Script for Desperate Characters

Set: a pioneer makeshift traveling theatre set in a barn. With hay bales for seating.  With laundry lines portable props and scenery. Scenery and props create diorama experience for the audience.

Matt:  visibly creates our experience as a traveling theatre, panorama, installation, by constantly shifting and moving sets and visuals in the space creating an ever-changing diorama for the viewers.


Music: Opens with Band playing tune

Stage Direction:  Theatre sitting center stage.

Nancy enters solo wearing deer mask and dances a solo step mimicking traditional victorian etiquette before approaching theatre. She manipulates the hanging deer with delicate controlled gestures, copying movements of her own dance.

Ben enters with boy deer not exposed  – approaches theatre and places boy deer in the vignette, then with face through the side window to the front interacts with Nancy’s girl doll.  Together they manipulate the baby doll then Nancy and Ben turn their attention towards each other. Ben lures Nancy away from the theatre and spins her, their waltz becomes a courting/mating ritual.

Character background: Nancy wants the promise of a new life and someone who can give that to her. She is swept away by Benjamin’s forceful confidence and his stories of a better life out west. Ben wants to show Nancy he can take care of her and offer her an adventure.

Music: Ends as Ben and Nancy close theatre curtains and masks come off.

” Fantasy ” is over Ben puts a hat on and Nancy puts an apron on. Cover theatre with canvas tying sides down.

Music:  instrumental accompaniment for their journey.

Together they push theatre as though it were on a covered wagon – the journey “a trance of walking”  they make their way slowly stopping, struggling, adjusting positions of pushing and pulling, finally they find their destination in front of Thompson’s River Diorama. Matt moves covered theatre into a marked spot.


The diorama is on steps with wheels. Ben stands on top step drinking from a flask while nancy sets the scene… Ben and Nancy manipulate and set the scene on Thompson’s river with miniatures props table and chairs. Miniature cards are blown about by hand made a fan that Nancy fans by hand while standing now on the top stair. Ben takes horses and leads them off.

As Ben and Nancy approach diorama narration begins….

Clinton Narration:  The year is 18 hundred and thirty-one when Benjamin Smother’s and Nancy York run away from Kentucky and get hitched in the backwoods of Indiana.  In a wagon, they follow the trail westward. Unfortunate circumstances prevent them from making it very far. They are forced to settle on Mercer County Missoura, where they get by on Thompson’s River;  home to horse thieves, card players, moonshiners selling whiskey to the Indians, and all around desperate characters.

Ben and Nancy wrap up the action of the diorama.

Clint narration continues:  A rough start some may say, but, their story began innocently enough.

Matt puts diorama away in its place on stage.


Music cue: Music begins instrumental intro to sugar baby…

Ben and Nancy enter from the side pulling out rocking chair on a wheeled platform as Nancy sits.

Meghann  Narrates:  In 1846 Life is not an easy one,  Especially, with six children and one on the way.

Music:  Clint plays (Got no sugar baby now starts with Clint in the center spotlight) possibly duet counters from her POV

Stage Direction: Ben stands behind Nancy in rocking chair rocking her gently for just a moment, then walks backward away from her holding her gaze until he goes up the ladder and glances back. last verse Ben leaves Nancy rocking alone as he escapes up the ladder and out of view.  Nancy stands alone staring at Thompson’s river set in view.


Stage Direction: Ben changes into daughter in law, Andosia, in a dress with apron and reenters stage. Nancy collects objects and puts them on the table as “evidence”

Music:  Clint auto harp intro

Nancy and daughter in law Andosia. Nancy starts to position and stack objects.  Andosia brings back flask and starts to wrap and tie everything- they start to get tangled content to struggle to unite and keep objects together.

Narration:  Clint stands and reads from a book as a member of the town council, who kept the town records:

In April of 1846, the grand jury found seven. Inditement’s one for murder. It was found against Benjamin Smothers for Killing James Kirk the same man that was indicted at the previous term for an assault with intent to kill.  They were both considered desperate characters, but they were never the less, good friends.

They had been drinking in one of the many dramshops in Princeton, and in a quarrel that ensued Smothers struck Kirk upon the head with a rock, killing him almost instantly.

Smothers made good his escape but was captured the next day. He was found at Thomas Auberry’s on Thompson river near where he lived.  He resisted arrest but was finally overpowered and taken to Princeton. And as no jail had then been built, a heavy log chain was fastened to one foot, and a guard placed over him.

A few nights later, the guard having had fallen asleep, he slipped away, procured an ax, cut the chain from his foot and fled, leaving behind his wife Nancy of 12 years and his 6 children: Joshua, Joseph, Johnathan, Andosia, Mathew, and James, his unborn son.

He was never recaptured but was afterward seen in Indiana, where he died two years later. Cause of death unknown.

Stage Direction: objects piled in sculpture. Andosia and Nancy travel with cart full circle around the audience.  Matt places it in its station.


Narrator Clint:  Nancy closes the door on Benjamin and she never looks back. She marries Ralph Stanley and bares 3 children more: Jacob, Mary, and Paul.

The cabin interior is set in front of the audience. Andosia and Nancy gather flour and flour sifters. Nancy puts an apron on Andosia and then herself and they begin sifting on music cue.

Clint begins song: Single girl married girl.

Nancy and Andosia standing barefoot on dirt covered floor – churn flour sifters till bare feet are covered in flour. End of the song they get up and prints left behind.

Lights dim and focus on ghost prints. They walk away slowly while untying aprons and leave them on the floor as they both disappear outdoor and change into mourning blacks.

