Posted tagged ‘theatre’

John Adams and the US Navy

July 23, 2013

Earlier this month, Mary Beth and I attended the Tall Ships Celebration in Bay City, Michigan. This festival of sailing ships is a periodic event, but this was our first time going. We attended on the opening Thursday and, instead of going to the docks along the Saginaw river, we thought we would travel closer to Saginaw Bay and try to see the ships coming in under sail. Pride of Baltimore 3Now, I’m not a sailor, or even really a boater, but there is something about seeing sailing ships, especially ships of some size, coming in under the power of the wind that is thrilling to me. Our vantage point in a riverside park in Essexville, Michigan wasn’t far enough out to sea to actually see the ships coming in solely by wind power, but many of them had their sails unfurled, giving the illusion of natural propulsion. Some members of a local boating club saluted each of the eleven ships (one from as far away as Denmark) with a mock cannon blast. Each ship answered the salute, either with mock cannons of its own, or by blowing the ship’s horn. Pride of Baltimore 2The sky was bright blue, the temperature not too hot; all in all a great day.
This experience got me thinking about the US Navy. The Tall Ships Celebration website told me that some of the ships I was seeing would be participating in a mock lake battle on Labor Day, recreating a naval battle in Lake Erie during the War of 1812. I already knew how important the French fleet had been to the struggling 13 colonies during the Revolutionary War, and that without the protection of those ships, the war with Great Britain might well have been lost.
That same idea resonated with John Adams, too. “It was John Adams who drafted the first set of rules and regulations for the new navy — a point of pride for him as long as he lived. Indeed, in the 25 years that John Adams served his country, and especially as President, in his advocacy of a strong navy he stood second to none.” (David McCullough) Adams called the Navy “the wooden walls of America,” and fought tirelessly to create and strengthen it. No early test of the American Navy was greater than that faced during the War of 1812. In the ocean, and on the Great Lakes, the ships authorized by Adams during his Presidency performed brilliantly, far better, actually, than our land-based troops, which suffered defeat after defeat until Andrew Jackson’s post-peace victory in New Orleans (where he was aided by the ships of pirates). One-time friend turned political enemy Thomas Jefferson wrote Adams: “I sincerely congratulate you on the success of our little navy, which must be more gratifying to you than to most men, as having been the early and constant advocate of wooden walls.” Today, John Adams is known as the “Father of the Navy.”
I was also reminded, watching the ships enter the harbor in Bay City, of our trip to Massachusetts over the July 4th Holiday two years’ ago, when Mary Beth and I had the chance to tour the USS Constitution. 20110702_0297Authorized by President Washington, built in Boston, and boasting 44 guns, this oldest of all surviving US naval vessels was launched on October 21, 1797, during the first year in office of John Adams and just nine days before his 62nd birthday. Whether through superior building materials or fantastic luck, the Constitution withstood every assault aimed at her, earning her the nickname “Old Ironsides.” Much as Francis Scott Key’s ode to the “Star-Spangled Banner” sustaining over Fort McHenry, the survival and victories of the Constitution bucked up a nation desperately in need of positive news. Indeed, the victories of the Navy are thought by some historians to have played a large part in the wearing down process that finally brought Britain to the treaty table. Adams must have been very proud.
These topics, and many others, are touched on in GEM Theatrics’ production of Mary G. Kron’s “My Dearest Friend” available for booking at your venue right now. We’re thrilled to announce that the One-Act version of “My Dearest Friend” will be produced at Davenport University in September, 2013, as part of the Constitution Week commemoration. The full Two-Act version will be produced as part of the Lake Effect Fringe Festival at Grand Rapids’ Dog Story Theater February 28 – March 2, 2014. More details will soon appear on our website: http://www.gemtheatrics.com
We hope to see all of you at one of our performances!!
(All photos (c) Gary E. Mitchell; all rights reserved)

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John Adams, the 4th — and Gettysburg?

