A Shaker Story


CHARACTERS
(in order of appearance)

Lord of the Dance
Caller of the Tune
Rebecca Able
Sarah Goodheart
Sister Elizabeth
Sister Kate
Female school children
Kane Parker
Brother Nathaniel
Adam Parker
Pastor John
Emily
Sister Elena
Father Joseph
Mother Joannah
Brother Ezekiel
Brother Albert
Brother Henry
Harvey Bennet
John Lyons
Bennet daughters
Brother Jonah
Brother Simon
Brother Mathew
Shaker Doctor
Child
Rebecca’s daughter
Shaker man, 50’s
Shaker woman, 40’s
Orphan, child
Rebecca’s Aunt
Shaker Trustee
Shaker Teacher
ages 10 -14
Rebecca’s friend
Shaker Trustee
Kane’s Father
Baptist minister
teenage Shaker
Shaker sewing supervisor
Shaker Elder
Shaker Eldress
Shaker farm supervisor
Shaker brother, farm worker
Shaker brother, farm worker
Father of 2 daughters in the Shaker school
Associate of Harvey Bennet
12 and 14
Shaker brother, farm worker
Shaker brother, farm worker
Shaker brother, farm worker
in his 50’s
13 years old
10 years old

All performers need to be able to sing and to dance. The music is sung a cappella, often in rounds, and in the large worship scenes 3-4 males and 3-4 females sing the Shaker songs, providing the music and rhythm for the marchers. The circular march is actually a very vigorous movement, not military style but rather ecstatic with whirling, turning and twisting. There are worshippers who fall down in rapturous experiences. For further information about the Shaker songs and dances the interested reader should consult Edward Deming Andrews' The Gift To Be Simple: Songs, Dances, and Rituals of the American Shakers published by J.J. Augustin Publishers (1940) and republished by Dover (1962).



Act I:

Scene i:  The Dance
Scene ii:  A rustic farmhouse near Canterbury, NH, 1830’s
Scene iii:  Trustee’s Office Shaker Village, Canterbury
Scene iv:  Shaker classroom
Scene v:  Trustees Office
Scene vi:  New Life Baptist Church
Scene vii:  Sewing room Shaker village


Act II:

Scene i:  Shaker Sunday worship
Scene ii:  Trustees office
Scene iii:  Parker home
Scene iv:  Trustees office
Scene v:  Farm fields
Scene vi:  Trustees office
Scene vii:  Potato fields
Scene viii:  Shaker Union meeting


Act III:

Scene i:  Shaker confessional
Scene ii:  Shaker confessional
Scene iii:  Farmers returning
Scene iv:  Farmers hoeing
Scene v:  Evening worship
Scene vi:  Evening worship – some weeks later
Scene vii:  The tool shed
Scene viii:  The infirmary
Scene ix:  The infirmary
Scene x:  Shaker classroom


Act IV:

Scene i:  Picking berries
Scene ii:  The woods
Scene iii:  Shaker Sunday worship
Scene iv:  The woods
Scene v:  A parlor several years later


Although there are some 30 scenes most can be suggested using props (hoe, scythe, berry basket, etc.) or furniture (desk, table, bench, bed, etc.). The main set is the Meeting House where the dance occurs (Act I Sc i; Act II Sc i; Act III Sc v, vi; Act IV Sc iii).

ACT I
Scene i


A man (Lord of the Dance) dressed in plain dark clothes dances ecstatically while a woman (Caller of the Tune) also in a plain dark dress sings rapturously.


The Lord of the Dance

“I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth;
In Bethlehem I had my birth.


Chorus

Dance, then, wherever you may be
For I am the Lord of the Dance said He,
I will lead you all, wherever you may be,
I will lead you all in the dance said He.

I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame,
Some pious people said it was a shame,
They whipped and beat me and hung me high
And they left me on a cross to die.

I danced on the Friday when the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back,
They buried my body and they thought I was gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.

They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that will never, never die,
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me,
For I am the Lord of the Dance said He.”
                                 Shaker Song


ACT I
Scene ii


An adult and child are standing in a small room in a rustic farmhouse in New Hampshire in the 1830s.

REBECCA

Can’t I stay with you Aunt Sarah? I will be ever so good.

AUNT SARAH

No child, I would it were so. But I cannot feed us both on my keep. And my employer is not wealthy, nor very generous.

REBECCA

Then what is to be done with me?

AUNT SARAH

Why, we must try to have you taken in.

REBECCA

Who will take in an orphan?

AUNT SARAH

It is the Shakers whom I see fit to raise you, child, to feed you, and school you and teach you women’s work.

REBECCA

But I don’t want to leave you.

AUNT SARAH

It is God’s will Rebecca, and you must accept it. The Shakers will learn you how to see the justice of His ways.

