Worthington News

Ohio Chautauqua returning to Worthington in July

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You might think you know the story of Martin Luther King Jr., but you haven't met Marvin Jefferson.

And the California Gold Rush? You will find out what it was really like when you meet J. Goldsborough Bruff, a 49er portrayed by Hank Fincken.

Jefferson and Fincken are two of the five actors who will bring historical figures to life during the Ohio Chautauqua in Worthington.

The iconic red-and-white tent will make its appearance on the lawn in front of the McConnell Arts Center on July 8-12.

Each evening, a figure from history will present a one-person show on a particular character and then take questions from the audience -- first as the character and then as himself or herself.

During the day, the actors will present workshops for children and adults at the Old Worthington Library and at the Griswold Center.

The Ohio Humanities Council presents the traveling, living history programs each summer. Worthington is one of four communities to host Chautauqua this summer.

Worthington also hosted Ohio Chautauqua in 2003 and 2007, drawing huge crowds both times.

"Every year, we receive calls from people who say, 'When are you bringing it back?' " said Lisa Fuller, spokeswoman for the Worthington Libraries, one of the local Chautauqua sponsors.

"Journey Stories" is the theme for this year's Chautauqua. Each character experiences a physical or a spiritual journey -- usually both.

Besides King and Bruff, historical figures that will "come alive" are Edith Russell, a Titanic survivor; Olive Ann Oatman, an Indian captive; and philosopher Henry David Thoreau.

Like most of the other Chautauqua actors, or scholars, Fincken and Jefferson are full-time historical actors who travel the world, bringing to life characters in theaters, educational institutions, corporate meetings, conferences and chautauquas.

Fincken has been a touring history performer for 20 years in Europe, South America and the United States. His characters include Bruff, Johnny Appleseed, Thomas Edison, Christopher Columbus, Henry Ford and Francisco Pizarro.

He continues to study his characters so that he can portray them correctly and be ready to answer questions.

"Our job is to be true to the character," Fincken said.

He said he enjoys the intimacy of the Chautauqua tent and the Ohio audiences who seem so ready to learn something new.

Jefferson has been an actor for 30 years. He studied acting at Rutgers University, ran a theater company for 15 years and teaches acting at Bloomberg College.

As King, he focuses on the civil-rights leader's later years and brings to life less known aspects of his life, even allowing audiences to see that he was not always the iconic figure of history books.

King was much more radical than some people realize, Jefferson said, and faced his own doubts and demons.

In 1967, one of the years Jefferson has chosen to spotlight, King was quite unpopular when he spoke out against the war in Vietnam.

"He was not the beloved figure then that he is now," Jefferson said. "I looked at the public man and the private man, and it is very compelling."

Ohio Chautauqua also will be hosted this summer by Gallipolis, June 17-21; New Richmond, July 1-5; and Warren, June 24-28.

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