You’ve probably never heard of Josiah Bartlett, Edward Bartlett, Ann Keyes, and Mary C. Wheeler. But these ordinary 19th-century Concordians will appear onstage alongside the March sisters in the Concord Players’ upcoming production of Little Women.
Actual townspeople who were contemporaries of the Alcotts, these men and women were unearthed from the archives by dramaturg Emma Futhey to give the ensemble actors real people to work from. Not as a caricature or pastiche, but to make them more than just background players.
Explained Futhey, “(Director) Katie Swimm wanted the ensemble to be invested in their characters, just as the principals are. She wanted them to be actual people who might have interacted with the Alcotts.”
To find them, Futhey first searched the census for people who would have been the same ages and genders as the cast members, then scoured the archives for the finer details on their everyday lives. She looked at occupations and household set ups to get a fuller idea of who these people were and what they did.
“The fun thing, and what my whole jam is, is what people mark down and what they leave off,” said Futhey. “Men get occupations, while most women associate with their husbands. It was interesting to see that Mary Wheeler, who was living in her father’s household at the time of the census, listed herself as a scholar, not a teacher. Is this an Emily Dickenson situation, a secret genius hidden away?”
Futhey also looked for photographs and other items to more firmly root these citizens in the town. Her favorite is from the Concord Museum: a piece of paper showing that Edward Bartlett, played by Tom Marsh, owned a boat on the Concord River. In 1877, Edward was the marshal for a regatta held on the river. “For everyday people, so much of what we have of their quotidien experience is small pieces of paper or material, marriage licenses, etc.,” Futhey explained. “We can use those little pieces to build whole characters and worlds. It honors real members of the community while also giving actors room to play and grow.”
These immortalized townspeople will appear nightly alongside Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy starting April 28 at 51 Walden Street. Little Women mementos and treasures from the Orchard House gift shop will be on sale at performances May 11-13. All proceeds from sales that weekend will support Orchard House in its efforts to preserve this cherished history and Louisa May Alcott’s formidable legacy.
For tickets and more information: concordplayers.org.
But don’t wait — this play only happens once every 10 years!