantation. But with the friendship and help of some of the Native Americans including Samoset and Massosoit, the colonists soon learn how to plant and harvest corn to sustain themselves.
Shea and Jean Mackerwicz along with the rest of the third grade teaching team, worked with the students on the play for about three weeks and made several trips to the historic 1677 Harlow House during that time to rehearse prior to Wednesday’s performance.
“It was a little overwhelming at first,” said Shea, “and we didn’t know if we’d have enough time to prepare.”
Mastering some of the lines, including the old English language, was a challenge at first, noted Mackerwicz, but the students quickly proved they were up to the task.
Donna Curtain, director for the Plymouth Antiquarian Society, which works with the schools to put on the play each year, was very pleased with the youngster’s performances.
“The really handled it splendidly,” Curtain said of the third graders mastery of the play’s lines and language. Written originally in the 1930s, the play had recently been re-written to be more historically accurate based on documentation including information from Governor William Bradford’s journals, she said.
The society provides the costumes for the play and Curtain noted that’s where the age difference of the performers was most noticeable, she said.
“It’s a big leap from third to fifth grade in terms of size. We had a lot of our volunteers very busy in the weeks leading up to the performance making new clothes for us and we thought the finished product looked wonderful,” she said.
Christopher Comer, who portrayed Christopher Jones, Master of the Mayflower said it was “an honor” to perform the play. “Only one other school (Nathaniel Morton) was picked, so I think it’s an honor,” he said prior to Wednesday morning’s half-hour performance.
In the role of Mary Chilton, Adrienne Ali said she liked portraying the Pilgrims, who had to learn to plant corn and “couldn’t use washers and dryers and had to find special ways to ways to clean their clothes and make their food.”
Sean Campbell, who played Elder Brewster, enjoyed his role of leading the colonists in prayer. “I like the part where I get to raise my hands in prayer,” he said.
The production was delayed Wednesday morning due to ambient noise. In addition to the traffic on Sandwich Street, the Central Fire Station crew was hard at work maintaining the trucks and the noise level made it impossible to hear the young actors – even those able to project their voices. Hedge School principal Bill Kane headed across the street and asked the firefighters if they could take about a half-hour break so the show could go on.
The weather cooperated nicely too. After several scorching days, including Monday’s dress rehearsal where temperatures were in the mid-90s, Wednesday was sunny and hot, but less humid then the previous three days and the yard outside the Harlow House was shady and cool. Parents and family members enjoyed the show on benches and chairs set up just feet from the historic house, which they were invited to tour afterward.
Supt. of Schools Barry Haskell was among the audience members and said how impressed he was with the third-grade performers.
“I thought today’s play was excellent,” he said. “To see the level of competency that our third-graders were able to do today was just very heartening. We have wonderful kids who work very hard and it was nice for them to carry on this tradition.”
The Corn Planting play is also part of Shea’s family tradition. Just a stone’s throw away from the Harlow House is the house in which she grew up.
“My mother was a Pilgrim girl at the Harlow House, and I followed in her footsteps and I was a Pilgrim girl here, too. I’ve been through many corn plantings.
“It’s very exciting,” she said of coming full circle with her students now performing the play. “I’m back to my roots.”
Alice Coyle can be reached at email@example.com.