Jamaica Plain playwright Peter Snoad knows few countries had more blood on their hands in the trans-Atlantic slave trade than his native England.
And he’s clear blood also stained the hands of wealthy New Englanders, who amassed fortunes on the backs of the enslaved Africans, especially in Rhode Island.
That is part of the narrative subtext of Snoad’s latest play, “Guided Tour,” which opens Friday, May 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Hibernian Hall, 184 Dudley St. in Boston.
“It’s unfortunate that as a country, we have the desire to heal from the legacy of slavery, and yet refuse to acknowledge the enormity of it, historically speaking,” said the 64-year-old former child actor in a recent phone interview.
“That’s why it’s so important for me to write about race and contemporary manifestations of racism.”
“Guided Tour” is the story of a young law student’s efforts to exonerate a convicted black tour guide named Joe Bell, who spent 14 years behind bars for burning down a Gilded Age mansion in Rhode Island.
Set in a psychiatric unit, the play reveals some lessons about the irrational power of love.
The play is the second of four plays by Snoad dealing with race and class being produced by Hibernian Hall, where he is a playwright in residence.
“I've spent most of my working life writing and fund-raising for social justice organizations, so, to some degree, my plays are an extension of that commitment," he said.
Snoad’s journey from an affluent childhood in England to penning race-conscious plays in New England has been circuitous.
The younger of two sons, Snoad grew up in the tony Kensington section of London, walking distance from Kensington Palace where Queen Victoria was born, and Prince William and Catherine currently live.
The neighborhood is not far from Fleet Street, the historic hub of Britain's newspaper industry, where his father was once a publishing executive and his mother a secretary.
At age 5, Snoad auditioned at his grade school for a speaking role in the 1956 film “A Town Like Alice” starring Virginia McKenna and Peter Finch. He was cast as an orphan in an epic World War II love story between a British refugee and an Australian prisoner of war.
“I spent my sixth birthday on the movie set, ” he recalled with a laugh.
For six weeks, a limo picked Snoad up at 5 a.m., shuttling him to a soundstage at London’s Pinewood Studio where he and other child actors were tutored between scenes.
After the film, his parents insisted on life returning to normal, despite a casting offer for another movie.
Snoad entered a prep school, followed by boarding school in Dorset, three hours west of London, where he joined other children of privilege. It’s where, at age 16, he had his first contact with a black person, a Ugandan classmate of royalty.
After graduation, Snoad opted against college, spending seven years as a newspaper reporter.
He took a stab at writing a novel, a dream cut short by his parents’ deaths and the need to support himself.
Then, he went to work in the press office for a UK-based nonprofit doing rural development work. That led to a permanent gig in Washington, D.C., a town more than 70 percent African-American between 1970 and 1980. It also led to a green card.
But a restless Snoad wanted a change in scenery and a return to the stage. He eventually found it in Brattleboro, Vt., home to a thriving theater community.
Then a weekend trip to Boston changed everything.
At a party in Somerville, he met a sociologist and dancer named Mindy Fried.
They clicked, settled in Jamaica Plain and raised a daughter, Sasha.
He did voice acting and stage work around Boston. Then came a crisis of confidence: he found it increasingly hard to memorize lines, and even blanked in performance.
“Acting became more stress than joy. It just wasn’t much fun anymore. Then it dawned on me: maybe acting wasn't the only thing I could do in the theater. I could write plays. Or at least I could try."
Over the last 12 years, Snoad has written seven full-length plays, four of which are being produced at Hibernian Hall.
“I said to Dillon Bustin, the artistic director, ‘Are you sure you want an older white straight man as your visiting playwright?’ And he said, ‘Hibernian Hall is a multicultural arts space. You write a lot about race relations and identity issues and your plays are good.’”
Last fall, Hibernian Hall produced Snoad’s “Raising David Walker,” in which a young woman's quest to discover if a local black abolitionist was assassinated, triggers a racist backlash.
This fall, the theater will stage Snoad’s “Identity Crisis,” a slapstick comedy that revolves around a white groom's fear of turning black on the eve of his wedding.
