Monday, November 30, 2009

Vaudeville...with "guest appearances" from Lafayette and Napoleon Dialectic History Presentation

     The night before Thanksgiving we had our vaudeville history presentation.  My son portrayed Sgt York, my daughter portrayed Amy Carmichael, and I portrayed Mrs. Edith Roosevelt. This was the only early 20th century pattern I could find, and after I had made the skirt, I discovered that I didn't have enough of the burgundy velvet I had purchased for the jacket.  When I returned to the store, all they had was hunter green. My daughter said I looked like Christmas.  Oh well. At least it's silly enough for a vaudeville routine.

     These are the books we read for history and literature, while studying 1900-1928.  Incidentally, we have two copies of Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt by Jean Fritz, which you can see in the bottom left corner of the table.  I bought both at Half Price books a few years ago, at separate times, forgetting I already had a copy. When I took a closer look at the hard copy, I discovered it was autographed by Jean Fritz, herself!   

First we had our dinner.  While researching which food was unique to the era, I learned something interesting about desserts. In times past, dinners included a vast array of desserts.  By the early 20th century, only one dessert was served, cake, which was elaborately made.   A popular cake of the era was Lady Baltimore Cake from South Carolina.  I made this once and it was extremely rich.  I decided to peruse my cake recipes with the kids for something different. They wanted to make something autumnal.  We found a recipe for Autumn Pecan Orange Spice Pound Cake.  We had big plans to decorate this cake elaborately. However one thing led to another the day before Thanksgiving and it was still baking while we had dinner.  Since I was in an elaborate costume, which was not conducive for me to work in the kitchen, my husband had to finish the cake.  

     Because our week was quite full, the kids and I chose foods which were fun but easy to put together at the last minute, since we had an afternoon appointment before the presentation.  We had baked brie en croute with cranberry sauce and crostini, cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto, and gourmet salad with herb vinaigrette.

TFor dessert we had cake, which we were going to garnish with twisted orange slices. At least it was delicious!

At last it was time for the show to begin!  While trying to decide how to coordinate the vast array of content from 1900-1928 in an interesting way, I hit upon the idea to hold a vaudeville show. While sitting in the basement where we do school, I noticed we had a perfect opportunity for a "stage".  On the other side of the curtains is a large area with our bookcases full of history and literature books. That would serve well for "backstage." Opposite the curtains is a couch, perfect for viewing homeschool presentations.  We set up an easel to the side of the "stage" to display signs of each act. 

A few weeks ago I suggested the idea of doing vaudeville to the kids and they groaned.  They did not want to act silly at all. They take their work quite seriously.  I told them we'd do both, comedy and drama, like real vaudeville.  After explaining the history of vaudeville and some time to think about it, they were on board with the plan.  We had a blast!  My husband enjoyed every minute of it!

We opened by the kids doing a typical act of "living statuary" while I did the narration.  The kids posed as something typical that their characters, Sgt. York and Amy Carmichael, might do.  I introduced myself as Mrs. Edith Roosevelt.  Then I introduced my husband, Theodore Roosevelt, while showing the audience a teddy bear.  I said they did bear a strong resemblance to each other.  We never got a close up of this bear, but he really is dressed to look for his a pin stripe suit, glasses and he even holds a flag! 

Then I introduced my son, Kermit (name of the Roosevelts' son), to which my son complained, "Mother, I'm Sgt. York."  Shaking my head, I introduced my daughter, Alice (actually Theordore's daughter from his first marriage.  His first wife died.) to which my daughter fussed, "Mother, I am Amy Carmichael." 

 I explained that these children had over active imaginations and there were more of our children running around in the neighborhood somewhere. They had wanted to put together a vaudeville show for their father, but the president was otherwise engaged at the moment. Our present audience would give us a chance to rehearse before a live audience.  Then I gave a bit of history of vaudeville...

 after which I stepped aside so the kids could do a comedy routine. They got their sticks (actually the two halves of my son's Spartan spear). After each joke, they said "Kaboom chick," while tapping each others' canes.

My husband was laughing and laughing.  

