Chautauqua brings history home
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 09:14
ROSSFORD - A college theater drama teacher by day, Jeremy Meier has become some tough characters when he hits the stage at night.
|File photo. Actor Jeremy Meier portrays Commodore Perry during Owens performance. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Meier has created one-man portrayals of cavalryman George Custer and gangster John Dillinger, and now he's in his second summer of portraying the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie Oliver Hazard Perry.
The Sylvania resident and faculty member at Owens Community College will get to present his Perry show close to home next week when he participates in Ohio Chautauqua presented in Rossford's Veterans Park along the Maumee River.
The Ohio Humanities Council event, "When Ohio Was the Western Frontier," will run next week July 9 through 13.
Oliver Hazard Perry will be the concluding performance at 7:30 p.m. Meier will also present a workshop for children, "A Star Spangled Banner," July 12 at 10 a.m. and then a workshop for adults, "Three Perspectives on the Battle of Lake Erie," that afternoon at 2.
Perry is one of five historic figures that come to life during the event.
All perform at 7:30 in the evening and then present a 10 a.m. children's workshop and 2 p.m. adult workshop in the Rossford Public Library.
The other performances and morning and afternoon workshops are:
• Johnny Appleseed by Hank Fincken, July 9 with workshops on July 13, "Becoming Johnny" and "John & Johnny; Past, Present, and Future."
• Margaret Blennerhassett, a frontier matron with ties to Aaron Burr, by Debra Conner, July 10 with workshops July 9 "Inspired by Margaret Blennerhassett" and "Women on America's Western Frontier."
• Chief John Logan by Dan Culter performing on July 11 with workshops July 10, "Adopted by Indians" and "History in a Nutshell: The American Indian Perspective."
• York, an enslaved African-American who accompanied Lewis and Clark, by Marvin Jefferson performing July 12 with workshops on July 11 "Telling a Tall Tale" and "York, William Clark, Slavery and American History."
Musicals performances at 6:30 p.m. will precede each performance.
All the performers are stage veterans. They also must love history, Meier said.
All acting requires research to get inside another person, said Meier a graduate of Central Michigan University with a MFA in acting from Ohio State. "This takes it to a whole new level. You have to think about history from another perspective."
The call for scholars, he said, goes out 14 months before the start of each two-year Chautauqua cycle, he said. Given Perry's ties to this area and the impending 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie, Perry seemed like a good choice.
This is Meier's third Chautauqua stint having portrayed Custer and Dillinger in the past.
After his Perry proposal was accepted in July, 2011, he dove into 10 months of research. He said he got a lot of help from scholars David Curtis Skaggs, a professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University, and Perry biographer Gerard Altoff.
Meier didn't start writing the script until May, 2012 a couple months before the tour was to start.
But the script reflects only part of his research. Each performance has the actor respond to questions while still in character. That means being true to the personality and to the character's limited knowledge. Everything must be grounded in research.
Afterward the actor gets to step out of character to answer more questions.
Meier did five Ohio Chautauqua performances as Perry last year, and also performed at the Perry Peace Monument and other venues.
The one-man show has a sense of "immediacy," he said. "It really is a sense of communion you have with the people under the tent with you."
There's also camaraderie among the performers. They attend each others shows and workshops. "It's strange to say there's a chemistry within the troupe even when it involves all individual performances."
Rossford is the middle of the five venues for Ohio Chautauqua this year. The tour opened in Lakewood. It's in Madison this week, and then will move on to Bexley and Coshocton.
While Meier is game to bringing another historical figure to stage, he's taking a break for the next Chautauqua cycle. The demands of home and job will keep him anchored in the present for the time being.