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Victoria Woodhull

as told by Bette Lou Higgins, Artistic Director


The first few months of 1977 were busy. We incorporate as a not-for-profit, we gathered a board, we got an accountant, we started researching the Ohio-Erie Canal, we wrote scenarios and we got a cast!

Incorporating, getting a board of trustees and an accountant, while big steps, were pretty much normal “stuff”! But the rest … As I mentioned, Living History programs at the time, were pretty rare. Basically, the only one we had seen was The People Of ‘76! Luckily, it was a good program and gave us a concrete example of what needed to happen.

Saying “... we started researching the Ohio-Erie Canal, we wrote scenarios… “ is kind of an understatement. First, we had to figure out exactly WHAT a Living History program was and HOW we were going to do it!

After some research, the basic answer to WHAT Living History program is was: It’s different to everyone! Yeah, not really helpful, right. But our investigation revealed two main themes and techniques for these programs (in no particular order):

1. Most programs did not use an actual script. A scenario outline of events/activities was used and the actors went through these events in an improvisational manner. Interactions with the audience changed the outcome of any individual activity -- in the same way that the trader in the People Of ‘76 had to deal with the child and the bubble gum.

2. The two main ways of dealing with the “date” issue (after you chose an actual date, ie: July 4, 1825) were:

  • The audience goes BACK IN TIME. The actors “believe” it is really whatever date they’re working with and the audience is just someone “you might meet on the street.”
  • The actor/characters have traveled FORWARD IN TIME. Then you have to figure out how they deal with their death (do they KNOW about it), with the intervening years, why/how did they come forward, etc. etc. etc.

Mind you, many groups used various combinations of the above technique and some were more stringent than others in keeping to their time period.

We chose to have our audience travel back in time. Once someone stepped into the Village it was whatever day we had established. All actors could not know ANYTHING beyond that date. So, if it was the day before bubble gum was invented, they couldn’t know about the gum even though the year was right. The actors had to relate to the audience as if the audience members were living in that time with them. To the extent that if the conversation led to clothing, the actor would need to address the “strangeness” of the audience’s clothing. (We did not encourage conversations about clothing, etc. in the Village as it took away from the REAL story of the canal.).

You can imagine that this could lead to all sorts of strange conversations in the vein of the Bubble Gum Kid and The Trader. Including, some not so convenient ones. For instance, if a child had to go to the bathroom and he’d stepped into our Village, you couldn’t exactly go up to a Canaler and ask where the bathroom was -- he’d send you behind a tree if an outhouse wasn’t in the vicinity! So we got around that by declaring on of our “houses” (the hotel) to be “no-man’s land” -- it could be whatever year the audience member wanted it to be in that year. So if a mother asked the hotel proprietor where the bathroom was, she got a 1977 answer. If the audience wanted to continue some type of discussion in 1825, she could.

In any event, you probably realize by now that preparing for this kind of show is waaaayyyy more complicated than putting on a play like “Odd Couple.” We not only had to research, the Ohio-Erie Canal specifically, but we had to research the TIME PERIOD. Our actors had to be able to talk intelligently about whatever the topic was, but do it within the “reality” of the time period (What were their common forms of speech? What were the attitudes of a particular topic -- say women speaking in public? What items existed then and what items were actually available in that area of the country?, etc. etc. etc.)

To be continued ...

Go to Part 1 Go to Part 2
Go to Part 3 Go to Part 4
Go to Part 5 Go to Part 6
Go to Part 7 Go to Part 8

Go to Part 9

Go to Part 10
Go to Part 12
Go to Part 14
Go to Part 15 Go To Part 16
Go to Part 17 § § §




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