And in January, the playhouse will help mark the 50 anniversary of the Vietnam War by premiering “The Draft,” a multi-media documentary by Snoad featuring the real-life stories of nine men and two women and their experience with the military draft.
“Race and class played a major role in who was put on the front lines,” said Snoad.
Tickets for “Guided Tour” can be purchased at www.hibernianhall.org or at the door. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $15 for seniors and students. For more information, call 617-541-3900.
Clennon L. King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Facing northwest on the corner of Roxbury and Centre Streets in Roxbury, a peculiar stone reading “The Parting Stone 1744 P DUDLE” on its front side sticks out of a cement sidewalk.
Marked with black graffiti, the Parting Stone is different from all the other milestones around Boston because it marks an important crossroad: During Colonial times, the only way to travel into Boston was through Dudley Square.
The two routes the Parting Stone indicates go separate ways — down the hill leads to Cambridge and up the hill leads to Providence, RI.
“I think today it is sort of a neat aspect of the city that you still see there. It reminds you of old times gone by,” said Charles Bahne, a freelance author and historian.
Milestones were made to help stagecoach travelers and mail deliveries in the early days to determine their location and to adjust the rate of their speed they needed to stick to their schedule.
Paul Dudley, Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Boston, erected a series of granite milestones showing the distance from the Old Town House, known today as the Old State House, starting in 1729.
Dudley followed two major westerly routes. One follows Centre Street from Dudley Square in Roxbury down through Jamaica Plain and out to Dedham. The other swings through Brookline, Brighton and out to Cambridge.
A modern day re-enactment of the ride of William Dawes, a fellow rider with Paul Revere, follows the Cambridge route every Patriots Day on horseback starting at the Parting Stone.
Milestones can be found in Dorchester out to Quincy and along major routes between Boston and New York City.
“I’m less interested in the exact mileage than the fact that they are still there and they still indicate the growth of the city and its land transportation,” said Richard Heath, a volunteer archivist at the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. “It’s just something that is part of history now.”
On Harvard Avenue in Allston, a 285-year-old milestone was severed in half in May of 2012. The stone was glued back together and for weeks was surrounded by a fence. The milestone gets a lot of scratches because it is located right next to a parking meter.
Bahne inspected the milestones on this route as he watched the odometer in his car and determined that all of the milestones are at the proper distance. Bahne also said that a few of the stones were lost and re-found, including the stone in Allston and one in Brookline that was found about a hundred years ago.
One of the Brookline milestones was stolen in 1973 from its original location, which is across the street from its current location in front of the United Parish Brookline, once known as the Harvard Congregational Church, at the corner of Harvard and Marion streets near Coolidge Corner.
“It’s a little hard to know how accurate all the stories are, but one thing that I read is that stone at one point was incorporated into a house in Coolidge Corner,” said Ken Liss, president of the Brookline Historical Society. “It was 1825 and the stone was actually used as a door-step and was placed down, and when repairs were done to the house it was found and it was put back in its original location.”
No two stones are alike. Each stone was hand-picked and chiseled. John Goff, a historian and architect, said that carving stones is a huge ordeal and that one wrong move can cause the entire stone to crack.
“That’s probably why you get all of these funky descriptions,” Goff said.
The stone carvers had to figure out where to place the numbers and symbols that indicated B is for Boston, the amount of miles and the year it was made. Many of the milestones also had initials placed by the stone carver or the person who paid for it.
“They just serve today as a reminder of an olden time,” said Liss. “It is nice to have them there as markers, not necessarily so much of distance, but as markers of time.”
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.
(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2014)
As the sound of muskets broke the calm of the chilly spring air historians, elected officials, and local residents celebrated Evacuation Day in Roxbury Monday.
The annual event, dubbed the Evacuation Day Knox Trail Remembrance Caravan, for the past four years has toured South Boston, Roxbury, and Dorchester, highlighting places significant to the retreat of British solders from Boston during the Revolutionary War.
“It’s very important that we understand the history of any community we are in,” explained Representative Byron Rushing, who represents portions of Roxbury and the South End and is also the president of the Roxbury Historical Society. “If we don’t understand our history, we can’t really make judgments about our future. It is one of the resources that we need to figure out what we should be doing next.”
