Community News Brainerd Mission production highlights anniversary, diversity

Community News Brainerd Mission production highlights anniversary, diversity

November 8th, 2017 by Myron Madden in Community Metro
Local actors Victor Adam Gray, Joshua Michalski, Jim Burns and Brianne Johnson Michalski, from left, portray the death of David Brainerd, for whom the Brainerd Mission was named. The film, produced by Baron Studios in Ooltewah, will be shown during "The Trail Was A Circle." (Contributed photo)

Local actors Victor Adam Gray, Joshua Michalski, Jim...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Elizabeth Tallman portays a scene for the upcoming production of "The Trail Was A Circle." (Contributed photo)

Elizabeth Tallman portays a scene for the upcoming...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Friday-Sunday, Nov. 10-12, local playwright Daisy Pratt will honor the Brainerd Mission's bicentennial anniversary by telling the story of "Chattanooga's finest hour."

Her original historical production, "The Trail Was A Circle," incorporates film, music and drama to re-create a little-known tale associated with the school that once sat where Eastgate Town Center now stands. Originally called the Chickamauga Mission, the school enrolled an equal number of Cherokee, black and white students until the Indian Removal Act forced it to close in 1838.

Pratt was inspired to write the play in 2006 after she learned that Native Americans weren't the only ones forced to leave their homes and walk the Trail of Tears. According to an old newspaper clipping she found at Audubon Acres, white missionaries serving as teachers at the Brainerd Mission also went on the brutal journey.

"I had never heard that in my life," said Pratt, who formerly taught American history. "They loved [the children] so much that they were beaten. I couldn't believe it."

Her goal for the project was to inspire unity by sharing "a time in Chattanooga history when all three races — red, black and white — came together in harmony."

"This is a glowing example of how well we did it in the worst of times," she said. "I felt like we need this story so much."

Pratt's script won't be the only ode to diversity; actors from all three races will be participating onstage.

In order to ensure each race is accurately represented, Pratt enlisted advisers from each to vet the way the actors walk, talk, dress and act while performing. She even incorporated Cherokee dialogue into the production and was fortunate enough to have it translated by North Carolina linguist Shirley Oswalt, who was named a "Beloved Woman," the highest honor given to a Cherokee woman, before she passed away earlier this year.

"We're very honored that she did that so Hamilton County people can see the original native language of Hamilton County," Pratt said.

Since officially beginning the project in 2009, Pratt said she has received overwhelming support from the local and regional community. In addition to the more than 30 cast and crew members who have dedicated their time and energy, the project has received backing from organizations like the Tennessee Trail of Tears Association, Baron Studios and the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, which provided costumes after the production's original collection was damaged.

"There's just now so many people saying, 'Oh my goodness, finally it's being told,'" Pratt said.

The Hamilton County Commission will also present the Brainerd Mission Project with an honor certificate recognizing the school's bicentennial year during the play's opening night Nov. 10.

Pratt said she hopes to make the production an annual event that could serve as a tourist attraction and a way to mend cultural bridges.

"The whole point of this is to allow healing and to honor those who started the healing process 200 years ago," she said.

"The Trail Was A Circle" will be presented at Brainerd High School starting at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10-11 and at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 12. Tickets can be found online at tinyurl.com/TrailWasCircle.

Email Myron Madden at mmadden@timesfreepress.com


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