Time and Travis Travel

Shari Cakir

Brogans, as worn by men in latter 19th-century America, were cobbled, I was to find out, such that the left was indistinguishable from the right. Too, their hard soles made it hard to obtain purchase on surfaces the least bit slick.

About this latter characteristic I was warned by a colleague, Jason Dehart, who loaned me a historically accurate suit of clothes — flannel shirt; wool vest; no-pocket cotton pants with a button fly; wide-brimmed, straw hat; garish galluses; and the brogans — that I wore in playing the role of Travis Wiggins in an independent film, “Tumbleton Road,” the creation of Faye Walker Howell of Dothan, Alabama.

Walker is a collector and recorder of history and something of a firebrand who for 20 years has been interviewing South Alabama residents whose ancestors worked as sharecroppers following their emancipation from slavery. Especially, she spent time capturing the stories of her great grandmother, Roxie, whose father, Jack, was murdered by clansmen because he was deemed to be uppity.

Travis, in “Tumbleton Road,” is a bad, self-loathing man with a small heart and a closed mind. Once, he owned and ran a farm of his own. Now, he has moved and married a landowner, Sarah, and is reduced to watching her run her place as she pleases. His advice, which exits his mouth with spittle and vinegar, Sara routinely ignores.

You just watch what I tell you Sarah, they gonna take more than their share of the crops. Them coloreds always do. They ain’t satisfied working on halves — just cause they plant the crops and harvest them, they thinks you owe them more than their share. 

To become the character capable of delivering such lines, I adopted the voice of a good friend, Turnip Green Buckner, of Macon, Georgia. 

I found it helpful to adopt a stooped posture, which contributed to making me feel burdened and defeated.

Working to assume the character of a man so judgmental, callous and dismissive that he would eliminate, unfeelingly, an entire class of people, I became so consumed by hatred as to be unable to see much or achieve anything. I arrived at a scary place, fearful that this hate once surfaced might not easily be abated.

My scenes in “Tumbleton” were shot mainly in a replica sitting room at the Alabama Pioneer Museum in Troy. Patrons passing by the filming assumed that the players were part of a living exhibit until they heard the vitriolic voice of Travis lambasting his wife and then quickly they moved on.

When shooting at the museum’s main building was complete, we set out for a chapel located across a foot bridge. The bridge was damp and covered in algae and, as Mr. Dehart would have promised, the brogans went out from under me. I cursed in the voice of another. I had become a man I would not choose to be.

Categories: Director’s Column, Opinion