Under a blue sky, reenactors and historians shared with the small crowd gathered at the top of Fort Hill, the story of Evacuation Day and the significance of the area and its towering fortification. The Roxbury space was one of a number of fortifications in the city of Boston that not only provided American soldiers with the high ground, but was also a site utilized by Henry Knox, one of the heroes of the Revolution.
“We’re one of the most historic and landmarked sites during the period of the Revolution, so we’re very proud to be the third on a tour of all the sites that helped to keep the British out,” said Representative Gloria Fox, who represents portions of Roxbury and the Fenway. “People need to know how they came to live in a free and open society; it’s based on everybody’s blood, sweat, and tears.”
The tour did not just concentrate on Roxbury, but also swung by the Dorchester Heights Monument and St. Augustine Chapel in South Boston and the Shirley Eustis House in Dorchester. Although history was at the forefront Monday, the event also provided an opportunity to connect neighborhoods that at times have been at odds.
“It’s important to remember the people that came before us, but it’s also important to talk about our shared history,” explained Representative Nick Collins, who represents South Boston. “Because of some of the ups and downs over the last several decades, we get lot in the stuff that divides us and this is a great way to remind people why we need to be unified and why we are unified.”
Tomatoes and carrots could soon be sprouting from the soils of Roxbury.
On Monday night, a representative from the Trust for Public Lands was in front of Roxbury residents to explain his group’s plan to turn lots on Harold Street and Akron Street into commercial urban farms.
The land, which is owned by the city, would be sold to the trust as part of a Department of Neighborhood Development initiative to bring life to vacant properties, provide jobs, and increase access to healthy foods. The properties were advertised publicly and multiple applications for the parcels were received.
The Harold Street parcel includes two vacant lots located at 225 and 227 Harold St. The total area is about 12,699 square-feet and is valued at $79,500, according to the city’s Assessing Department.
The other parcel, located at 3 Akron St., is approximately 8,762 square feet and is valued at $65,700.
If the Trust for Public Lands is designated the developer of the properties, the city would transfer ownership of the parcels to the trust. The trust would then construct the basic infrastructure for the farms and then transfer ownership of the property to the Dudley Neighbors Incorporated, which would be the long-term owners. The land would them be leased by DNI to the Urban Farming Institute, which would be tasked with finding farmers for the property, according to Chris LaPointe, senior project manager for the Trust for Public Lands.
Although the exact layout of the farms has not been determined, they are likely to include some sort of low fencing, a shed, signs, water hookups, and compost pile. New soil, which would be tested regularly, will also be brought in for the farm’s plots.
The project is expected to utilize the newly minted Article 89 , which lays out the process of opening a farm in Boston and provides regulations to protect adjacent homeowners and consumers of the farm’s products.
A concrete timeline for the project has not been determined, but LaPointe said his group hopes to own the property by the end of May and have it permitted and ready to farm by the summer.
“We’re going to try to be moving as fast as we can, but we’re all going through a new thing together,” said LaPointe.
At Monday’s meeting, the 15 residents in the room expressed excitement for the projects.
“The collaboration with all the groups has been wonderful and it’s been a delight to see how well government can work, when it does work,” said Bette Toney, president of the Tommy’s Rock Neighborhood Association.
“I absolutely love the idea and it couldn’t be a better use of the land,” said Alyssa Aftosmes-Tobio, who recently moved to the neighborhood.
To read about the initial community meeting for Harold Street, click here.
To read about the initial community meeting for Akron Street, click here.
Boston’s first energy-positive residential development is expected begin construction by the fall.
Developers with Sebastian Mariscal Studio Inc., the proponents behind the $13-million “green” project in Mission Hill, appeared before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday, for the project’s final sign-off. The Boston Redevelopment Authority approved it in February.
Plans call for the construction of a mixed-use development for 44 residential rental units, community garden space, and ground floor commercial space at 778-796 Parker St. and 77 Terrace St.
The units, which will be located on a series of vacant city-owned lots between Parker Street and Terrace Street, will include 29 one-bedroom residences, 10 two-bedroom residences, and five three-bedroom residences. Close to 20 percent of the units will be set aside for affordable housing.