July 1, 2013

If you’re a follower of this blog, you know that July 4th – Independence Day – is an important yearly event for us at GEM Theatrics. John Adams, of course, was the driving force behind American independence. While not alone, it was through his efforts — his arguing, cajoling, harranguing, badgering and persuading — that the unanimous resolution for American independence was adopted.
And once it was and the Declaration of Independence was signed, it was John Adams who told us how to celebrate the event. The day, he wrote, “ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” And so, it is.Passage of the Declaration

But even John Adams couldn’t accomplish this feat alone. Figuratively by his side through all the struggles of his life (and there were many) was Abigail. Although more than 300 miles away in Braintree, and despite having to nurture a farm and a family by herself, Abigail always found time to write to John. In her letters, she supported him, bucked him up, soothed his ruffled feathers, and ruffled them herself a time or two. I have no doubt, and he, himself acknowledged, that without her wise counsel, he would often have been unable to carry on the great responsibilities assigned to him. They are, in my view, the quintessential founding couple.

And, oh yeah, John died on July 4, 1826, the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration, on the same day as Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of that document (James Monroe, the Fifth President, also died on July 4th, but no one remembers that — tell your friends and astound them with your knowledge of history!).

So, Adams and the 4th fit together like peas and carrots, but Gettysburg? How can an event more than 30 years after the death of John be relevant? Well, this year marks the 150th Anniversary of that turning point in the Civil War, which took place from July 1 through July 3, 1863. When it was all done and Lee had retreated from Northern territory never to return, more than 50,000 men on both sides had been killed or wounded. And, in a sense, John and Abigail were involved. The slavery issue didn’t just spring up in the 1850s and early 1860s. At the time of the signing of the Declaration, Adams, Franklin and others were aware of the impending crisis. Jefferson, himself a slave holder, had included a paragraph in the Declaration chastising the King of England for encouraging the slave trade. That section was deleted from the final version at the demand of Southern delegates, but Adams and others foresaw dire consequences down the road. Adams is quoted as saying: “Mark me, Franklin. If we give in on this issue, there will be trouble one hundred years hence. Posterity will never forgive us.” Abigail was ahead of even her husband in her hatred of human slavery. Despite the fact that her father had owned slaves, she abhorred the practice. This is covered in our production of “My Dearest Friend.” http://youtu.be/Gsfc97zMFLo

Mary Beth also has a personal connection to the battle of Gettysburg because her Great Grandfather, William Cheal, fought in the battle as part of Company I – 6th Regiment, Michigan Volunteer Cavalry under the command of George Armstrong Custer. Later that year, Mr. Cheal was wounded, captured and sent to Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prison camp. He was there for more than 14 months, but survived and was discharged. MB and I visited the Gettysburg National Historic Park in 2009 and I’ve posted a video of our visit.IMG_0151 It’s an amazing sight and should be on everyone’s bucket list. http://youtu.be/DZr6CIEbLdM

Enjoy the Fourth! And, maybe, take a moment and read with your family the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did!

A Time For Reflection; A Time Of Anticipation

December 10, 2012

Christmas Tree“It’s that time of year”, the song says, “when the world falls in love.” We hope those words come true for each and every one of you reading this entry. With all of you, we at GEM Theatrics hope for Peace on Earth and Good Will among all people. We hope that the times of strife in our country and around the world will soon end and that our leaders can find the right path.
But the end of the year is also a time to reflect. For Mary Beth and me, this has been a year of professional growth as we saw our little theatrical business grow from a dream to something real, something we can be proud of. Over the course of the past 12 months or so, we brought Mary G. Kron’s wonderful telling of the story of John and Abigail Adams to life with performances of My Dearest Friend at Dog Story Theater last November, Davenport University this past September and The Red Barn Theatre in Saugatuck, MI in October. 8009093294_76e0099f04_bWe also showcased the show in Traverse City in June for the Michigan Presenters Annual Conference and in November for the Michigan Joint Social Studies Conference in Warren, MI. Audience response has been enthusiastic everywhere we’ve performed and we are confident that this is an informative and entertaining look at two fascinating lives from our history.
We are also thrilled to report that My Dearest Friend was accepted into the 2012 – 2015 Michigan Humanities Council Touring Directory. In order to be selected a short video from the show was reviewed by experts in the field, who judged it worthy of inclusion. What this means for non-profits looking to bring a quality entertainment to your venue is that grant money is available to underwrite 40% of the cost of hiring us! Just go to: http://www.michiganhumanities.org/programs/touring/index.php  for more information.
We also performed our signature piece, A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters, for two nights this past fall at Noto’s Old DSC_0020_croppedWorld Italian Dining as part of a dinner theatre package presented by StageOneGR, DSC_0017_croppeda new dinner theatre company founded by our new pal, Gary Morrison. We had a great time and the audiences got a superb meal and the chance to experience Mr. Gurney’s touching and funny play.

