EDINBURGH 2018: Guest Blog- Henry Box Brown
Mehr Mansuri, writer of Henry Box Brown blogs for BWW about bringing the show to the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The human urge for freedom is an astonishing and powerful thing - as the story of Henry Box Brown, a 19th century African American slave, so vividly shows.
Returning one day from his unpaid forced labour in a tobacco factory he discovered that his owner had sold his wife and children.
Brown decided that no matter what the risks and how brutal the potential punishment he would escape.
He enlisted the help of a white reverend and a slave-owning gambler, had himself packed into a box 3ft by 2ft, and was shipped 300 miles to freedom by boat and train.
Brown's story became internationally famous in the 1840s and 1850s and he later became a prominent abolitionist, an author and entertainer.
US history is full of remarkable African Americans but even today we hear precious little about them, and they are at their rarest in musicals.
This was something I was deeply aware of having spent many years making theatre in largely African American communities.
So I decided to see if I could create a new musical with Brown at its heart.
It would not be a staged re-enactment of the horrors of slavery, it would be a celebration of the human spirit and its capacity to transcend.
I soon discovered that lots of other people liked the idea, and was able to put together an amazing team to make the project a reality.
Frank Sanchez came on board as my co-composer along with three-time Tony Award winner, Hinton Battle, Eric Dozier, Renee Reid and Oscar nominee, Jack Lenz. Tony Award winner Ben Harney took on the role of director.
We have now recruited some of New York's finest gospel singers and off Broadway actors and are bringing Henry Box Brown the Musical Journey to the Edinburgh Fringe.
It's full of fantastic music, in many styles, but most special of all we have "revived" some largely forgotten 19th century negro spirituals.
You can get an idea of what it's like from the trailer at https://youtu.be/VEv-c9xihYg.
And there is something particularly appropriate about the musical having its first international performances in Britain.
It is a country which was prominent in the slave trade and in the fight for its abolition.
It is also a country that has often been a refuge for the persecuted and oppressed.
My own family are members of the Baha'i faith, Iran's largest non-Islamic religious minority, and were forced to flee to the UK after the Islamic revolution. I was educated in Worcester before moving to the USA where I attended university.
And after Brown had made his escape, the USA tightened its laws on the hunting down of fugitive slaves. He was able to outrun injustice by crossing the Atlantic.
Eventually, the situation in America changed and Brown was able to return.
This was a life led to the full in the most extreme of circumstances, a tale and a spirit to honour and to sing about.
Venue: Assembly Rooms, Music Hall, George Street, EH2 2LR
Time: 14:30. Running Time: 90 mins
Dates: 02-26 Aug PREVIEWS: 02-05 August. NO SHOWS: Wed 8, Mon 13, Mon 20 - August.
Tickets: £7 previews, £13 for midweek; £15 on weekends
Bookings: assemblyfestival.com, 0131 623 3030