The developer was selected to construct on the lots after a community process that included a publicly advertised proposal. The property, which was appraised for $990,000, will be sold to the developer for $600,000, according to the Department of Neighborhood Development.
The project’s commercial space, which will front on Terrace Street, will be approximately 4,120 square-feet.
In addition to the units, the project, located a few blocks from the Roxbury Crossing MBTA station, also provides space for 30 car parking spaces, 82 bike parking spaces, and 48 storage units.
The project will incorporate approximately 14,000-square-feet of solar panels and a number of other energy saving tools to meet its energy positive standards. Once the project is up and running, developers estimate that the development will create an energy surplus of 21 percent.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Joe Hanley, the developer’s attorney, called the project innovative and said it is something the city has never seen.
“This is the city’s first energy positive project, so we have something here that’s very innovation,” said Hanley. “This is a transit oriented site to say the least, and we plan on taking advantage of that.”
In addition to the units, the project also includes space for community gardens; the area had been used in the past for “guerrilla gardens.” The new gardens will be located on top of the units with access to the gardens from Parker Street.
“At the very beginning I was opposed to this, we wanted our gardens on Parker Street,” Francie Hauck, one of the garden’s founders told the board. “…this is a beautiful project and I support it.”
Close to 10 residents turned out to voice their support for the project, in addition to local elected officials.
“The team has done a great job getting out there and I’m happy to see this project,” Representative Jeffery Sanchez told the board.
Representatives from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, the office of at-Large City Councilor Michael Flaherty, the office of at-Large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, and the office of City Councilor Josh Zakim also voiced their support for the project.
Representatives from Mission Hill Main Streets, the Electricians Local 103, the Carpenters Union, the Department of Neighborhood Development, and the Boston Natural Areas Network also voiced their support for the project.
Two residents turned out to oppose the project, citing concerns about the project’s impact to the gardens, parking, and the undervaluation of the property by the city.
“We have been opposing this since its inception,” Kathryn Brookins told the board. “If you look at the plans, you see the pictures are idealized.”
The board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the project.
Construction is expected to begin by the fall of 2014, with work expected to take upwards of 18 months, according to the developers.
The Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center at Roxbury Community College will be revamped, thanks to funds provided by the Commonwealth.
Last week, Governor Deval Patrick announced $4 million in capital funds for major building repairs and renovations to the structure that sits on the corner of Malcom X Boulevard and Tremont Street in Roxbury.
“Roxbury Community College is working hard to better align their academic programs with the communities workforce needs and better equip students with the skills they need to succeed in the classroom and in the workforce,” Matthew Malone, the Commonwealth’s secretary of education, said in a statement.
Opened in 1995, in addition to hosting the community college’s sports teams, the 70,000-square-foot center is also heavily used by the surrounding community for cultural activities and youth sports events.
“The Patrick Administration has made investing in public higher education a priority,” Glen Shor, the Commonwealth’s secretary of administration and finance, said in a statement. “Financing this capital project at Roxbury Community College will have a positive impact on both the students and the community as a whole.”
Close to $26 million of capital funds have been committed to Roxbury Community College during the Patrick Administration, according to a release from the Governor’s office.
After residents pushed the city to abandon its plan to use the East Cottage Street parcel in Uphams Corner, dubbed the Maxwell Property, for a Public Works storage yard, the Department of Neighborhood Development has moved forward with its plan to sell the property.
DND officials were in Dorchester Thursday night, to unveil the draft Requests for Proposals developed for the property. The RFP is DND’s standard process for selling public property. The document, which is publicly advertised, is a guideline for potential developers, laying out what the community would like to see at the sprawling property.
“The development proposals [RFP] were developed based on feedback we got at two community meetings in the fall and by the Uphams Corner Working Advisory Group,” explained Chris Rooney, a project manager for DND.
Owned and managed by the city of Boston, the property, which is bound by East Cottage Street, the Fairmount Commuter Rail Line, and Hillsboro Street, was once home to the Maxwell Box Company, but the city took control of it in 2010 after years of tax disputes with the owner.
