“With Banners” Delights on Stage

With Banners wpr“A swiftly moving story of love and complication. Brooke Reyburn and Mark Trent were destined to despise each other. The will of Mark’s aunt leaves everything to the girl that rightfully belongs to Mark. Brooke settles down in the beautiful old house she had inherited.”  Penn Publishing Co.

But Brooke’s new house is divided down the middle, and Mark Trent comes to live in the other half.  Amid the intrigue of a second, missing will and the nefarious actions of her household staff, Brooke’s brother stages a community play.

“Why not give your play a try-out here?  We’ll do it for the town’s welfare fund, in the Club House theater.”  

“News flash!  The Reyburns stage a play!”

With Banners was dedicated, “To the playwrights and players past and present of my family.”  Emilie Loring’s previous book, Hilltops Clear, was dedicated to her brother, and now she thought about her whole family and its traditions of amateur theatricals.

“We children were raised on dramatics and quotations.” With Banners

Boston Theater Old Drury wprEmilie’s father, George Melville Baker, belonged to an amateur acting troupe in the 1850s.  They were the final performers ever to play in the old Boston Theater, a Charles Bullfinch building on the corner of Federal and Franklin.  Many of George’s fellow performers became professional actors and comedians, including Mark Twain’s favorite, George Setchell, and Robert F. McClannin, the father of Emilie’s friend Beth.  George Baker clerked at a publishing company by day, but at night he appeared on stage with his friends.

George also joined the Mercantile Library Association in Boston.   The group gave monthly entertainments for their own enjoyment, and some of that group’s members became famous, too.  Fanny Davenport made her debut with the MLA before heading to the New York stage, and both George Frothingham and Henry Clay Barnabee were later famous in the Boston Museum Company.  George Baker and Barnabee performed a two-man show in small theaters across New England, but after getting swindled by P. T. Barnum, they closed it down.

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Amateur theatricals in the Bakers’ parlor

As his friends went on to the professional stage, George stuck with publishing and wrote eighty-nine plays “in his spare time.”  Amateur theatricals were a big deal in the late 1800s.  With no television or radio, people relied on the live stage for entertainment, and just as now, that was too expensive to do more than occasionally.  Instead, they gave performances in each other’s homes, and George’s plays met  the constant need for new material.

Boston 2008
Henry Clay Barnabee as the Sheriff of Nottingham

The Bakers  cheerfully upended household order and gave amateur dramas in their parlor for days at a time.  A large canvas was painted at one end for scenery, and their make-shift stage was lit by a row of gas lanterns.  Family and neighbors acted, and other family and neighbors sat in the audience.  George’s professional acting friends often joined in, so Emilie knew the famous actors in the papers as family friends.  Henry Clay Barnabee performed his most famous “Cork Leg” pantomime for the family, and he frequently reprised his stage roles in the Baker living room.

With Banners gives a nod to each member of Emilie’s family, going back to the time after George Baker’s death when the family gave a memorial performance of his last play in Barnstable.  Mrs. Rayburn is Mrs. Baker; Lucette is Emilie’s sister Rachel; and Sam is her brother Robert.

 

It was Father’s habit to orate when he was shaving, and we could spout Shakespeare before we could spell. Besides being a publisher, he was a playwright for amateurs…

Mrs. Reyburn smiled and nodded. She would make her home-coming children think she had had a nice day, if the heavens had fallen. She was like that.

Lucette waited for the greeting of applause to quiet before, without a trace of nervousness, she spoke her first line.

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An amateur performance in Wellesley Hills

Sam is ambitious to write for the professional stage; he has one three-act comedy finished–that is, as finished as a play can be until it is put into rehearsal. That is why he is acting, that he may know all there is to know of stage technic.

With Banners

For many years, Emilie’s siblings were the ones in the public eye.  Rachel Baker acted, wrote for the amateur stage as their father had, and also gave public readings.  Robert Baker acted, wrote plays, went to vaudeville, and later wrote scripts for silent films.

“You’re not bad yourself, Brooke. Why didn’t you take to acting?”

Emilie actually did act, in plays at home and on small, amateur stages. But she had a greater aptitude for reading and critiquing–and later for writing.  When it was her turn, she tried play-writing, but she preferred novels for their “larger canvas” and surpassed the rest of her family in popularity.

 

Boston 2008
“Islands arise, grow old, and disappear.”

The  title line from the book’s play captured the essence of Emilie’s reminiscences: “Islands arise, grow old, and disappear.”  George Baker’s “Among the Breakers” was the best-selling amateur drama of all time, even beating out “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”–and I bet you’ve never heard of it before.  But that’s the way of it.  Popular entertainments come and go, doing their job for the moment and replaced by the next thing to come along.

If only he could have lived to share her good fortune. He had been such a wonderful father. With Banners

When Emilie wrote With Banners, her career had reached constant, best-seller status, and she had plenty of energy for more.  Reflecting on previous generations wasn’t sad; it was encouraging to think of what her family had accomplished, their cheer and unending enthusiasm.  That’s how she got her title–going forward with banners!

“Something tells me that your spirit never shirked responsibility which would broaden character, nor evaded experience which would give stamina and courage to carry on. I’ll wager you went forward like an army with banners. What you could do, your descendant many generations removed can do. Watch her, that’s all, just watch her go on!”

With Banners

Next up:  We Ride the Gale!


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