Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Meeting Orson Welles

by Claudia Schwarz

Would you like to meet Orson Welles? – Well, sure. Isn’t he dead? – Not tonight.

They call it “Ohio Chautauqua” and the tagline is “Step back in time and celebrate our history … Enjoy the journey.”

Now picture this: a small town in the Midwest (the place is called Gallipolis, one hour south of Athens, Ohio; population approx. 4.100), a tent in the city park (much like a circus tent), a fair number of (elderly) people, a stage, several people in weird outfits. They come on stage and introduce each other as Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Robeson, Margaret Mitchell, W.C. Fields, and Orson Welles.

It was opening night, so we had the privilege of meeting all five of the great personalities that would come back to life for an evening each this week to chat with the town folks about their lives, careers, and personalities.

(W.C. Fields and Eleanor Roosevelt in action)

This was Orson Welles’ big night and for 45 minutes he talked about his life, shared scarcely known anecdotes, and entertained the audience. He even agreed to a Q&A session, which was cut short because of the heavy rain that inaugurated the Chautaqua.

Apart from experiencing yet another eccentricity of American culture, we learned that much of the success of Orson Welles was based on the misinterpretation by critics (he was celebrated as a genius for his progressive work and innovation when really he only tried to cope creatively with a shortage of money for theater productions), that Roosevelt’s New Deal meant a great deal to him, and that he was a real patriot (in Thoreau's sense because he also criticized his government).

Thanks Stephanie and David for sharing this time traveling adventure with us!

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