The parcel is approximately 120,000 square-feet and a dilapidated warehouse currently resides on it. Both were assessed in 2013 for a combined $1.9 million.
Although it is not set in stone, the city will likely demolish the decaying building prior to it being sold.
“It’s a much more attractive site without the building, but we’re still working on the numbers,” said Rooney.
The draft RFP presented Thursday, called for proposals that are, “contextual with the existing neighborhood in terms of height, scale, massing, construction materials, and visual appearance.”
Other caveats in the RFP included the developer working with the community, following the Boston Residents Job Policy, and creating open space that could be utilized by the surrounding community.
In addition to guidelines about the shape and size of potential projects, the RFP also provided guidance on what the community would like to see the property used for.
Mixed-use development was at the top, in addition to housing and possible light industrial use.
Although most of the 30 or so residents at Thursday’s meeting were supportive of potential mixed-use or residential projects at the site, some were hesitant about light industrial.
“I was concerned about the statement that it could go 100 percent light industrial,” said Susan Capachione, an area resident.
“My concern is the light industrial,” said Emma Montgomery. “To us this is a neighborhood and we certainly don’t want to see the wrong type of industry.”
Rooney stressed that any potential project would need the support of the community to be built.
“One of the things we heard was that job creation is important to the community,” said Rooney. “She [Sheila Dillon, director of the Department of Neighborhood Development] felt strongly that because of its size, where it sits in zoning, and what we heard from the community, that it could be used for job creation.”
Some in attendance also called on DND to promote the parcel’s connections to the nearby Uphams Corner MBTA Station.
“I’d like to see an emphasis on projects that reflect transit oriented development,” commented Nancy Conrad, an area resident.
Overall the majority of the audience seemed ready to get the project started sooner than later.
“It’s [the property] unique because of its size,” explained Max MacCarthy, executive director of the Uphams Corner Main Streets, a business development non-profit. “It has a lot of potential to provide a lot of jobs or housing and could have a transformative effect on the community.”
The RFP will likely be on the market for 90 days, according to DND officials.
For more information about the project, visit DND’s project page.
(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2014)
The rusting bridge that carries foot traffic over the Fairmount Commuter Rail tracks from Ceylon Street/Alexander Street to Bird Street, has been closed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, due to unsafe conditions at the property.
“The MBTA’s safety department deemed the Ceylon Street bridge unsafe, mainly due to issues with the support structure and it was immediately ordered closed,” said a spokesperson for the T, which manages the property. “No decisions on the future of the bridge have been made at this time. Currently, customers may utilize an accessible crossing within a very short distance of the bridge.”
Although the move by the T is welcome news — neighborhood activist have complained about its condition for some time — its future is still unknown.
Activists have said that the bridge is an important connection for residents trying to access the various schools, community centers, and commercial districts in the area.
City Councilor Tito Jackson, who represents the area, said he is staying on top of the situation and the T’s decision was the right one.
“The T is doing the right thing by securing the bridge because it was unsafe,” said Jackson. “Now the conversation really turned to one of finances.”
Jackson added that while the future of the bridge may be unknown, it provides an opportunity to have broader discussions about the neighborhood’s infrastructure and priorities.
“We need to make an assessment and prioritize the needs in the community,” said Jackson. “I think there’s a large conversation that should be had relative to planning, so we can assess where those connections should be.”
For a video about the bridge’s condition, click here.
(Image courtesy Google Maps)
The following was submitted by the Whittier Street Health Center
Whittier Street Health Center’s FREE Community Flu Vaccination Clinics
Saturday, March 8, 2014
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
1290 Tremont St. Boston.
Get your free flu vaccination this Saturday! Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury is offering free flu vaccinations Saturday, March 8, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the 2nd floor in the Community Education Room, 1290 Tremont Street, Roxbury. The free clinics are sponsored by the Boston Public Health Commission and Whittier Street Health Center. For questions, call (617) 427-1000 or visit www.wshc.org.
Get your free flu vaccination at Whittier Street Health Center this Saturday, March 8th from 10 to 2 p.m., at 1290 Tremont Street, Roxbury. For more information, visit www.wshc.org.