SCENE 6. Graveyard

Music: transitional for set change and entrance

Matt: Set is structured in front of audience with graves, black gauze, butterflies, and lanterns are lit.

Music cue: the song starts as they enter

Stage direction:  Nancy and Andosia in mourning blacks enter from the door. Nancy is carrying Nancy puppet. Sets her on a cart tabletop covered in black material and branches with graves underneath. Butterflies on Andosia’s fingers fly on graves and come up above They Flutter around her head fly away and disappear. She is so sad. Head goes down. She looks up and is still while butterfly rests on her hand. A butterfly flies out from behind theatre. Nancy tries to follow it with her hand she turns. Andosia goes offset backward with Butterflies.  Matt pushes the cart away. Nancy puts the puppet to rest and lies beside her on the floor, covers her and leaves her lying there. Nancy exits through the door for a costume change.

Clint Narration: For five years before the civil war breaks out Mercer County is almost burned down to the ground in the border wars between north and south.  By 1860 the war seizes the nation. In 1864 Nancy anxiously awaits Stanley and her 3 sons return from battles against the Confederacy in the south. As the civil war comes to an end she is haunted by the nameless Dead – the countless dead deprived of “the good death” may they rest in peace.



Civil War song ends with a doll covered in a shroud. After a few moments of audience pondering Matt moves her off and moves deer theatre and rocking chair in view while we change behind a door – enter Jenna in opening scene dress and mask with a lantern. She goes up to deer and repeats movements from ending scene but solo and haunted.


Transitions from Civil War song and plays while Matt makes scene changes and girls change clothes. Upon Jenna’s entrance music references deer theatre music from the opening scene, but, in a haunted drone, darker and desperate version.

Nancy finishes her solo dance with deer, takes off a mask and sits in the rocking chair as a dream/ haunted desperate version of Nancy. Rocking in a steady slow rhythm. Enter Ali with horse mask and stomping boots – as the restless spirit of Benjamin back to haunt. This horse has broken free and wild…horse bucks, spins, takes over space as Nancy rocks and watches. Both are aware of the other and realize that they are in the same haunted desperate dream.

Character background: Nancy is haunted by the broken promise of a better life, by his escape and disappearance, and his uncivilized ways. Ben- his rebellious spirit is gone but not forgotten. He has broken free – a wild horse that could not be tamed. He appears to Nancy in a dream as she sits apron the porch waiting with a lantern. He appears in a ruckus.


Deer theme drone builds to wild nature…


Horse bucks as dream crashes into new farm life.


Music: drones ends when horse mask comes off and transitions to instrumental intro of hymnal

Matt: pulls laundry line across room in diagonal over Ali and arranges farm life creating a new chapter- Life on the farm. Laundry line, baskets, clothes pins, barn, grass. Nancy gets up  from rocker Ali freezes and takes horse mask off Ali and places in laundry basket. Ali stands and takes apron from clothes line and puts it on. Nancy takes apron down and puts on as well.  Change blouses from laundry line . They hang quilt together – slowly organizing quilt to hang properly.

Hanging quilt narration begins:

Clint Narration:  Benjamin’s youngest son, James, fights for the Missouri State Militia Calvary before his whiskers grow in AND… he lives to tell the tale.

He has a son William who is a farmer and a preacher. They build a farm in Cainsville, down not far from Thompson’s River. His wife Abigail has three daughters: Dolly Ann,  Glendale, and Blanche; known affectionally as the Smothers sisters.

Music: hymnal singing while sisters hang 3 baby dresses.

Girls open suitcase with farm animals and set up farm scene with grass, dirt,  and barn with a quilt in the background. Animals set up next to barn, mud pies are placed on stool. Girls kneel with fists go dirt.

Narration Clint: DollyAnn, the youngest of the girls, rides her donkey to the schoolhouse everyday. She plays basketball in the school yard, tends her own flower garden, and accompanies her father on the train to Kansas City to sell sheep at auction.  Her Grandma teaches her to sew the quilts that win blue ribbons every year at the Mercer County fair. She bakes strawberry rhubarb pies with her sisters for the Sunday community picnics and sits in the front pue of Cains Baptist Church to hear her pa preach the Southern Godspell.


Clint narrates:  Well, Dolly’s pa, William, he is born with farmin in his blood, but,  he signs a note he can not repay. When the debt stacks higher than the corn they lose the farm.

Music: Auction list

Matt: with homemade bull horn calls the auction items one by one

Visuals: projection of live video feed – animals projected large and altered against walls


Clint narrates:  The farm sits empty and over time the barn roof caves and becomes a skeleton of broken beams. Dolly Ann’s pa takes his gospel on the road preaching town to town. The Smothers Sisters are grown now and go their own way.

Action: as narration starts farm stuff being packed away- in suitcase put three dresses away – unplug hole.

Narration continues : Dolly Ann goes to nursing school in Iowa making a promise to her sisters to return one day.  In New York, DollyAnn is a nurse for the soldiers, but, she never really unpacks her suitcase. ( Pause) Now if you go lookin for the Smothers in Cainville you’ll find the lot of them buried in Cains Cemetery down the end of a rocky path.  There you’ll find Nancy York next to Stanley underneath the Hickory trees. From there turn down the dirt roads of this old farm town AND see through the collapsed barns, cuz, If you know how to look you can see the palimpsest of the land clearly, the story written on top of story,  written on top of rubble and bone.

Action: during narration girls go up the ladder. Suitcase hangs in the balance and dirt sifts through hole. Girls looks back at dirt as they hang from ladder and disappear from site.

Lights out

Music: cue  return of opening number

Girls Come back out on ledge up top – stand and bow across from musicians who stand and bow.