As I wrapped up the history of vaudeville and related it to the present day, the kids resumed their various poses of "living statuary".  We knew this would be "corny" (vaudeville slang) but the kids had fun with it! However, they would not let any silliness or song and dance routines (later) be videotaped. 

Ahem, they were getting more attention from the photographer than I was. I think I was upstaged!  A lot of vaudeville acts are pretty bad, so I didn't worry so much about perfection in this show.  We've been extremely busy and finally put the show on at the last minute. We made the most of our mistakes.  With vaudeville, the audience could cheer or jeer.  If you see a bad act, be patient, something more to your liking is bound to show up later.  I read someone's theory that today's remote control is like vaudeville, skimming past the bad acts to get to the one show you enjoy (aka channel surfing). So I had a remote control for a prop and built that up with my husband, sort of doing a Socratic Discussion, since men are stereotyped to channel surf.     

Nearly each scene had a unique prop, that we brought in for our presentation. Afterwards, we laid it on the coffee table, in front of my husband. It was sort of neat filling the table up with a prop from each act.  Too bad we didn't get a picture of it. (There's A LOT on my mind during unit celebration week!)  Actually, I expected that remote control I had laid on the table to be used by my husband against us...trying to pause our scenes, fast forward or stop us completely!  However he never used it once!  That concluded the comedy portion of the show.  I set Teddy on a horse to watch the rest of the show.  Although I recorded all of it, I don't have enough room in my Photobucket account for all of the acts.  So I chose one of each of the kids, actually their shortest pieces. 

Now we moved into the drama.  Before each act, I played a sample of Scott Joplin's ragtime music from his popular piece, "The Entertainer." When the music stopped, that was the cue for the act to begin. 

My son gave his presentation on the Wright Brothers' invention of the airplane.  He incorporated the three key elements that an airplane needs to fly, all of which we learned at the Smithsonian.

He had made a model of the 1900 Flyer.

Here it is close up.

 Time for the next act!

My daughter did her first person interpretation of Amy Carmichael. She used the globe to show where she was from (Ireland) and where she went as a missionary (India).   She told the story of how she prayed for blue eyes as a little girl, because she didn't like brown eyes.  Later, as a missionary, her brown eyes allowed her to do the impossible to rescue abused children from the temples.

The next act was a higher level thinking art project I assigned my son. 

 I suggested that he design a political cartoon of a historical event of his choice. He chose the Panama Canal.

How about that Lenin style beard on Columbia? Panama is in chains in the middle.  Of course that's Roosevelt with his big stick. The green part shows the future canal.   

 Then my daughter shared her major art project for the era.

Actually, she had little time to work on this, due to lots of higher level high school work which keeps her busy.  We usually do art projects while I read aloud from a GA Henty book, which is not of the era we are studying. We enjoy these books immensely, although the kids will not read them themselves. Since I want to hear the story too, I am happy to read them aloud, even though the language is quite sophisticated.  We've gotten extremely behind from the move and then from the laryngitis I had from seasonal allergies in October.  Therefore little art was accomplished.  I will share more later on how to do these quilts.  For time sake, my daughter chose from my scrap fabric and I sewed it into the block the way she wanted. Then I taught her how to do various stitches at the seam lines. 

 Now for a little music.

My son played the George M. Cohan hit, "It's a Grand Old Flag" on his fife. This song was originally written by Cohan for his production, "George Washington Jr."  Later, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor for this song.

Now for my daughter's literature assignment. 

 This idea was suggested by a friend who suggested that my daughter choose four characters from the play, The Cherry Orchard and design costumes for them, using color to represent mood or theme.  Although my daughter is not an artist, she "got" this assignment and had a lot of fun with it! She had to understand each character's role in the play to interpret color choice and costume for them.  I learned a lot too, adding much to my repertoire of costume design.  I am usually focusing on the historic look, but never thought to use color artistically.


Time for more music. 

