Chautauquans ready to act out historical roles

Area youngsters are adopting new personas from history for Two Rivers Chautauqua to be held Sept. 18 and 19 at Cross Orchards Living History Farm.

A musician, an inventor and a pirate were among the people invited to Susan Hall’s living room on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Well, sort of.

On Aug. 29, Hall, a teacher at Wingate Elementary School, hosted a rehearsal for several students who participate locally in Young Chautauqua.

Chautauqua is a living history presentation. To portray a historical figure, Young Chautauquans learn about a person before they write a monologue about the historical figure and bring that person to life.

During the rehearsal at Hall’s home, Anna Exby, 14, was legendary musician John Lennon.

Zach Lamberty, 13, performed his interpretation of inventor Nikola Tesla. Ellie Gossage, 14, dressed the part of Irish pirate Grace O’Malley.

The three students, along with Emma McNulty, 13, as taxidermist Martha Maxwell, and Carson Brown, 14, as author Rudyard Kipling, were in full character to hear feedback from Boulder’s Susan Marie Frontczak, a Chautauqua performer and coach.

The Grand Junction students perform their Chautauquas Sept. 19 at Cross Orchards Historic Site.

“It’s great to totally transform yourself into someone else,” McNulty said.

The transformation from teenager into historical figure is interesting to observe, Frontczak said. During rehearsal, she made the students think about how to mix emotion with physical action in the mannerisms of their character.

“I love Chautauqua,” said Exby, whose brown, shoulder-length hair and circular-framed lenses gave her a Lennon-like appearance. “I picked Lennon because I have a deep, profound interest in him as a person. He was more than just a Beatle.”

And Chautauqua is more than acting, said Frontczak and Hall, who teaches Chautauqua in her fourth-grade classroom but enjoys it enough that she works with students outside the classroom, too.

“Students are much more interested in point of view,” Hall said. “Students are much more comfortable in front of people.”

Although some students such as Gossage thrive off the performance aspect of Chautauqua, some Young Chautauquans perform in spite of the audience.

“I love the writing,” Lamberty said.

“I’ve always kind of been scared of presenting and this helps me get over that,” said Phoebe Abigail Stoye, an eighth-grader at East Middle School.

In her fourth year of performing Chautauquas, Stoye has become an expert on Abigail Adams, the historical figure she transforms into for performances. Adams was a natural choice for Stoye, who was named after Abigail Adams because she is a descendant of the former first lady.

“I know I can learn more,” Stoye said. “I don’t think I’ve learned enough yet. You relive another person’s life in Chautauqua. It’s like a time machine.”

Stoye was one of several younger students who spent the morning with Frontczak before the Boulder woman went to help other students. Stoye, Maddy Lay, Destiny Barrix and Chloe Pickford worked with Frontczak and Hall at Pomona Elementary School, which is one School District 51 school where Chautauqua is taught.

Several of the girls represented the next generation of Young Chautauquans. Pickford is a first-time participant this year, having selected Dr. Susan Anderson as the historical figure she wanted to portray this fall. Anderson was one of Colorado’s first female physicians.

“Maybe someday I’ll make history,” Pickford, 10, said. “I want to be a nurse. After I retire from nursing, I want to be an artist.”

Pickford and nearly a dozen other students will perform their Chautauquas as part of the 2009 Two Rivers Chautauqua Larger than Life event.


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