Old Nettie and Little Bern

ACTOR 2: Do you remember?

ACTOR 1: Do I remember?

ACTOR 3: Do you remember a time – when there were no phones?

ACTOR 1: No phones?

ACTOR 2: No cars.

ACTOR 1: No cars?

ACTOR 3: No light bulbs?

ACTOR 1: No light bulbs?

ACTOR 2: When people called each other like this:

They show:

ACTOR 3: Hello!

ACTOR 2: Hello!

ACTOR 1: Hello!

ACTOR 2: And got around the town like this:

They show:

ACTOR 3: Hello!

ACTOR 2: Hello!

ACTOR 1: Hello!

ACTOR 2: And at night…

ACTOR 3: When it was dark…

ACTOR 2: So dark, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face…

ACTOR 3: People blew out a candle and said goodnight, like this:

They show:

ACTOR 2: Goodnight

ACTOR 3: Goodnight

ACTOR 1: Goodnight.

ACTOR 2: Do you remember a time like that?

ACTOR 3: Do you remember?

ACTOR 2: Do you?

Actor 1 and/or the audience may answer or indicate No.

ACTOR 2: You don’t?

ACTOR 3: Well.

ACTOR 2: Well.

ACTOR 1: Well?


They begin to assemble, uncover, reveal the world of this play:

ACTOR 2: Once there was a time just like that.

ACTOR 3: When there were no phones or cars or light bulbs.

ACTOR 2: In a land where it was very hot in the summer

ACTOR 3: But very cold in the winter.

ACTOR 2: In a small village with no sidewalks

ACTOR 1: No sidewalks?

ACTOR 3: No.

ACTOR 2: Where kids had no toys

ACTOR 1: No toys?

ACTOR 2: Nope.

ACTOR 3: Where children walked 5 km to school

ACTOR 1: 5 km?

ACTOR 2 & 3: Both ways!

ACTOR 2: And when they got home…

ACTOR 3: They helped their parents with the farm, like this:

They show:

ACTOR 2: Feed the chickens!

ACTOR 1: Feeding chickens…

ACTOR 3: Milk the cow!

ACTOR 1: Milking cow…

ACTOR 2: Water the horse!

ACTOR 1: Watering horse…

ACTOR 3: Until it was time for dinner!

ACTOR 2: Soup!

ACTOR 1: (so hungry) Soup!

ACTOR 2: And bread!

ACTOR 1: (a treat!) Bread!

ACTOR 3: Until you got ready for bed, like this:

They show:

ACTOR 2: Wash your feet

ACTOR 1: Washing feet.

ACTOR 3: Wash your ears

ACTOR 1: Washing ears.

ACTOR 2: Wash your neck

ACTOR 1: Washing neck.

ACTOR 3: Until it was so dark…

ACTOR 2 & 3: You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.

ACTOR 2: And you crawled into bed

ACTOR 3: And blew out the candle like this:

They show.

ACTOR 3: Good night

ACTOR 2: Good night

ACTOR 1: Good night.

The world has been created. From here on the actors will “show” as they wish and/or as indicated.


ACTOR 2: Once there was a boy named Bernhard

ACTOR 1: Call me Bern!

ACTOR 3: Little Bern’s parents were dead

ACTOR 1: So I lived with my aunt and uncle.

ACTOR 2: Bernard!

ACTOR 3: Bern!

ACTOR 1: And their 10 children

ACTOR 2: Mother!

ACTOR 3: Father!

ACTOR 2: Mother!

ACTOR 1: That’s a lot of children!

ACTOR 2: Every day, Bern walked the five km from his farm to the school.

ACTOR 3: I am a teacher telling you everything you will need to know but will forget as soon as you leave this school.

ACTOR 2: And after school he walked the 5 km home to help with—

ACTOR 1: Feeding the chickens, milking the cow, watering the horse.

