Theater & research a natural fit for Chautauqua

Susan Frontczak portrayed Marie Curie at the 2016 Ohio Chautauqua presentation in Rossford. She'll return this summer to play Erma Bombeck.


BG Independent News

History feels right at home in Rossford.

Ohio Chautauqua presented by the Ohio Humanities council set up its tent this week along the Maumee, to present five nights of living history. It opened Tuesday night with Susan Marie Frontczak bringing the pioneering scientist Marie Curie to life on the stage. It continues with presentations every night through Saturday.

Dressed in a black dress Frontczak took the audience from Curie’s childhood in Warsaw under the rule of the Russian czar to her scientific lab in a Paris apartment she shared with her husband.

Along the way Frontczak was careful to make the science as clear as possible for those, she said, who had never studied chemistry or had studied it so long ago they had forgotten it all. She told Curie’s story with a few gripping details, occasionally injecting humor. Learning to cook as a young wife was “my most mysterious science experiment.”

When Curie’s family had to take in 10 young male students as boarders, she declared “that’s when I learned to concentrate.”

As with all the presenters, Frontczak has to be an actor who captures the audience’s attention and engages their imaginations. She has to be a writer who can encapsulate a notable life story within 50 minutes. And she has to be a scholar who must research her subject and master that research not only to create an accurate script, but also to be able to answer audience members questions both in character and out of character.

On Tuesday Frontczak demonstrated how she could extemporize in character as she carried on exchanges with the audience. At one point, someone asked about the death of Curie’s husband. Without faltering, Frontczak described the circumstances of his death and Curie’s deep grief in the months afterward.

As a researcher, she explained, that Curie was well accepted by her fellow scientists. Most importantly she was supported in her work by her father and her husband, who insisted the Nobel Prize be awarded in both their names, not just his.

Dan Cutler, who appears Wednesday as Cornstalk (Hokoleskwa), a Shawnee Indian chief, said people have approached him about becoming living history actors, and when he tells them about the research involved they are shocked.

The Chautauqua programs put that research to use during the day. Each day of the program one performer presents a workshop for children at 10 a.m. and a program for adults at 2 p.m., all the Rossford Public Library.

Dan Cutler in character as Cornstalk waits to go on stage.

Dan Cutler in character as Cornstalk waits to go on stage.

On Tuesday, Cutler talked about how trade with Europeans changed the lives of Native Americans, and almost always for the worse. The Europeans introduced metal goods, glass beads for wampum – though the Dutch misunderstood the ritual behind trading it. The demand for furs led to overhunting.

Some trade goods were useful; wool blankets hold in heat even when wet. Some devastating; natives had no tolerance for alcoholic beverages.

When a trader brought a keg of rum into a village, some natives would assign themselves as protectors of those who imbibed, taking away their weapons and watching over them, though from afar lest they get involved in the fights that would ensue.

Every generation or so, Cutler said, a holy man would arise and urged the natives to go back to their traditional ways and oppose the white encroachment. Cornstalk, he said, was a follower of the Neolin, a prophet from the Delaware.

“History is often brutal, not pretty,” Cutler said at the beginning of his program. Still people often prefer the attractive tale over the more gruesome reality, he said.

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He started to be able to discern between the two when he was young and reading the novels of Zane Grey, and realized the Indians who were demonized may indeed be the heroes. “There was an imbalance of information and it made me want to learn more.”

That was the start of his deep passion for history.

Cutler, whose has Mohawk ancestry through his father, said he was always a ham. He recalled in high school English class delighting his teacher by reading from “Macbeth” with a broad Scottish accent.

Cutler served in Vietnam as a Navy corpsman, and then worked as a firefighter back in West Virginia.

His dramatic talents were put to use in local history presentations and reenactments over the past 28 years.

He’s portrayed several native figures with Cornstalk and the Iroquois chief John Logan as the most popular. He appeared as John Logan when Ohio Chautauqua was in Rossford in 2013.

Continuing the program’s theme, The Natural World, Thursday Frontczak returns as Mary Shelley, the creator of “Frankenstein”; Friday, Dianne Moran appears as gorilla researcher Dian Fossey; and Saturday, Chuck Chalberg appears as President Theodore Roosevelt.

All programs are at Veterans Memorial Park at 300 Hannum Road. They begin with music at 6:30 p.m., followed by the main presentation at 7:30 p.m.

Musical acts are; GRUBS, Wednesday; The Root Cellar String Band, Thursday; Tim Tegge, Friday; and Kerry Clark, Saturday.