We sang "Over There," another song by George M. Cohan when our coutnry entered WWI.  The Congressional Medal of Honor he received was not only for "Grand Old Flag", but also for "Over There." We choreographed the song at the last minute during rehearsal that morning.  Surprisingly, singing and dancing to famous tunes was quick for us to pick up! We had fun waving flags with this George M. Cohan hit!  My husband didn't catch us in action.  I think he was more interested in singing with us! We knew the chorus better than the verses, hence the cheat sheets. Here's the old timey recording with which we sang.

Back to airplanes...

My son did his presentation of Airplanes and WWI Flying Aces in WWI. 

Next was WWI poetry.

My daughter gave the history of the classic poem "In Flanders Fields", then did a recitation of it.

Next was my son's first person interpretation of Sgt. York. He did a thorough research, not only on York's perspective in his diary, but also the controversy surrounding it.  He brought his research to me and we had lots of discussions on the validity of his story.  My son was quite torn about how to proceed with his interpretation.  I told him he is portraying Sgt. York, so he needs to share Sgt. York's side of the story.  We could cover the controversy in the Q&A.  

Are you wondering where Lafayette and Napoleon fit in to our history presentation? Some of you are aware that I am a huge Lafayette fan.  When I have some extra time (which is rare since the move to Virginia), I read biographies about him. About a year ago I learned that when General Pershing arrived in Paris with the American troops to fight in WWI, he held a special ceremony at Lafayette's grave.  Pershing's aide, Col Stanton, spoke the words, "Lafayette, we are here!" in French to the crowd, referencing how Lafayette came to America to help us fight our independence in the American Revolution.  I tried to talk my son into doing his interpretation as Col. Stanton.  He preferred to be Sgt. York.  Well, okay.  I encouraged him to at least find a way to work in Lafayette.  P-l-e-a-s-e. After all, I am making another Lafayette costume for him. We had to have that story in our unit celebration.  I had hoped that Sgt. York was at the "Lafayette, We Are Here" ceremony, but after doing some research, I found out that York arrived in Paris later.  However I did find out that after the fighting stopped, he toured Paris and visited Lafayette's grave.  My son used that information, referencing back to the historical ceremony with Pershing and Stanton, in his speech. 

     Now how does Napoleon fit in? Well, my son couldn't believe Napoleon sneaked into his speech.  When I first started teaching about Napoleon to my kids over a year ago, I told them they'd be hearing a lot about him for the rest of history. Even I am surprised at how often we hear about him, nearly every week. For one, York visited Napoleon's grave. More significantly, York received five medals, two from France.  My son was fascinated by these medals. In fact, my son has even been fascinated by the medal the Colonial Williamsburg Lafayette wears when he represents 1783.  My son takes lots of pictures of that medal of Lafayette's.  My son asked for my help in researching the medals and I was wondering if one of York's medals was the same Lafayette received from King Louis.  It was difficult researching this, but I don't think they received the same medal. However, one of York's medals from France was originally created by Napoleon!    

    My son pronounced the French locations and the names of the French medals from memory!  Since he doesn't know French, he wanted to perfect his pronunciation of it.  I told him Sgt York spoke poor English, so I doubted that he perfected any French that he picked up.  My son conceeded and pronounced the words in the way they seemed to make the best sense to him.  Over the last few weeks, certain words would come up that I was able to correct, only from exposure I've had to certain French sounds and spellings. 

     Finally it was time to end the show with a George M. Cohan medley! Can you tell we are Cohan fans?

Since most vaudeville shows began and ended with the worst acts, we decided to do comedy first and a major song and dance routine at the end, with the serious school presentations in the middle.  We expected to be booed for bad dancing and singing.  Actually it was well received (as was everything else) and my husband joined in the best he could. Oh no! My husband forgot to take a picture of us doing the medley!  Oh! Wait!  Now I know why there's no picture.  We impressed him so much, that he didn't have the presence of mind to take a picture. We had him laying in the aisle (vaudeville slang for a sensational performance)!  We're a a hit! Broadway here we come! 

Friday, November 27, 2009

Visiting Thomas Jefferson and the Grand Opening of the Coffeehouse

     Last Friday we visited CW not only to have my son's Lafayette hat upgraded, but also to see the Grand Opening of the Coffeehouse.  More on that in a bit.

