April 5-15, 2012

Brigit Mac Giolla Bháin’s Diary : Part 1

Diary Entry 1: 5 January, 1906

Cold, wet day. It feels like I’ve been sea sick for years. Apparently we’ll be arriving soon, thanks be to God. I can barely move without stepping on Jewish feet, or bumping an Italian nose – who would have thought they’d fit all these people onto one boat? It goes without saying I need a good shower. I’ve been learning to speak Italian from a nice family that sleeps next to me. They keep going on about a bouquet of flowers. Every second word out of that child’s mouth is “bel massolino di fior!” Ah well, each to his own. I must say though, I haven’t met many Irish people on this particular ship. I do miss Ireland. I can’t remember the last time I had a good potato. Think I’ll get some rest before the big bustle tomorrow.

Diary Entry 2: 6 January, 1906

Ellis Island! Got all my gear off the ship (all my gear being one suitcase and a kerchief from the nice Italian family) and stood in line for about a lifetime waiting for medical inspections. At first I thought they were going to throw me out – some of my papers got wet on the journey over, but after days on that stinking mosh-pit of a ferry I was having none of it. I wiped the papers with my kerchief and handed them right back, thank you very much. Now sitting in a pen waiting to see what happens next. A nice Jewish man and his daughter are sitting next to me. He’s telling her stories and humming songs under his breath. How nice. Imagine he turns out to be a singer on stage, telling the story of our journey over? Better yet – a famous baron who makes thousands of dollars making silent moving pictures? Could happen, it’s America, after all.

 

Diary Entry 3: 4 December, 1906

Eventually found a job with a nice rich white family at the top of a hill in New Rochelle, New York. I’ve been working here about half a year now. This is a relief, I was worried I’d be spending all my time on the streets of the Lower East side with the rest of the girls, earning money in ways I don’t care to speak of. Most of us have moved up now. I hear one of them is working as a Town Hall Bureaucrat in the city nowadays.  Life here is good. I have a nice room, clean aprons and the little boy, Edgar, is a pleasant enough wee thing, though he does have an odd way of accurately predicting the weather. Strange lad. The rest of the family are nice enough – there’s the master, who made it big making fireworks over in the city – nothing my cousin Billy couldn’t do in our shed in the back yard! He went off the North Pole with some Perry fellow a while ago, won’t be back for a few months yet. The mistress has nice manners most of the time. She gets a bit shitey whenever she’s on edge but I forgive her – the woman hasn’t had to work a day in her life – it’s no wonder she looks for someone to boss about. The mistress’ brother seems to live with them, too. He’s a bit of an odd-ball that one, obsessing all day over some Nesbit harlot. If you ask me, he should be out doing something useful in the world, like join a revolution of men under the repression of rich white society. He could take over a library or something exciting. Could happen. The master’s father is a bit of a grump. He reminds me of pappy in his old age. He has a nice cardigan, though. Must go, Edgar just came running in yelling about an emergency in the garden. Better make myself useful.

4 April continued

Holy Mother it’s a baby! A newborn negro baby in the garden! What a strange country! Who buries babies in a bed of dahlias I beg you? It’s just like Moses in the bulrushes, that’s what.

Diary Entry 4: 15 April

The mistress has taken it in, along with its mother, Miss Sarah. I bring her tea and food up to the attic, but she hasn’t said a word since she got here.  Who knew Americans could be so unsociable? Poor lass.

Diary Entry 5: 17 April

The baby has a father! Well, of course the baby has a father, what I mean is, the father is alive and here! I went in to serve tea just the other day and wouldn’t you know it there’s a tall negro man sitting in the chair all polite-like, and the mistress is saying “won’t you stay and have a cup of tea before you go, Mr Walker?” He’s been coming back every week since, playing on the old piano and singing. I think it’s right lovely, trying to get Silent Sarah to come out and forgive him for whatever he did wrong. She doesn’t seem to be responding so far. I wonder if she’s deaf.

Diary Entry 6: 1 September

Made a right arse of myself today. I nearly threw the master out his own home! He came home looking like one of those Eskimos you see in picture books – all big and furry-like. Can’t blame me, but I don’t think I’m going to get the weekend off after that one.  In other news – went to a rally at Union Square today. I’d heard about this Emma Goldman on the news and from Patty McFee who works at the house at the bottom of the hill, so we both took a trip to the city to hear her speak. Well. It all ended up in a raucous, I got beaten up by some idiot policeman and had to walk home in the dark with a bloody great pain in my back. I suppose going on strike may not have been the best idea. I may ask for a raise, though. God knows I put up with the strangest happenings in this household.

 

*Catch the next episode of Brigit’s adventures on a blog post near you tomorrow or the next day*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. nag12@duke.edu's Gravatar nag12@duke.edu
    April 16, 2012    

    A rather interesting back story to a character we sadly see rather little of as an individual during the show itself. For Brigit though ever present during most scenes is part of a mass of unique actions, a hectic haze through which most characters are nigh indistinguishable except for those brief moments where one or two are highlighted in a frozen scene (specifically thinking about the opening scene and strike in Lawrence). This is true until your situational humor scene where Brigit tries to have father go in through the back door, not realizing he is one of her employers. Your facial expression is absolutely priceless. Afterwards you vanish for a tad, but start reappearing in scenes with the New Rochelle family, highlighting how having a servant at the time would be considered proper and function as a status symbol for the family.

    Overall I must say a wonderful show Zim, cannot wait for Cabaret!
    -Niklas

  2. antk@duke.edu's Gravatar antk@duke.edu
    April 17, 2012    

    This is impressively immersive!
    Well done, JB!

  3. keg16@duke.edu's Gravatar keg16@duke.edu
    April 24, 2012    

    I love this diary entry. It is really important to give your character a backstory no matter how minor the role seems. If it didn’t matter, the playwright wouldn’t have included it. Your travels as an immigrant and later as the housekeeper gave better colors to your character. It made me understand Brigit so much more. Thanks for this post!

  4. Matt Akers's Gravatar Matt Akers
    April 24, 2012    

    Jamie! I freaking love this. I can see you managed to have a good time with your character :)

    Your post makes me think about acting as a type of “role-playing.” You know, people are funny. American culture often pokes mean-hearted fun at certain types of role-playing, like Dungeons and Dragons, or Live Action Role-Playing games (where you dress up as characters, go to a field and pretend to battle). Some types of role-playing, like role-playing video games (think: World of Warcraft), are downright shunned. These days, anybody who dresses up and pretends that they are somebody else in their free time is labeled a “nerd” or a “loser.” And yet actors, who dress up and act like they are somebody else on screen or on STAGE, are some of the most revered people in our society. Weird, huh?

    In my social group here at Duke, I would be endlessly teased if I played Dungeons and Dragons. I would never be able to live it down. Last semester, though, when I suggested that my housemates and I put on a murder mystery party, they were delighted! “Board games about dragons? Nooo.” “Dress up like Sherlock Holmes and pretend to solve a fake mystery all night? Yes, please!”

    My point here is not to mock my hypocritical friends, but to point out that that role-playing is AWESOME. Everybody has an imagination, and there are some things in life that can only be done by imagining them. That’s why we play “Cops and Robbers” as kids, or have classy tea parties with our friends. And that’s why I act. People love to pretend that they are someone else sometimes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    So thank you, Jamie, for taking the time to role-play in the shoes of Brigit in your free time, and for carrying that with you on stage. Miss you already!

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