- The Characters - Who's Who?
- Welcome from director Carol Becker
- About the Story
- Violet's Times
- Violet's Journey
- Video Inspiration
- Questions to Consider
Scroll through our slideshow to see some of the main characters in the play and what they'll be wearing. (In addition to the costume pieces built from scratch, many of the items that are true to the period were found in thrift stores by costume designer June Gaeke and Assistant Costume Designer Elizabeth Pangburn.) Mouse over the image to read the characters' names.
Thank you for joining us here at the UMass Amherst Department of Theater for our presentation of Violet!
When I learned that I was going to direct this musical, I was honored to be part of bringing this Off-Broadway gem to an audience. The characters in Violet are all of these real and identifiable characters. They are underdogs, flawed and imperfect, and I found myself humbled by the experience of sharing their stories. Given the minimalistic and representational set, I encourage you, the audience members, to allow your imaginations to help you picture the journey upon which Violet Karl embarks. Do pay particular attention to all the various music genres that are represented in this one musical; specifically, jazz, soul, bluegrass, country and gospel!
I think that many people will be struck by the universal themes that the musical addresses, but most importantly, the theme of self-acceptance and loving ourselves for who we really are (scars and all). It's an incredibly relevant message right now given the news reports of women being bullied because of their appearance and young teens suffering at the hands of their peers. We present this musical to be part of the dialogue, and we hope, part of the solution.
Thank you, Carol M. Becker
Violet Karl sets out on a journey by Greyhound bus from her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma to meet a televangelist preacher who she hopes will be able to heal her of her facial scar. When Violet was only 13 her father's axe blade came loose and hit her, cutting her face almost in two. At a rest stop Violet meets Flick and Monty, two soldiers travelling to their base at Fort Smith, and they play poker. The three friends sit together for the next leg of the bus trip. Violet unintentionally offends Flick, who gets up to use the washroom. While he is gone, Monty makes a pass at Violet, putting on all the charm he has got. They get off in Memphis where they are to spend the night. Violet plans to room with family members whom she has never met. While Monty goes to call Violet a cab, Violet and Flick say goodbye. They are about to hug when they are interrupted by two men. Although the Civil Rights Act has been passed, racial tension still exists and these men are not happy about Flick (an African-American) hugging "one of their girls". A fight ensues and Violet's suitcase – which has her relatives' numbers in it – is stolen. She agrees to spend the night with Monty and Flick. The three go dancing and drinking. Although it is clear that both Monty and Flick like Violet, at the end of the night, Violet ends up with Monty. The next morning they are back on the bus. They reach Fort Smith where the soldiers are to depart. Flick is clearly upset with Violet, but he still likes her. Monty pleads with Violet to return to Fort Smith on Sunday after her miracle, saying he will wait for her all day. Violet says no. She continues on to Tulsa and arrives at the Hope and Glory Building only to be denied by the preacher. He says he can't help her. She is so worked up that she begins the healing ritual herself and she sees a miracle happen. She gets back on the bus, excited now to go back to Fort Smith to see Monty and show him her new face. She finally sees Monty and asks what he thinks. He tells her that nothing has changed. Violet is devastated and embarrassed. Monty proposes and asks her to go to San Francisco for a few days with her before he leaves for Vietnam. She says no and he leaves, alone. Flick has meanwhile also arrived as he too had been waiting for her all day. He professes his love to Violet and it is clear that Violet loves him too.
An excerpt of The Ugliest Pilgrim by Doris Betts:
I sit in the bus station, nipping chocolate peel off a Mounds candy bar with my teeth, then pasting the coconut filling to the roof of my mouth. The lump will dissolve there slowly and seep into me the way dew seeps into flowers.
I like to separate the flavors that way. Always I lick the salt off cracker tops before taking my first bite. Somebody sees me with my suitcase, paper sack, and a ticket in my lap. "You going someplace, Violet?"
Stupid. People in Spruce Pine are dumb and, since I look dumb, say dumb things to me. I turn up my face as if to count those dead flies piled under the light bulb. He walks away -- a fat man, could be anybody. I stick out my tongue at his back; the candy oozes down. If I could stop swallowing, it would drip into my lung and I could breathe vanilla. Whoever it was, he won't glance back. People in Spruce Pine don't like to look at me, full face.
A Greyhound bus pulls in, blows air; the driver stands by the door. He's black-headed, maybe part Cherokee, with heavy shoulders but a weak chest. He thinks well of himself -- I can tell that. I open my notebook and copy his name off the metal plate so I can call him by it when he drives me home again. And next week, won't Mr. Wallace Weatherman be surprised to see how well I'm looking!
Because the musical moves backwards and forward through time and tells Violet's story in part through song, you may find it helpful — and interesting — to read a scene breakdown. A scene breakdown outlines, for the actor, what scene is about and includes information about which songs are part of the scene.
"Left my troubles all behind me
Back there when I climbed on board
Jordan River's where you'll find me
It's wide but not too wide to ford"
The story of Violet Karl began with Doris Betts' short story The Ugliest Pilgrim, originally published in 1973. Betts, unfortunately, passed away in April of this year, but her work lives on.
The Ugliest Pilgrim first transformed into a short film written in 1981 by Betts and Susan Baskin. The film, called Violet, won an Academy Award in 1982 for Best Short Subject. Betts' timeless story continued its journey as Violet (the musical) written by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley. It premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 1997 and later won the Drama Critics' Circle Ward and the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical.
Violet is set in 1964 – in the middle of a period of period of upheaval and unrest in America. The cry for civil rights and unceasing racial tensions were constantly in conflict and the effects were felt throughout the country.
