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A ‘Chat’ With History
by Nathan Orme
Jul 18, 2012 | 5121 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cody LaPlante as Bob Marley as part of the Silver State Young Chautauquans’ performance for Artown at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park.
Cody LaPlante as Bob Marley as part of the Silver State Young Chautauquans’ performance for Artown at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park.
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Paige Campbell as Audrey Hepburn as part of the Silver State Young Chautauquans’ performance for Artown at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park.
Paige Campbell as Audrey Hepburn as part of the Silver State Young Chautauquans’ performance for Artown at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park.
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Logan LaPlante as Al Capone in the Silver State Young Chautauqua performances for Artown.
Logan LaPlante as Al Capone in the Silver State Young Chautauqua performances for Artown.
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RENO — Imagine you can meet John Lennon … and John F. Kennedy … and Benedict Arnold … and Al Capone … and many other historical figures.

It’s easy if you come to an Artown performance of Silver State Young Chautauqua, taking place today and Friday at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. The group’s 23 young performers will take to the stage under the big tent off San Rafael Drive near the volleyball courts. The young chautauquans began their performances Tuesday as part of Artown’s Festival of Youth, featuring the talents of a range of musicians, dancers, actors and singers from ages 5 to 18.

Laurie Anne Grimes, the volunteer manager of the Festival of Youth, said her son has benefited greatly from participating in chautauqua, performing such historical figures as Mark Twain, Johnny Cash, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and George Gershwin.

“He has learned everything from early American history to the 20th century,” Grimes said. “Kids really take a journey historically.”

The chautauqua performances began earlier this week with JFK, Arnold, Capone, Abigail Adams and Franklin D. Roosevelt telling their stories on Tuesday. Brendan Wiebe, an 11-year-old from Sparks, took on the role of Kennedy. During his monologue, Wiebe spoke in the first person about the 35th president’s personal conflicts during the Bay of Pigs invasion and Cuban Missile Crisis.

“I was confused on what to do,” Brendan said as the president. “I would sit in my office and think ‘What to do? What to do?’ ”

As the youngest person to be elected to the Oval Office, Kennedy at times showed his youth when it came to dealing with crises that could have changed the course of history, Brendan said. The student at Jerry Whitehead Elementary School said he chose to portray JFK for this performance because his work in civil rights and his leadership during the Cold War and Vietnam War fit with the first day’s theme, “Heroes in History.”

“That’s pretty much heroism, so why not?” Brendan said.

On another end of the heroism spectrum was Logan LaPlante portraying bootlegging gangster Al Capone.

“I’m in the hospitality business,” said 12-year-old Logan at the start of his monologue before launching into Capone’s rise to the top of the crime world in Chicago, taking occasional “puffs” from his cigar. Logan, who has portrayed Sir Edmund Hillary and Billy the Kid in his prior chautauqua performances, said he used the Internet, books and museums to study his characters. He also got some insight into Capone from his grandmother relating stories from his great-great uncle, who worked as Capone’s tailor. Logan said he never paid much attention to his grandmother’s stories before — “I thought gangsters were guys who wore big pants and big T-shirts,” he said — but they have been useful now for getting into character. Typically, Logan said he prefers to portray good guys on stage.

“I don’t really like portraying bad guys,” he said. “My dad always tells me ‘You’re not mean enough.’”

Molly Ristine, a 14-year-old freshman at Reno High School, said she looked to an HBO special for guidance on how to portray Abigail Adams, the wife of the second U.S. president. For her first chautauqua experience, Molly chose to portray Adams because of her influence on American history and because her history teacher is a Revolutionary War fanatic. Molly said she loves acting and relies on her improvisation training when speaking in character.

“(Improv) is handy when it comes to chautauqua,” Molly said. “All you need is a few simple words. I just write down topics I want to talk about.”

After each chautauqua show, the performers answer questions in character and then as themselves. On Tuesday, each of the chautauquans said they enjoyed studying for their roles and that it makes otherwise boring history lessons come to life. This desire to breathe new life into history is how chautauqua was born in the 1870s as an educational movement in New York that continues into the current day.

“I would definitely recommend it,” Brendan Wiebe said. “It’s fun. It’s a way to get your history but it’s fun. I think people should try it.”

The Silver State Chautauquans perform at 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. today and Friday. Performances are free and part of Festival of Youth, interspersed with appearances by the Reno Youth Jazz Orchestra, Reno Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and other singers and dancers.

Today at 9:30 a.m. - “Men of Action”

Tyler Hart as Raoul Wallenber

Logan Heeder as Eddie Richenbacher

Michael Sprinkle as Arron Arronsohn

Joey Grimes as Robert Frost

Ian Duke as John Lennon

Today at 6:30 p.m. - “The Good, The Bad and the Different”

Megan Campbell as Mary Pickford

Tyler Hart at Raoul Wallenberg

Brendan Wiebe as John F. Kennedy

Cody LaPlante as Bob Marley

Friday at 9:30 a.m. - “Where Science Meets Art”

John Eisenberg as Sigmund Freud

Megan Campbell as Mary Pickford

Phillip du Plessis as Nikola Tesla

Cody LaPlante as Bob Marley

Friday at 6:30 p.m. - “Solemn Echoes”

Jasmine Brazelton as Anne Sullivan

Joey Grimes as Robert Frost

Alejandra Morales as Elizabeth Blackwell

Jade Grimes and Marjorie Williams as Anne Frank and Miep Gies
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