     By the time we drove down from Northern VA that day, Thomas Jefferson had started speaking in the Palace Garden. Since we were late, I was not certain what the time period was.  Usually he talks politics. Only 8 minutes into the presentation, he was already answering questions, about Monticello and wine no less!  That's the fun part of visiting the Founding Fathers more than once.  The audience interaction is priceless and the queries vary each time. I was struck by how colorful he looked.  Usually I see him in browns and blacks.  Later in the afternoon, he told us the costume was based on the Trumball painting of the Declaration of Independence.


     After meeting with Thomas Jefferson, we went to the Mary Stith House to see a program we had not seen yet, where we get a peek into the traveling actor's trunk. Actually, all of the items were laid out and one of the actors was there to answer all of our questions. There was an original book on the art of elocution.  I told the actor my son would like to be a lawyer so he gave him some tips from the book on the style that lawyers of the 18th century used.  We learned lots of interesting information about things like the theater that used to be in CW, when ladies first started acting for Britain, the type of salaries they made, the types of costumes they wore, and more.

     Next we went to one of the historic shops to have my son's Lafayette hat updated.  While waiting for the new lacing to be done, we ate our picnic lunch on one of the benches.   Meanwhile we heard lots of activity coming from down the street near the Coffeehouse.  After we finished eating, we went down to see the action.  The actors and sound crew were rehearsing for the Coffeehouse event later that afternoon. I told the kids to pay special attention to how many times these terrific actors have to redo their parts.  If they rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, then we should rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, for our history presentations. 

     Then we went to the Tucker House where theree are special programs for the donors, (we are small donors),  which include informal visits with different historical characters.  This was our first time to meet a historical person here and the person of the day was Thomas Jefferson.  

     Afterwards, we attended the ceremonies for the grandopening of the Coffeehouse, which was the Starbuck Coffeeshop of its day. Located next door to the capitol on the Duke of Gloucester Street, men of politics met here to further discuss issues of the day, over a cup of coffee...or even wine.     

          We have literally watched this from the ground up. When we were there on vacation in 2004 and again in 2008, the site was an archaeological dig.

Then a year ago, the foundation was completed and the walls  went up. A web cam was installed and we were able to watch the process from San Antonio, Texas, where we lived at the time.  Now that we live in Virginia, we've been able to watch the completion in person. We've been to different historic trades where we've seen elements that would go into the Coffeehouse. We saw the trim be made at the carpenter shop...

....we saw the bricks at the brickyard...

...we saw the locks and keys at the blacksmith...

Finally the big day was here.  The research, planning and building were finally complete.  There were also samples of drinks that will be served during tours at the, tea, and hot chocolate...all historically made. 

The fife and drum corps played...

Then Mr. Goodwin came out and incredulously looked at the Coffeehouse, while Mr. John D. Rockefeller came up to him.

These are the two men who are responsible for Colonial Williamsburg. 

Mr. Goodwin was the rector of Bruton Parish Church and lived next door in the Wythe house. 

He had a vision for this sleepy town that time forgot, to restore it to its historical roots.  All the other historical towns of the American Revolution...New York, Boston, and Philadelphia,...were forever changed by technology in the 1920's.  Although Williamsburg had pavement, cars, telephone wires and 19th and 20th century "upgrades" to the original colonial shops and homes, there was the realistic possibility of turning back the hands of time because it was a quiet small town instead of a growing city.  Mr. Goodwin's vision became reality when he found a benefactor in Mr. Rockefeller, who caught Goodwin's vision. 

 Teaming up to restore the town in the 20's and 30's, they now meet again in the 21st century at the first restored building in CW in fifty years.  They wonder who was responsible for restoring the Coffeehouse.

      Then the new RC scene debuted.  It opened with this man telling another about the recent speech Patrick Henry made at the capitol. 

 Here he is doing the famous Caesar/Brutus speech, Patrick Henry style.

The next part is based on an actual event that occurred on this same front porch in 1765 during the time of the contested Stamp Act, placed on the colonies by King George to pay for the recent wars.  Throughout the colonies, stamp collectors were being threatened. Virgnia was no different.  Met by an angry mob...

