Youthful performers bring historic figures to life at Rossford Chautauqua

Susan Marie Frontczak makes suggestions to Hannah Beene who portray s Florence Scott Libbey next Sunday afternoon at Rossford Chautauqua.

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

The stories of historic figures who shaped Rossford and the world will be told in youthful voices at this year’s Chautauqua.

Rossford Chautauqua will be presented Wednesday, July 19, through Sunday, July 23, under a tent on the Rossford Marina.

This is the third time Rossford has presented Chautauqua. The city hosted the Ohio Humanities Council’s official troupe of performing scholars in 2014 and 2016. But that series runs on a two-year cycle, and Chautauqua was such a hit that the Convention and Visitors Bureau wanted to stage a living history event of its own this year.

So they approached Jeremy Meier, a theater professor at Owens Community College, for help. Meier has portrayed Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. He appeared on the Rossford bill as the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie in 2014.

Nolan McHugh, shown here during a rehearsal, will portray Samuel “Golden Rule’ Jones.

Meier recruited some Owens alumni as well as a trio of Rossford High School students to form a local troupe of young performing scholars.

While Marie Curie and Mary Shelley won’t be visiting Rossford this year, Susan Marie Frontczak, the scholar performer who acted those roles last summer, did come to town. She was on hand to help teach these young performers how bring history to life on stage.

Wednesday she was working with the high school seniors Alex Chiarelott, Hannah Beene, and Nolan McHugh who are portraying Edward Ford, Florence Scott Libbey, and Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, respectively.

Frontczak said she was impressed with what the students had accomplished. But she wasn’t there to praise but to coach. As they delivered their monologues, she stopped them every few lines to suggest a gesture, or to clarify a fact. In doing so, she provided insights into the craft of being a performing scholar.

Being a performing scholar involves researching a historical figure, crafting that person’s story into a monologue, and then performing that script, and she addressed all those elements.

“I’m only telling you things I’ve had to conquer in myself,” Frontczak said.

She told Chiarelott that maybe he needed to explain what was so innovative about Edward Ford’s process for making glass. She advised him cut out a reference to Ford’s first wife and their two children.

And when he mimed a workman digging up the first shovel full of dirt at the glassworks groundbreaking, she advised the Chiarelott to find a spade to see how it actually feels to use it.

Susan Marie Frontczak makes a point to Alex Chiarelott.

Frontczak urged them to let their lines breathe, so the audience has a chance to let them sink in. “There’s a point you want to make in every sentence.”

And though those sentences may have been carefully crafted, they must sound spontaneous, like the speaker is intent on sharing the story at the moment, “like you’re shaping the words in your brain.”

When Beene took the podium as Libbey, one of the founders of the Toledo Art Museum, Frontczak wanted more clarity about her point comparing Boston to Toledo. Together they worked over a line until it was clear that Libbey wanted to bring the sense of fashion and style of late 19th century Boston to Toledo.

“I’m here to pick it apart,” Frontczak said.

With McHugh, she worked on the pacing of his delivery of the story of Jones, an industrialist and progressive mayor of Toledo.

Jones was a reformer, who was not afraid to call out his fellow industrialists. He urged compassion and help for the downtrodden including prostitutes, even at one point urging his listeners to reach out to them.

That was a point worth lingering on, Meier said. “You just asked us to take a prostitute home with us to live. Let it sink in.”

The performers, Frontczak said, need to use all the elements of music – pitch, timbre, volume, rhythm – to get their messages across.

McHugh said having the perspective someone in the audience was valuable. “Saying it is one thing but having someone listening is another.”

The constructive criticism was helpful, Beene said.  “You learn to get into your character more and more, and how to present them.”

The project gave all three a new view of local history. Chiarelott said he’s lived in Rossford for 10 years, but this was the first time he learned about the importance of the glassworks and its role in the founding of Rossford.

Beene said she spent a day at the museum absorbing all she could about Libbey. For her it was more meaningful to read the plaque under her portrait than simply to see facts in a book.

She discovered more about her character than she could fit into the eight or so minutes she had.  She learned that Libbey was responsible for the building of the Peristyle, that she was a poet, and that she amassed a large collection of dolls.

Viewing a photo of Libbey and her husband, Edward Drummond Libbey, on a trip to Egypt, she even has a new personal goal: “Ride a camel.”

McHugh had never heard of Sam “Golden Rule” Jones. He was an advocate for workers. He organized a company band. He fed them hot lunches and offered paid vacations.

And though he lost the Republican nomination, he won the mayor’s job four times as an independent.

McHugh couldn’t help but notice the parallels between Jones and a contemporary progressive Bernie Sanders.

The three high school students will perform on Family Day at Rossford Chautauqua, Sunday, July 23, at 2 p.m.

The event will open Wednesday, July 19, with professional Debra Conner portraying Margaret Mitchell, the author of “Gone with the Wind.”  Conner appeared in Rossford in 2014 when she portrayed Margaret Blennerhassett, an Ohio frontier matron.

Each night, Wednesday through Saturday, music will start under the tent at 6 p.m., followed by the performing scholars at 7 p.m.

The schedule of performers and music is:

  • Wednesday, Conner with music by the Root Cellar Band.
  • Thursday Justin McDaniel as actor John Barrymore with The Sunday Twirlers.
  • Friday, Natalie Phelps as Amelia Earhart with Ragtime Rick.
  • Saturday, Drew Young as Henry Ford with Tim Tegge.

Saturday will also be Riverfest with the beer tent opening at 6 p.m., live music by Dos Dudes, and inflatables for kids at 8 p.m. and fireworks at 10 p.m.

Sunday There will be hands-on activities from noon to 1:30 p.m., the Youth Scholars at 2, a preview of the Recreation Department’s show “Willy Wonka Jr.” and then Caleb Hall as inventor Nikola Tesla.

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