ACTOR 2: And everyday it was the same thing:

ACTOR 1: Walk, school—

ACTOR 3: I am a teacher who—

ACTOR 1: Walk, chickens, cow, horse, eat, wash, sleep, walk, school

ACTOR 3: I am a teacher—

ACTOR 1: -- walk chickens cow horse eat wash sleep, walk, school—

ACTOR 3: I am a—

ACTOR 1: Walk—

ACTOR 2: But one day—

ACTOR 1: Halfway home!

ACTOR 2: Bern met a Bully.

ACTOR 3: Hey Little “Bern”

ACTOR 2: Who’s name was Peter.

ACTOR 1: Hello.

ACTOR 3: Where do you think you’re going?

ACTOR 1: Home. I have to feed the chickens and milk—

ACTOR 3: Your parents are dead

ACTOR 1: I know that.

ACTOR 3: Nobody wants you.

ACTOR 1: That’s not true.

ACTOR 3: You belong in there.

ACTOR 1: Where?

ACTOR 3: There.

ACTOR 2: Peter pointed to the old church across the street. Years ago, there was a lightning storm, and the church caught fire, like this:

They show.

ACTOR 2: And the people in the town tried to save the burning church like this:

They show.

ACTOR 2: But they couldn’t. And afterwards, nobody could use the church ever again because it wasn’t safe. Except…

ACTOR 1: Except?

ACTOR 2: An old woman named:

ACTOR 3 & 1: Old Nettie.

They show:

ACTOR 1: (scared) They say Old Nettie lives there alone.

ACTOR 3: Ha!

ACTOR 1: They say Old Nettie might be a witch.

ACTOR 3: Ha!

ACTOR 1: They say Old Nettie’s hair is white, but she keeps it black from the soot of the fire.

They show.

ACTOR 1: They say Old Nettie is poor, but her teeth are pure gold.

They show.

ACTOR 1: They say Old Nettie wanders through the village at night, when it’s dark, so dark…

ACTOR 1, 2, & 3: You can’t see your hand in front of your face.

ACTOR 1: They say she wanders the night with a lantern… Looking for something. Searching for someone. Calling out in the dead of night:

ACTOR 2: (mournful; sad) Bel-lo! Bel-lo! Bel-lo!

ACTOR 1: They say, at night, she looks into the windows of little boys’ rooms and if she looks into your eyes

ACTOR 1, 2, & 3: You disappear. Forever.

ACTOR 1: I’m not going in there!

ACTOR 3: Oh yes you are, Little Bern!

They show.

ACTOR 1: Peter!

ACTOR 3: Ha!

ACTOR 1: No!

ACTOR 3: Ha ha!—

ACTOR 1: Don’t!

ACTOR 2: And Peter pushed Little Bern till he was almost to the rusted gate of the burned out church. And then they heard this:

ACTOR 2: “Be-lllloooooooo!”


ACTOR 2: And the sound of Old Nettie’s voice scared both boys so badly they ran home as fast as they could, like this:

They show.

ACTOR 3: And that night, when Bern had finished…

ACTOR 1: The chickens and cow and horse and eating and washing…

ACTOR 2: And was trying to sleep with the other ten children in the house of his aunt and uncle

ACTOR 3: He did not want to blow out the candle and say goodnight

ACTOR 1: But he did. And stared into the dark night

ACTOR 2: So dark he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face

ACTOR 3: And Little Bern wished

ACTOR 1: I wish…

ACTOR 2: That his parents were still alive

ACTOR 3: Wished Old Nettie wouldn’t take him in the night.

ACTOR 1: Wished, wished, wished…

ACTOR 2 & 3: ‘Til he fell asleep.


ACTOR 2: The next day

ACTOR 1: Little Bern got up to go to school

ACTOR 2: Wear a scarf!

ACTOR 3: Said his auntie

ACTOR 2: And some mittens! Winter is coming!

ACTOR 3: And it was true

ACTOR 1: As Little Bern walked to school

ACTOR 2: It started to snow, like this:

They show.

ACTOR 3: And all through his five km walk

ACTOR 2: It snowed

ACTOR 3: And snowed

ACTOR 2: And snowed

ACTOR 1: And all through his class at school

ACTOR 2: It snowed until the teacher said:

ACTOR 3: I am the teacher and I am telling you today that it is snowing and we are all going to leave school early.