...who threatens the stamp collector...

 the royal governor escorted the stamp collector safely out of the way.

After the mob dissipated, there was a quick review of the events that this mob scene influenced...leading to Thomas Jefferson coming out of the Coffeehouse to share the Declaration of Independence.  

     After the RC scene, there were special contemporary speakers, including the chairman of the CW Foundation, the mayor of Williamsburg, the President and CEO of the CW Foundation and Forrest E. Mars, who donated the money for the Coffeehouse to be rebuilt.   Mr. Mars owns candy companies, like Dove Chocolate (oh their dark chocolate is decadent!)  To see information on the Coffeehouse, video and interviews of the grand opening, check here and look for the links.  

     After the ceremonies, we finally got in line for samples of a hot drink.  There was the Charleton Coffeehouse blend of coffee and hot apple cider to sample.  Since I don't like coffee, I got the cider.  It was wonderfully warm and tasty in the cooler temperatures from the setting sun. My husband got some coffee and the kids got cider.  They also distributed samples of the American Heritage chocolate which is the historic chocolate that can be seen being made in the Palace kitchen on occasion.  These chocolate sticks have a dusting of spices on it, because in the 18th century, the same grater that was used to grate spices was used to grate chocolate.   

     Then we got in line for the first night of tours of the Coffeehouse. While waiting in line, I was getting extremely cold.  I am still getting used to the wide temperature ranges in Virginia.  The cressets, which are baskets on top of poles with special firewood in them, were set ablaze.  I love standing next to those things. They put out a lot of heat!  By the time we entered the Coffeehouse, the numerous fireplaces were ablaze!  The fireplaces were part of the structure that we remember from the architectural digs. 

     The Coffeehouse is completely different from every other building I've entered in CW. The history of this building is unique.  It is a terrific new addition, as the president of the CW Foundation said, "where the future may learn from the past." This was a special evening tour.  In a few days, the actual historic tours will begin, which will include a choice of one sample: coffee, cider, or chocolate.  I'll be choosing chocolate!

     After the tour, we heard there was entertainment on the various stages. Which to choose?  We went to the nearest one, behind the Coffeehouse where some of the actors were acting, singing and dancing. My son led us to the top of the hill to watch.  Then Mr. Murdock came out!   They have a great show!

     After we sat in the front row, they picked on my husband. Mr. Murdock tried to recruit him to marry his sister-in-law but saw he had a wedding ring on. Nevertheless he sent him off with his SIL to distract her, while he had someone from the audience choose a number for the SIL to guess.  Later in the show she spits water in his face, to simulate waves during the pirate puppet show. That is our favorite time to yell, "Encore!" I wasn't quick enough, but if we see it again, I'm prepared to yell another line to heckle him!  My friends are probably shocked right now, knowing how quiet I am.  What can I say?  If they don't get heckled, they complain and keep repeating the scene and fussing at us until we make some kind of comments!  

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lafayette Hat Part II-Soon Available at CW Historic Stores

     Friday we went to Colonial Williamsburg for the grand opening of the Coffeehouse, which I'll blog about later.  One of our favorite parts of the day involved some unexpected news involving my son's Lafayette hat!

     Now that I had the French American Alliance cockade made, my son wanted to return to the store where the hat shaper formed his Lafayette hat to his precise specifications a few weeks ago.   As soon as we walked into the shop, the lady who shaped his hat welcomed my son by name! I was impressed that she not only remembered my son but also remembered his name.  I explained that we needed her help tucking the cockade behind the lacing like the CW Lafayette wears his.  The problem was that the lacing was too tight. Also we thought the lacing should go over the top of the brim. Additionally, my son wanted a button at the base of the lacing, like Lafayette. We discussed the possible options to make it happen.

     She said that the other day Lafayette himself walked into the store and she asked him if she could look at his hat. (This is getting contagious. There is another CW employee who has been analyzing the Lafayette costume because of all of our questions!) She explained to Lafayette about my son's visit to the shop a few week's ago to have the hat shaped exactly like his. When she told us that Lafayette knew exactly who she was talking about, we laughed.  I can only imagine how that conversation went. (Wherever we go in America, people know my son!)  