REBECCA

I will accept it if I must, but I don’t think I can be shown the justice of it.

AUNT SARAH

You will, you will.

REBECCA

Will I see you anymore, Aunt Sarah?

AUNT SARAH

Yes child, I will visit you, and take you out if they permit it.

REBECCA

Are the Shakers Baptists, like you and Mummy?

AUNT SARAH

No, but they are Christians, and good people.

REBECCA

Will I live with a family?

AUNT SARAH

You will live with other children who will be like brothers and sisters to you. And there will be lots of Mothers and Fathers to teach you, and show you the way. And with so many, you will not have such a loss as you have had with but one, for there will always be another to take her, or his, place if any should be called away.

REBECCA

What if they won’t take me in?

AUNT SARAH

I shall plead your case, myself. A friend of your Mother’s is one of the sisters. That friendship, I think will ease the way.

REBECCA

Can I take anything my Mother gave me with me?

AUNT SARAH

The Shaker’s share all worldly things, child, and whatever you take you must be prepared to share.

REBECCA

May I take the frock my Mother made for me?

AUNT SARAH

The one with ribbons and bows? The pretty one?

REBECCA

Yes, Aunt Sarah, I love it so much.

AUNT SARAH

You may bring it, but they may not let you wear it. Their dress is simple and plain, not like those of the “world”, as they say.

REBECCA

When do we go?

AUNT SARAH

We must go now, child.

REBECCA

I will get my things.

ACT I
Scene iii


The Trustee’s Office at the Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire, 1835. Sister Elizabeth, a Trustee, and meets with Aunt Sarah and Rebecca.

SISTER ELIZABETH

Rebecca, I am so glad to meet thee.

REBECCA

Thank you, Sister. (curtsies)

SISTER ELIZABETH

And such fine manners. How old are thee?

REBECCA

I am twelve, Sister.

SISTER ELIZABETH

A good age to learn things.

AUNT SARAH

Her Mother died Sister, and I cannot keep her with me.

SISTER ELIZABETH

That is why thou hast brought her to us?

AUNT SARAH

Aye.

SISTER ELIZABETH

But what about her Father?

AUNT SARAH

Dead too.

SISTER ELIZABETH

I see. Any brothers or sisters?

AUNT SARAH

She was the oldest. She had a younger brother and sister, but both died in infancy. Her Father was a good man, though he drank a bit. He died ‘bout a year ago when a team he was driving ran away with the wagon and he was thrown out and struck his head on a sharp rock. Her Mother died this fall of pneumonia and a broken heart. This child has no other relations but myself. I keep house for a widowed farmer who does not like children. She is too young to find a situation for herself, and I pray that you, and your community, will take pity upon her and take her in.

SISTER ELIZABETH

Poor child. Art thou a Christian?

REBECCA

Yes, Sister, I am. I went to the Baptist Church with my Mother.

SISTER ELIZABETH

And now thou wouldst like to come to live with the community of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing?

AUNT SARAH

Yes, Sister, she would!

SISTER ELIZABETH

Let her speak!

REBECCA

I...I don’t know.

SISTER ELIZABETH

Of course not my child. It is thy Aunt that wishes to have thee here.

REBECCA

Yes.

SISTER ELIZABETH

Thou canst not make a covenant with the Society until thou art twenty-one years old, and mature in mind and body. Thou must then decide whether to go back into the world, or take up a cross against the flesh, serve God, and labor to attain His gift. But thou art too young to understand it now. If thou come into the community we will see that thou art clothed and fed, that thou learn to read and write, and to cook and sew and to do women’s work so that even if thou go back into the world, thou canst make thy way in honest employment. It is what we offer all of the young who come to us.

REBECCA

Will I have time to play?

SISTER ELIZABETH

When thy lessons and thy work are done thou mayst pray, child, for thy soul and the souls of thy Mother and thy Father. There is joy in faith, child.

AUNT SARAH

She meant no offense, Sister.

SISTER ELIZABETH

None taken.

AUNT SARAH

What must I do to have her abide in thy community.

SISTER ELIZABETH

Dost thou wish that Rebecca? If thou dost not, then it would be better thou didst not come.

REBECCA

I wish it. And thank thee, Sister.

SISTER ELIZABETH

Then thy Aunt, as Guardian, must sign the indenture papers giving the Community custody. Thy Aunt may visit whenever she wishes (to Aunt Sarah) and thou art welcome to attend our Sabbath meetings and may observe even if thou dost not care to join us.

AUNT SARAH

Thank you, Sister. Child, embrace me before I leave. Write to me and I will visit thee, God willing.

SISTER ELIZABETH

Rebecca, thou will reside in the Children’s House where a sister will look after thee and thou shall attend school in the summer and work in the winter. But there is also berry picking in the summer and picnics too, and sleigh rides in the winter. We will take good care of thee.

ETC.