By Garren Shipley -- firstname.lastname@example.org
MIDDLETOWN -- Legions of writers and playwrights have produced works about the story of the Civil War in Shenandoah Valley.
But few if any others are the story of a teenage spy, told and performed by other teens.
"Belle Boyd: A Civil War Spy," this year's Wayside Theater Emerging Arts in Action show, which opens Friday, does just that.
The play tells the story of Isabella Sarah Marie Boyd, a teenager from Martinsburg, and how she risked life and limb to spy on Union troop movements in the Shenandoah Valley and get the information to nearby Confederate armies.
Jennifer and Jessica Davison, 16-year-old twin sisters at Millbrook High School, were among the team of four teen playwrights helping bring the story to the stage.
All four writers wanted to tackle a story of the Civil War because of the approaching 150th anniversary of the fight between North and South.
When someone suggested they tell the tale of a local spy, it captured the group's imagination.
"Everyone knew about her, and thought she was a hooker or something like that to get her information. We all thought that was pretty interesting," Jessica said.
Weeks of research uncovered something interesting -- the popular perception of Boyd as a woman who used her bed as much as her cunning to win information from Union troops was inaccurate.
"When we read the book it all turned out that it was a bunch of lies," Jessica added.
In truth, Boyd's methods were for the most part much more subdued, including spying on a Union staff meeting through a knothole in the floor of a hotel.
Boyd was always trouble for Union troops in the valley. When soldiers entered her home and pushed her mother, the 17-year-old drew a pistol and shot the offending soldier, according to Union records.
Boyd's actions later inspired Margaret Mitchell's vision of Scarlet O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind," Jennifer said.
With four playwrights all crafting different portions of the script, keeping a consistent voice for the characters was somewhat of a challenge.
Eliza Hopewell, Boyd's slave who ran information back and forth between the spy and Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, is an example.
"One of us had her sounding really, really Southern, and the others had her sounding more intelligent," she said. "We all had different ideas about how she should act."
"We had to make it sound like one person instead of five different people," she said.
The end result is an impressive script, said Sarah Blackwell, Wayside's director of education.
"At the first rehearsal with the cast and playwrights, I had said that most playwrights take years to write a script, have it work-shopped through a staged reading, go through rewrites, and then finally have a world premiere of their play," she said.
"We are doing all this in weeks. It's a challenge, but the challenge is easier when everyone, from the playwrights to the actors to the design staff at Wayside, gives 110 percent to bring this play to life," Blackwell said.
Audiences will see how Boyd's actions and the war changed -- and didn't change -- who the young woman was.
"We're going to see two different Belles, the Belle who did all the spying and who Belle is after she's done everything," she said.
In addition to teaching young artists about the theater, this year's production has taught them how to do more with less, added Warner Crocker, Wayside's artistic director.
"When budgets get tight, the arts are the first thing to be cut," not only in schools, but also in personal budgets, he said.
That's a tragedy, Crocker said, because "the arts are what tell us who we are."
Cast and crew have had much less to work with on this year's youth production, but "they've done a fantastic job," he said.
Performances will be held at the Special Events Hall at Lord Fairfax Community College, 141 Skirmishers Lane in Middletown. Performances are general admission and will be held tomorrow and Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 to $15 for adults. Prices for children 17 and under are $10 for any show. Call the box office at 869-1776 for tickets and information.