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Beacon Senior News

Chautauqua brings the Great War to the stage

Aug 04, 2018 04:26AM ● By Jan Weeks

General John Joseph Pershing, by Bain News Service, publisher; Dr. Susan Anderson, cir. 1900.

The Great War. The War to End All Wars. Whatever name it carries, for some it is just a chapter in a history book and only historians and veterans of other wars know how terrible it truly was.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Though the official end didn’t come until June 1919, Germany called for an armistice, which took place on November 11 at 11 a.m. in 1918. We now memorialize Armistice Day as Veterans Day.

On August 17-18, the Museums of Western Colorado and Two Rivers Chautauqua will present two different performances at the Avalon Theatre. On Friday evening, George Frein will portray Erich Maria Remarque, a German soldier who later recounted his experiences in his masterful novel, “All Quiet on the Western Front.” The 85-year-old Frein, who lives in Ft. Worth, Texas, has been involved in Chautauqua since 1986.

“I’ve portrayed Lincoln, Mark Twain and Dr. Seuss,” he said.

Ron Edgerton as General John J. Pershing

Sally Ann Drucker, another long-time Chautauquan, will bring Emma Goldman to life. “Red Emma” emigrated from Russia to the U.S. in 1885 and was an anarchist who advocated violence to overthrow the oppression of workers. Her actions reportedly inspired Leon Czolgosz to assassinate President William McKinley.

“I like working with women who were controversial figures during their time periods; many of Emma’s ideas are relevant today, such as freedom of speech and women’s reproductive rights,” Drucker said. “In this Chautauqua, [Goldman will] discuss being jailed for her anti-draft activities. She saw the state as having no right to force an individual into slave labor, which is how she saw military conscription. I hope that people will be inspired by her to take a stand on the issues in which they believe.”

On Saturday, Ronald Edgerton will portray General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who served as the commander of the American expeditionary forces on the Western Front. Pershing and his troops acted as an independent army, and their actions turned the tide in favor of the Allies.

Not all the action took place in Europe. The Legendary Ladies, a group based in Denver, will bring several Colorado women to life. Joyce Nelson portrays Dr. Susan Anderson, a physician who treated patients in Fraser, most notably during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918.

Chautauqua regular Joyce Nelson

Joyce Nelson as Dr. Susan Anderson

“For 50 years, she persevered in spite of intense prejudice against female doctors,” said Nelson about Anderson. “She was also eccentric. She hated to cook and dropped in to various homes at meal times. Since she rarely got paid, she considered it a way to get reimbursed.”

Anderson was Nelson’s first character.

“In 1998, our director requested I research and write about Dr. Anderson. I seized the opportunity,” she said. “Two years ago, I re-wrote this script, using additional resources and emphasized the years around the Great War.”

Linda Gleichmann portrays Emily Griffith, who founded the Opportunity School in Denver. She believed everyone had a right to an education.

“I was a teacher and Emily was a teacher,” Gleichmann said. “We had much in common. I was interested in how she started something by herself during a time when it was not easy for women to succeed in innovation.”

Ellis Meredith, a suffragette, comes to life in her portrayal by Kathy Swafford, who said, “I was so inspired what women did to get the vote in Colorado in 1893 and Ellis Meredith was a major supporter and worker to get women the vote.”

While the venue is new, the format for all the performances is the same. Each character or group will present a 30- to 45-minute monologue about his or her experiences, then will answer questions posed to the character from the audience. After that, the actor will step out of the role and answer personal questions.

To get the most out of the experience, plan to attend both nights, as different characters appear on separate nights. “World War I: The War to End All Wars” will be performed at the Avalon Theatre. Doors open as 6 p.m. and performances begin at 6:30 p.m. The cost is $6 per night and tickets are available at the Avalon’s box office or at www.monumentaltix.com.

What is Chautauqua?

Named for Lake Chautauqua in New York state, this popular form of real-life theatre began almost 150 years ago.

Historians and teachers began to study historical characters in depth and to “become” the characters. According to George Frein, a former professor and long-time actor, Chautauqua was a way to bring history alive for rural populations with limited access to education.