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The Trail of Tears

THE TRUTH ABOUT “THE TRAIL OF TEARS”

(In a Nutshell)

Copyright: D. Gerace 2000

A Teaching Skit for Ages 10 – up.

Duration: 10 – 20 minutes

Cast:  6 speaking parts, 12 walk-ons, (but can be anywhere between 4 and 16)

As do all the Edge-u-cation plays, this streamlined, but factual version of the Trail of Tears places the emphasis on the truth of the story, however politically incorrect it may be to do so.   The time has come to honor the diversity of this country by illustrating how indigenous people, slaves and other tyrannized populations managed to survive and eventually thrive, in spite of cruelty, betrayal and other negative historical events usually only mentioned in passing in our school history books.  As with all of the Edge-u-cation projects, I use modern speech idioms, wry humor and an interesting multiple-role hook to generate kid-interest and enthusiasm for learning about a bitter and shameful part of our past in a positive and constructive way.

HOW THIS WORKS:  There are 6 actors needed for this cast and all except one play two or three roles, sometimes almost simultaneously.  Each actor carries a shoulder bag (Fig. #1) in which he/she carries hand-held signs bearing the name of each character he/she plays.  (You can use both sides of a sign but we discovered that in the heat of battle, kids sometimes hold up the wrong side…which can always add to the fun, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing…)

The signs need to be constructed to resemble the hand-fans one would find at churches, funeral homes and political rallies, (Fig. #2) so that they are easily handled as they are held up in front of the audience.  Thus, the actor can quickly change characters and the audience can instantly grasp this transition.

FOR EXAMPLE:  EXPLORER #1 will enter holding the sign that proclaims him as EXPLORER #1.  He begins the dialog, but well into the play, after PRETTY WALKER has the line ‘He will protect us…’ EXPLORER #1 will quickly stash his current sign back into his tote and pull out PRESIDENT ANDREW JACKSON and assume that persona.  Several lines later, cued by LITTLE WALKER’S line, ‘Right, Mama?’  ANDREW JACKSON will stash that sign back into his tote and pull out TRIBAL ELDER and proceed with that character’s lines.  All the characters use that modus operandi to move the action forward.

WHY NOT USE 15 ACTORS and no multiple roles?  Actually, you can, if you have a lot of warm bodies to choose from, but this rather schizoid approach is more fun, eliminates the need for costuming, the confusion of a lot of entrances and exits (and bodies lying around as characters are killed off) and the obvious conflict of the passage of time and place.  Best of all, it challenges the kids playing the parts to think on their feet and be flexible.  It also adds a lighter touch to a very serious subject.

Sample Dialog:

Setting: Long ago, in the woods in the New World

At Rise :  TALL WALKER and his wife, PRETTY WALKER enter from stage left.  The four EXPLORERS enter from stage right.  Both groups stop abruptly upon catching sight of each other, startled.

EXPLORER #1

Yoo hoo, hello there!  Do you speak English?

EXPLORER #2

Idiot!  How could they?  They’re savages.  Look at them!  They’re so different – not even white – probably not even human!

EXPLORER #3

Yes…so different.  How wonderful!  Think of all they can teach us!

EXPLORER #4

Think of all we can teach them!  We can civilize them.  After all, we have government…we’re organized… ‘Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent…”

EXPLORER #1

Not yet they didn’t.  It’s only the late 1600’s!  Our fathers never even left the Old World and anyway…

EXPLORER #4

Whatever.   Think we can communicate with them?  Hey you there…me say hello – hi – how?

TALL WALKER

(Puts right hand up, palm out, then points to self)

Oh-si-yo.  TALL WALKER da-wah-DOH.  *(si is pronounced see)

TALL WALKER

(Turning to audience)

I am Tsalagi…what they call Cherokee.  We are all Tsalagi.  We’ve been here in the Southeast for almost a thousand years and we’re extremely advanced because we are such quick learners.  But in all that time, we’ve never seen anything like this before.  They’re so different…savages, actually…possibly not even human!

EXPLORER #1

(Also addressing audience)

After a while, later in the 1700’s, we were able to do a little business with these folks.  I’ll say this for them…they learned fast!

TALL WALKER

(Taking an ear of corn out of his pouch and biting it)

M’mmmm.  Heap good!

EXPLORER #2

What’s that?  Smells yummy.

TALL WALKER

Selu.  You will come to call it corn.

EXPLORER #2

(Taking a bottle out of his pouch and has a swig)

M’mmmm…..yummy.

TALL WALKER

(Leaning over and sniffing the bottle)

What’s that?  Smells terrible!

EXPLORER #2

Whisky.  You will come to call it fire-water.  But don’t let the stink fool you.  Try some.

TALL WALKER

(Taking a swig..coughs, pauses, takes more….)

M’mmmmm….heap better than corn!

PRETTY WALKER

(Trying to take it away from him)

Bad medicine, Tall Walker.  Don’t drink it.  It’s evil!

EXPLORER #2

(Reaching for the corn…)

No, it’s profitable.  Wanna make a trade?

TALL WALKER

Okay

EXPLORER #2

(Crooks his little finger out and engages

TALL WALKER’S right hand pinky with his RH pinky, linking it

Until the word ‘Pull’ when they pull their little fingers apart.)

Pins, needles, pull!

TALL WALKER

(Hands him the corn)

PRETTY WALKER

(Facing the audience and delivers line while

fingering leather string around her neck, pulling

gold nugget from under her shirt, patting it proudly)

See my pretty necklace?  My son, LITTLE WALKER found this yellow rock lying in the creek bed.

EXPLORER #1

Whoa there!  What’s that?

PRETTY WALKER

Talonega…you call it gold.  We will come to call it death.

EXPLORER #1

(Holding out a scroll)

Cool!  Trade?

TALL WALKER

What’s that?

EXPLORER #3

A government treaty.  It says if you’ll trade them this gold-bearing land for some hot, rocky desert they happen to know about a way’s west from here, they’ll quit bugging you for more land.

PRETTY WALKER

(Taking the scroll, gives it a glance,

then to the audience)

This is not news.  Some of our people have already been moving westward to get away from these white men.  But how come this western land on this paper is so small and the land we trade to you is so big?

EXPLORER #2

Because there are more of us coming over to this new world every day and we want it all!  Besides, you’re savages, see?  You may have figured out how our government works and created your own, but you’re still savages.  We admit you did manage to come up with your own language and a written syllabary to go with it, but you’re still savages!  And as such, you don’t deserve to live.  It’s only natural that we should have to eliminate you.

EXPLORER #2

(Pulling a knife, tries to stab TALL WALKER)

TALL WALKER

(Wrestling the knife away, stabs EXPLORER #2 instead)

EXPLORER #2

(Dying, falls to the ground, putting his #2 prop sign

covertly back in his bag)

EXPLORER #4

(Drawing his own knife, attacks TALL WALKER)

You savage!  See what we mean?  Indians must die!

TALL WALKER

(Dying, falls to the ground, putting his TW prop

sign covertly back in his bag and prepares to switch

to LITTLE WALKER)

PRETTY WALKER

(Horrified, lunges at EXPLORER #4)

You savages!  All whites must die!

(She freezes, mid-lunge)

COMPANY

(Dead and alive, freezing their action

and facing the audience, reciting as one…)

And so the years of war began.  We had been friends with some of the savages, but then we hit

the 1830’s.  Once the greed for land and gold developed, traitors lurked behind every face.

End of Sample Dialog.  For more info. about purchasing this play, email geraced@gmail.com

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