In 1948 President Truman ordered the desegregation of the United States Army and it became the first major institution to become integrated, though it was not until the 1960s and the Viet Nam War that African Americans were actively recruited. In 1964 blacks represented less than nine percent of the military; by 1976 they made up more than 15 percent.
In March of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr delivered his "I have a dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and in 1964 received the Nobel Peace Prize. That same year, Malcolm X published his autobiography.
Although progress was being made, it was met with resistance. In June 1964 three civil rights workers were viciously beaten and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan and the sheriff's office in Neshoba County, MS.
On July 2, President Lyndon B. Johnson, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin. Only two weeks after the Civil Rights Act was instated, a fifteen-year-old African American was shot dead by an off-duty police officer, prompting the Harlem Riot involving thousands of residents from several boroughs of the city.
When Violet sings On My Way, she truly believes that all of her troubles are over once she steps on board that bus. But fording the river to acceptance and healing – as an individual or as a nation – is a continuing struggle. ~ Alison Bowie, Dramaturg
Watch this slideshow to learn a bit more about the real-life places Violet visits on her journey.
Throughout the play, VIolet and the other characters make cultural and social references that would have been commonly understood at the time. We have collected some video clips to give you a frame of reference.
1964-65 ABC Fall Promo for Bewitched — "Bewitched is an American situation comedy originally broadcast for eight seasons on ABC from 1964 to 1972, starring Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York (1964–1969), Dick Sargent (1969–1972), Agnes Moorehead, and David White. The show is about a witch who marries an ordinary man and tries to lead the life of a typical suburban housewife. Bewitched enjoyed great popularity, finishing as the number two show in America during its debut season." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bewitched)
This is a show that Violet could have been watching on TV. It provides a good background context for the 1960s and what life was like during that time.
To Kill A Mockingbird Move Clip; All Men Are Created Equal —Harper Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird in 1960. Set during the Great Depression, it follows the story of the Finch family as the father, Atticus Finch, defends a black man against a false rape charge. The play deals with racism in the Southern United States as Atticus chooses to defend Tom Robinson and so must also defend his family against the discrimination of their small town. The film was turned into a movie in 1962. This clip shows Atticus' final stand for Tom. It provides a good background to the racial tension that existed around the time that Violet is set, giving context to her relationship with Flick.
Ben Casey – The Day They Stole the County General part 1 of 5 — "Gritty realistic hospital drama featuring manly Dr. Casey against the medical establishment, at first under the watchful eye of Dr. Zorba and later under the thumb of Chief of Surgery Dr. Freeland." (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054519/plotsummary)
Ben Casey is referenced in the script. It is a show that Violet either watched or at the very least she was very aware of. It is the General Hospital or Grey's Anatomy of the 1960s. It provides a good understand of the kinds of images that Violet was seeing and measuring herself against.
Dr. No Original Trailer — Dr. No is the 1962 James Bond film starring Sean Connery. "James Bond's investigation of a missing colleague in Jamaica leads him to the island of the mysterious Dr. No and a scheme to end the US space program." (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055928/)
Again, the movie is referenced in the script. The trailer provides a glimpse into the film and the people – particularly the women – that Violet was comparing herself to.
Oral Roberts Healing Sampler — "Granville Oral Roberts was one of the most famous and influential Christian leaders of the twentieth century. Born January 24, 1918, in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, the fifth and youngest child of Rev. Ellis Melvin and Claudius Priscilla Roberts, Oral Roberts grew up to become world renowned as a healing evangelist, author, educator, and television personality… In 1947 Roberts established the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association in Tulsa, Oklahoma… In 1955 Roberts revolutionized evangelism by bringing television cameras into his live healing crusade services and providing a "front-row seat for miracles" for millions of viewers. Coining phrases such as God is a good God, something good is going to happen to you, release your faith, and expect a miracle, he soon helped people everywhere find a better understanding of God's goodness and His desire to make them whole." (http://oralroberts.com/about/our-history/oral-roberts/)
Oral Roberts died in 2009. His obituary.
African Americans in the Military & African Americans in the Vietnam War — These two videos give a brief overview of the history of African Americans in the military and the Vietnam War. A great resource for additional information is http://www.history.army.mil/html/topics/afam/index.html. The page entitled "Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965" is of particular interest for Violet.
The Story of Black America: Slavery to Civil Rights & the Modern Era (Part 2) — This short clip gives a good overview of the history of African Americans around the Civil Rights Movement and the time when Violet is set. It provides the background context for the relationship between Flick and Violet and the racial tension present in the play.
Questions for before the show:
What were the major tenets of the Civil Rights Act signed in 1964?
What is televangelism?
How does it differ from evangelism?
Who was Oral Roberts?
What is the ritual involved in healing services?
How are they theatrical?
How can theatre be used to illuminate social and political issues today and in our history?
Can you think of other examples of plays or musicals that do this?
Questions for after the show:
How is the racial tension in 1964 shown in the play?
How does it affect the relationship between Flick and Violet?
How does music help to tell Violet's story?
One of the major themes Director Carol Becker worked to bring out in the performance is self-acceptance. Explain how you saw this theme on stage. (Hint: Think about all of the different elements of theatre – lights, sound/music, script, set, costumes, etc.)
Could this story happen in another time period? If so, when and why?
Why did the director choose not to have the actors playing Violet have a scar on their face? What does this say about the story?
Group Work: Imagine you are staging your own production of Violet The Musical. Describe what your production would look and sound like. Think about:
What type of theatre would you use (proscenium arch, thrust, theatre-in-the-round, black box, etc)?
What instruments would you have in the orchestra?
What would the set look like? What would the costumes look like?
Would you have additional sounds? If so, what would they be?
What would the lighting look like?
Study guide created by Alison Bowie.