Montclair, NJ – Coming this April, Montclair will have the opportunity to travel in time from 1780 to 2023 on the grounds of the James Howe House.
The historic home — the first property in Montclair to be owned by an African American and formerly enslaved person — is the focus of “The Ground on Which We Stand,” a new multi-writer, site-specific performance exploring the history and impact of The James Howe House from 1780 to present day.
“The Ground on Which We Stand” is part of a five-year series of site-specific performances based on Underground Railroad history in Essex County. Luna Stage has committed to telling the story of the James Howe House – both past and present – in collaboration with community stakeholders, historians, playwrights, and local activists. Ten playwrights, ranging from seasoned professionals to emerging artists, from artistic elders to high school students, were commissioned to create original monologues inspired by the house’s history.
Friends of the Howe House, a group of community activists, worked to save The James Howe House because it “represents the importance and vibrancy of Montclair’s Black community, both historically and in the present.” As one of the oldest structures in Montclair, dating to the Revolutionary era, the James Howe House also tells the story of slavery, freedom and the founding of Montclair as a town.”
James Howe and his family were enslaved by the Crane family. James Howe served Major Nathaniel Crane. In 1817, Crane manumitted Howe, and in his will of 1833, Crane bequeathed Howe the house and the six acres surrounding it. According to census data, the Howe family (first James, and then his son Henry and daughter Delilah) owned the home until the early 20th century. It subsequently changed hands many times and was nearly torn down on multiple occasions, until this year, when Friends of the Howe House was formed and organized to purchase the property and honor its legacy.
Monologues in “The Ground on Which We Stand” reflect 240 years of post-emancipation struggles, abolitionist history, the impact and legacy of Jim Crow laws, gentrification, and current community challenges around diversity and integration. Characters include Howe; his enslaver Nathaniel Crane; Howe’s son Henry who was drafted to serve in the Civil War; Howe’s daughter Delilah who resided on the property when it was foreclosed due to mortgage debt; abolitionists Amory Bradford and Charles Thompson; historian Edwin Goodell; and present-day community organizers Aminah Toler and Kimberly Latortue who fought for the preservation of this historic property. The characters were chosen in collaboration with 10 community historians and activists, all of whom contributed their expertise and perspective and are continually involved in the development of the work.
On Saturday, April 29, the pieces will be performed outdoors, along a one-mile walk from the Crane House to the Howe House. Each monologue will last between 3-5 minutes. Groups of 20 audience members will be guided together along this journey, and will share the experience of time traveling from 1780 to present day Montclair. As they walk together between the monologue sites, audience groups will be encouraged to respond to artistic questions via conversation prompts that will allow them to share their own perspectives and experiences with one another.
To support access, the monologues will also be performed indoors at Luna Stage later that weekend. Additional performance dates are also being planned at Crossroads Theatre, and multiple community and activist organizations are in conversation about how to tour elements of this piece to Montclair schools and beyond. The project has been announced by multiple statewide arts and historical organizations, encouraging their membership to participate in this unique experience. Historians have expressed interest in recording this performance so it may become a permanent audio installation, accessed via QR codes, providing ongoing access to this layered historical experience.
Luna Stage’s Ari Laura Kreith, who conceived and directed “The Ground on Which We Stand”, says Luna Stage is “honored to be participating in uplifting this essential narrative in our community. ‘The Ground on Which We Stand’ exemplifies the way artistic practice can inspire narrative change and challenge systems of behavior and understanding.”
Tickets to both events are free, but reservations are strongly encouraged. Learn more and reserve tickets online at lunastage.org/underground-history.
THE GROUND ON WHICH WE STAND, was developed at Luna Stage in collaboration with Crossroads Theatre, and written by Turron Kofi Alleyne, Jenny Lyn Bader, Rochelle Herring, Sakinah Hofler, Stephen Kaplan, Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, Diane Polledri, Martine Sainvil, TyLie Shider, Mo Schlick, Melissa Toomey and Richard Wesley. It is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the New Jersey Historical Society, the New Jersey Theatre Alliance/Stages Festival, and the Suzzanne Douglas Memorial Commissioning Fund and The Montclair Foundation.