ACTOR 2: And all the other children left school and ran home as fast as they could through the snow which was now getting higher and higher, like this:

They show

ACTOR 3: But little Bern was afraid to walk home.

ACTOR 1: I’m afraid that Peter the Bully is waiting for me outside the church like yesterday.

ACTOR 2: So Little Bern decided to take a different way home, and cut through a farmer’s field, like this:

They show.

ACTOR 2: But the snow on the field was wet and heavy

ACTOR 3: And Little Bern had a hard time getting through the deep, deep snow

ACTOR 2: The wind started to rise.

ACTOR 3: And it got colder

ACTOR 2: And colder

ACTOR 3: And colder, like this:

They show

ACTOR 1: This snowstorm has turned into a blizzard!

ACTOR 2: And the snowflakes were so thick

ACTOR 3: And the wind so high

ACTOR 2: That Little Bern could not see anything

ACTOR 3, 2, & 1: Not even the hand in front of his (my) face.

ACTOR 2: And he was lost.


ACTOR 3: Hours passed

ACTOR 2: And Auntie and Uncle were so busy with their ten children

ACTOR 3: They didn’t even notice that the chickens weren’t fed

ACTOR 2: Or the cow wasn’t milked

ACTOR 3: Or the horse wasn’t watered

ACTOR 2: Until the chickens clucked

ACTOR 3: And the cow mooed

ACTOR 2: And the horse neighed

ACTOR 3: And it was then that Auntie and uncle said:

ACTOR 2 & 3: Where’s our Little Bern?

ACTOR 3: They looked in his room.

ACTOR 2: Nothing.

ACTOR 3: They looked in the barn

ACTOR 2: No one.

ACTOR 3: They looked outside, but the snow was so thick and the wind so high…

ACTOR 2 & 3: They couldn’t see their hand in front of their face.

ACTOR 2: So they grabbed lanterns

ACTOR 3: And ran off into the cold, dark, snowy night calling:

ACTOR 2: Little Bern!

ACTOR 3: Little Bern!


ACTOR 1: I’m cold. And hungry. And lost. What should I do?

ACTOR 2: Then, Little Bern remembered something the teacher has said:

ACTOR 3: I am your teacher and if you are ever lost in a snow storm, dig down into the snow like this:

They show.

(ACTOR 3) And create a cave like this:

They show

(ACTOR 3) And make sure you have a hole to breath, like this:

They show

(ACTOR 3) This way the snow will keep you warm until help arrives.

ACTOR 2: And so Little Bern did just that and waited until help would arrive.


ACTOR 3: And it was then

ACTOR 1: It was then?

ACTOR 3: It was then

ACTOR 1: What was then?

ACTOR 3: That little Bern heard this sound.

ACTOR 2: Be-lloooooo. Be-lllooooo

ACTOR 3: And the hair stood up on the back of Little Bern’s neck

ACTOR 1: Peter? Is that you?

ACTOR 2: Be-llooooo.

ACTOR 1: Are you making fun, Peter? Peter?

ACTOR 3: But it was not Peter.

ACTOR 1: Ahhh!

ACTOR 3: It was Old Nettie

ACTOR 1: Please don’t hurt me!

ACTOR 3: Come to find him.

ACTOR 1: Don’t take me away forever, please! I don’t want to disappear!

ACTOR 3: But Old Nettie grabbed Little Bern by the hand. And yanked him out of the snow. And led him back to the church using her lantern to guide them. Like this:

They show.


ACTOR 3: And when they were back at the Church, Old Nettie got an old blanket and wrapped it around Little Bern, and sat him down on a burned chair, and gave him some soup

ACTOR 1: Soup!

ACTOR 3: And bread.

ACTOR 1: Bread!

ACTOR 3: And then Old Nettie sat down next to Little Bern and said

ACTOR 2: Is it good?

