A performance last night was staged so that thousands of others in years to come may see the same pageant narrative of the early years of the life of Frederick Douglass.
The benefit in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater was to help raise $10,000 to pay the costs of videotaping a performance of the pageant at Fort Dupont Park this spring.
"I saw the pageant last fall when it first was staged at Cedar Hill, the Douglass estate," Hilda Mason explained last night. "I was so moved by it that I wanted to keep it alive and bring it to more people."
So Mason, a member of the District City Council, joined in organizing a pageant committee, which staged last night's benefit performance.
As Oscar Brown Jr., the actor, read the words written by Douglass, his story was told impressively in mime, spiritual, dance and dramatic vignette.
Bobby and Joy Austin, who adapted the pageant from "The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself," give the credit to Douglass for the pageant's success.
"We used the words that he wrote," Bobby Austin, who works as an editor-sociologist for the National Uban League, said last night. "What we have done is taken the spiritual dance and mime from the slave camp and woven these around his words."
Last night "our little pageant," as the Austins call it, was given a forceful, moving interpretation by Brown, the narrator, with the support of the D.C. Youth Orchestra, the People's Congregational Choir and the LaVerne Reed Dance Company.
The Rep. Inc., the community theater company, performed the vignettes to dramatize the words of Douglass. They followed the narrator's memories of his early years as a slave boy, the whipping of his aunt, how he learned to read and write, and how he made his break for freedom.