      The lady said that Lafayette's cockade didn't look anything like the one I had made. Instead his was black and more of a T shape. Hmmmm, I told her that he must not have been dressed as Lafayette then.  My son explained if he's not Lafayette, he's Mann Page.  She seemed a bit confused. I told her that I modeled the cockade after a picture I took during Prelude to Victory when he stood a few feet from me. Even though I have the picture on the computer and I can enlarge it, I cannot see the black on black.  I was not able to figure out the precise shape of the black backgound of the cockade, nor was I able to tell precisely how the lacing went. However, I thought I got a fair representation of the white part of the cockade, which is more circular shaped instead of T shaped.  She was thinking of threading a new set of lacing into the same holes in the front of the brim. I told her I thought that the lacing actually goes over the brim and ties somehow in the back.  During all this discourse, my husband pulled up some Prelude to Victory pictures of Lafayette in his camera. After enlarging one, he handed me the camera and I handed it to her. In fact, my husband found several pictures this way and we showed them to her. Ah...she saw what I was talking about. There was white in the cockade and it was circular shaped. She had not seen that particular cockade.

     Finally, she had a recommendation and showed it to my son.  He talked her into setting the lacing over the brim of the hat and they had a plan. After the lacing was redone to accomodate the button and cockade, she put some special pins into the cockade to hold it securely in place. She also gave him extras, in case they would be needed in the future.  The entire fee for this was quite small,  which my son paid for. He tried to tip her but she wouldn't take it. She was definitely worth far more than the tiny fee he paid for this service.  All he really paid for was the lacing. We already had the button.  We were profoundly grateful for all of her patience and help. She was wonderful to work with, listening to my son and being certain of his exact specifications.  She told my son to come back for future visits. Also she told him that they are going to start carrying these Lafayette hats in the store, because of him! How exciting! Leave it to my son to start something!


    Now I am about to start my son's Lafayette coat. The one he has is falling apart and not accurate.  I've agonized for weeks over how I am going to do the buff facings.  This afternoon my son and I analyzed pictures together while he tried to explain how the facings work. Finally I got it!  It is all one piece of wool.  I'll use felt since it's cheaper and washable.  The outside is blue and the inside is buff. Those millions of buttons actually have a purpose. The general can keep his coat in a buttoned yet opened position in summer. In winter he can button the entire coat closed.  How clever!  Now my son can be even warmer this winter. 

     We are planning to go to the Grand Illumination. I'm afraid I am going to be too cold. Last year it was in the 30's during this CW outdoor Christmas event in the evening.  The Grand Illumination showcases special fireworks, music and entertainment.  Some people have told me it could be 82 degrees. Hmmmm, yes, but there is no guarantee.  It's the possible 32 degrees that worries me. My son really wants to wear this Lafayette costume and I want him to stay warm. Therefore I am going to try my hardest to crank this out while getting our unit celebration put together. Hmmmm, Thanksgiving is around the corner too.  And my husband will want to put up the Christmas decorations, not that I know where any will go in this new house. And I am getting a new stove and refrigerator today.  Talk about a new learning curve for roasting a turkey.  Then after the unit celebration there are the lesson plans and studying for lessons. I'd best get to work figuring out this coat!   

     The trick will be two things. First I have to size down a man's small pattern for my son. Second I have to figure out the extensions for the button closure in front. The cuffs though are still confusing me.  I am going to do what the milliner and tailor have told me to do all along. I am going to use muslin (or scrap broadcloth from past costumes) to make a prototype, which I can cut down, pin and fit to my son's body, basically creating a custom pattern just for him.  Theoretically, at that point I can merely whip out the Lafayette coat on the sewing machine. I am excited now that my son helped me figure out some key elements! Stay tuned! 

     Oh, I also figured out the new flounce on my son's shirt is wrong. In the meantime it makes him happier since it works better than that cravat he was using to fill up the blank space due to the wrong kind of vest. Well I can only do one thing at a time.  I'd best get to work!