"A people who mean to be their own governors,” she once said, “must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” So said the great Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who took over the management of Wappoo Plantation and her family’s other two agricultural properties in 1739, at the age of 16. Through her extensive knowledge of botany, she went on to develop indigo as one of South Carolina’s most important cash crops, revolutionizing the colonial economy prior to the Revolutionary War and forever preserving her place in American history. Little wonder she was the first woman to be inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame, as well.
With the launch of Historic Performance Events, inspiring historical characters such as Eliza Lucas Pinckney will again come alive through the artistry and performance of local actress and historian, Christy Cabaniss, known professionally as Christy Pleasant. From intimate salon-style gatherings to auditorium performances that include multi-media components, Pleasant’s latest endeavor allows the essence of an important historical character to permeate the event to leave a lasting impression on attendees.
Pleasant admits that her unique concept took years of experiences as a performer to evolve into its current iteration. An accomplished actor by age 16, she got her first taste of playing an historic figure when she starred in “Of Quilts and Sabres, ” a PBS docudrama directed by Donald Devet, a filmmaker currently with Now & Then Video. The film covers the events leading up to the British occupation of Charlotte, North Carolina, during the American Revolution. The story is told in flashback on the eve of the War Between the States by Susannah Smart Barnett, a young girl who witnessed the events depicted in the film. Pleasant played Susannah Smart Barnett at ages 14, 19 and 90, but soon realized she most loved playing the elder Barnett. “During the filming I’d have latex all over my face,” she remembers. “I wore the most amazing black gown, a pair of tiny glasses and a wig. I looked really old. While the process was painful and took many hours every day, I enjoyed, as an actress, the process of becoming an old woman. I got into being old. Shooting the film was a great experience for me.”
After training at the North Carolina School of the Arts, Pleasant was introduced to puppetry by her friend Devet at Gray Seal Puppets, an internationally acclaimed company that creates original puppet theatre, on-camera productions and custom-built puppets and mascots. “Donald and his partner, Drew Allison, founded Gray Seal Puppets in Charlotte,” explains Pleasant. “At the time they needed someone in the studio to help build puppets. Donald knew I could sew so he put me to work. In time I learned puppet manipulation and performance.”
Pleasant says that experience led to an offer by Queens University to teach a puppetry workshop. That resulted in her building a puppet of Queen Charlotte, the city’s namesake.
“I had to learn about Queen Charlotte,” continues Pleasant. “As I studied everything about her that I could get my hands on, I discovered she was an amazing woman, someone I wanted to perform as her one day. A great friend of mine, Hardin Minor … an amazing mime, dancer, director and comedian … booked my first performance of Queen Charlotte and I’ve been doing performances of her ever since.”
Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Queen Charlotte led the cast of historic figures that Pleasant has studied intensely, much in their own words, to be able to bring an authentic recreation of them to life. They are joined by the “Pirate Queen of Ireland,” Grace O’Malley, James Joyce’s literary character Molly Bloom and others. “You can read books about any of these amazing women,” notes Pleasant. “But wait until you meet them in person.”
Pleasant is currently working to broaden her company’s character base with the introduction of her first male character, George Washington. She is also working on other male characters, including Philip Simmons, Charleston’s legendary artisan and blacksmith.
With hundreds of custom performance to her credit, Pleasant’s new company offers performance events, corporate events and private parties for any size crowd, each designed to meet the specific needs and desires of the client. “We also produce original films that recreate the words and deeds of historic characters,” notes Pleasant.
“Collaborating with Christy weaves together my twin passions — communication through video and my fascination with history,” states Devet. “It’s a true melding of the new and the old.”
During the last few months, Eliza Lucas Pinckney has been spotted in a number of places around Charleston including Middleton Place, the Old Exchange Building, the Powder Magazine and the Frances Marion Hotel. With the official launch of Historic Performance Events in mid-April, people can expect to see more of her and other historic characters throughout the area.
“As a member of the National Women’s History Project, I hope that other organizations, townships, school systems and educators around the county will reach out to me to help them bring history alive for their important characters … to draw attention to important stories and individuals from their communities. I hope to bring Historic performance to many other places.”
For those planning an event, please visit historicperformanceevents.com for more information.