ACTOR 1: Yes

ACTOR 2: Are you warmer now?

ACTOR 1: yes.

ACTOR 2: Do you want some more?

ACTOR 1: No. Thank you. You’re not going to make me disappear, are you?

ACTOR 2: No.

ACTOR 1: You’re not going to take me away forever, are you?

ACTOR 2: No.

ACTOR 1: Are you a witch, like everyone says?

ACTOR 2: No.

ACTOR 1: Who are you then?

ACTOR 3: Old Nettie looked at Little Bern and said:

ACTOR 2: Little Bernhard. I knew your mother and father well.

ACTOR 1: You did?

ACTOR 2: They were good people. They took care of me and my won when my husband died. They let me stay at your farm.

ACTOR 1: You? Stayed with my parents?

ACTOR 2: My son and I stayed in your barn, but we never bothered you. But when your parents died, they took you to your auntie and uncle’s but not us.

ACTOR 1: Where did you go?

ACTOR 2: We came here to the old church.

ACTOR 1: Where is your son now?

ACTOR 3: And here Old Nettie started to cry.

ACTOR 2: Be-llloooo!

ACTOR 3: Because it was a sad story, the story of her son. And she told it like this:

They show:

ACTOR 3: There had been a snowstorm, like the one tonight.

ACTOR 3: And her son had wandered out.

ACTOR 3: And was never seen or heard from again.

ACTOR 3: And so for 30 years Old Nettie has wandered in the night

ACTOR 3: Looking

ACTOR 3: Searching

ACTOR 3: For her lost son

ACTOR 3: Who she could never find

ACTOR 2: Be-lllo!

ACTOR 3: And Little Bernhard learned that Bello was a word in another language that meant:

ACTOR 2: Beautiful boy.

ACTOR 1: Beautiful boy.

ACTOR 1, 2, & 3: Beautiful boy.


ACTOR 1: Just then, Little Bern heard his Uncle calling:

ACTOR 3: Little Bern! Little Bern! Are you in there?

ACTOR 1: I’m here! I’m here!

ACTOR 3: Stay away from Little Bern you mean evil old witch!

ACTOR 2: But Little Bern stood up.

ACTOR 1: She’s not a witch, Uncle. She is not evil. She saved me. No, it’s you who are the mean one, for not taking in Old Nettie and her son when my parents died.

ACTOR 3: And the Uncle could see that Little Bern was right.

ACTOR 2: And later that night

ACTOR 1: When it was so dark

ACTOR 1, 2, & 3: So dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face

ACTOR 2: Old Nettie laid her head down on a bed in Uncle’s house

ACTOR 1: And Little Bern tucked her in.

ACTOR 3: For Bernhard would now be Old Nettie’s Beautiful Boy

ACTOR 2: And he would take care of her til her dying day.

ACTOR 1, 2: And they each made a wish, and said:

ACTOR 1: Goodnight

ACTOR 2: Goodnight.

ACTOR 3: And then they blew out their candles.

ACTOR 1, 2, & 3: Like this.

They show.

End of Play.

About the Author

Vern Thiessen

Vern Thiessen is considered one of the most diverse and successful playwrights his native Canada has produced. He has had two productions at the acclaimed Stratford Festival of Canada, and three plays premiere off-Broadway in New York City, where he lives and works. Well known works include: Shakespeare's Will, Apple, Vimy, Einstein's Gift, Lenin's Embalmers, and A More Perfect Union. His plays have been translated into several languages including French, German, Polish and Hebrew. Thiessen’s many awards include the Governor General's Literary Award for Einstein’s Gift, Canada's highest honor for playwriting and the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. Lenin's Embalmers was a finalist for the same award in 2011. He has also been shortlisted for the prestigious Siminovitch Prize in Theatre and the Herman Voaden Competition. Other accolades include several Elizabeth Sterling Haynes awards, The Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition, and the Carol Bolt Award. Born in Winnipeg, he currently lives in New York City.

More information on Thiessen can be found at vernthiessen.com, suite101.com, and canadiantheatre.com.