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Spring – and historical diaries

April 17, 2010

Spring – in the past

I have been remembering spring back in the early 90’s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Back then, it had very little to do with pretty flowers. On Bartlett Avenue’s 4500 block, there were 14 children ages 3 – 13 – including my own. The day the kids “hit the street” – trikes, bikes, skateboards, softball, saucers – that was our signal that winter was finally over

Spring now

Recently a blustery spring wind decapitated all of my tulips. I picked up one large blossom and put it – limp and lifeless – into a vase – and hoped. Literally hours later, it burst open- brilliant red petals with stamens pushing out from a black and yellow star. For the next three days, every time the sun hit it, this performance was repeated. Finally, on the fifth day, the petals began to curl and the skin grew mottled. It was the beginning of the end… but for those three days, it was glorious!

Historical storytelling

I have recently been working on a new piece of local and regional history. Some of my best resources turned out to be old diaries and memoirs of area pioneers. These sources were good; in fact, they were so good that I decided to make THEM the story.

This presented me with a dilemna: a real departure from my usual style.  One of the things that we storytellers have (that actors do not) is a wonderful flexibility with words. I have always  prided myself on never using the exact same words twice in performance.  But – this was different. These words made the historical events in the story come alive and they had to be presented EXACTLY as they were written.  (Note: I have edited these stories, but the chosen sections are presented just as they were written – historical eccentricities and all.)

One of the fascinations of doing this kind of research is what I would call  “reading between the lines”. I have discovered  that it’s  just as important to understand what the person does NOT say as to understand his or her words. You need to be able to make educated guesses about what is missing. But in order to do that, you need to know a good deal more general information about the historical period – you need to be – well – educated. It’s an exciting process which will (hopefully) result in a moving story which is lively – and very, very personal.

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