 

 

But, year ends are also a time for looking forward. Assuming the Mayans weren’t correct about that end of the world thing, 2013 offers a host of new opportunities for us — and that means also for you!

For those of you who have missed it so far, My Dearest Friend will be presented — in its entirety — Feb. 9 at the Kentwood Library, 4950 Breton Rd. SE, Kentwood,MI, at 2:00 pm.  Admission is free! We’re very grateful to the library for this opportunity. Come on out and see us!
In addition, details are being finalized to bring Love Letters to the Red Barn Theatre in Saugatuck, MI for the Valentine’s weekend. Save the date and stay tuned! More information to come!
Helping make February an even busier month for us, we’re very pleased to announce that GEM Theatrics will be participating in the first annual Lake Effect Fringe Festival!LEFF large with TM We’re thrilled to be a founding member of this very exciting venture, along with Dog Story Theater, Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and Stark Turn Players. One of the purposes of the Festival is to allow entertainment groups of all stripes who may not have their own theatre spaces to come together for a month of eclectic presentations all in one venue. We’re hoping this annual festival of performing arts will expose these groups to new audiences who may not know of our existence, not to mention showcasing the wealth of talent that exists right here in West Michigan. Tickets for all shows will be just $10/$8.
GEM Theatrics’ weekend will be Feb. 22 – 24, and we’re directing and producing two one-act plays by local playwrights. Based on the theme Working for a Living, we’ll be presenting Rock of Ages, by Mary G. Kron, about the effect of disaster on coal mining families, and the world premiere of The Interview, by Patrick M. Bailey, which deals with the issues of outsourcing. While some roles have been cast, we’re still looking for actors. Auditions will be January 12 and 13 and there is a link on the Home Page of this website for details.
So, as you can see, we have a lot of exciting events coming up in 2013. We hope you’ll check this website often for updates and follow our page on Facebook. Until we see you somewhere down the line, have a fabulous and heart-warming Holiday Season!!

Humanities Council and War of 1812

May 15, 2012

I know this should be two separate blogs, but we’re so busy at GEM Theatrics right now, that I’m making this one do double duty.
First, we just found out that our production of “My Dearest Friend,” by Mary G. Kron, has been selected to be part of the 2012 – 2015 Arts and Humanities Touring Directory by the Michigan Humanities Council. We’re gratified by this selection! Every entry is judged by an “independent panel of experts in the appropriate humanities and arts fields” in order to be included. What this selection means is that not only was our show deemed worthy, but non-profit groups all over the state will be able to see our entry and, if they want to book us, will be able to get financial assistance from the Council to make the presentation of our show happen! The new Directory will be available online by August 1, 2012. If you know a school or library or museum that would like to bring a quality historical theatrical piece to their venue, let them know about us!

Second, June 1, 2012 marks the 200th Anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812. On June 1, 1812, President James Madison sent to Congress a declaration of the grievances against Great Britain and a request for a Declaration of War. Congress obliged on June 18. The grievances stated were: British interference with US trade with France, the impressment of US sailors who were former British citizens, and British support of Indian raids on US outposts in the territories.
You might be thinking: “Gary, what has this got to do with John and Abigail Adams? Adams was defeated in 1800 and had long retired from politics.” All of that is true. But, what is also true is that, without John Adams, the United States might well have lost the War of 1812. We almost lost as it was. For the only time in our history, a foreign power invaded Washington, DC and burned government buildings, including the White House (in fact, the Executive Mansion wasn’t called the White House until after the war, when white paint was used to cover the charred exterior). The truth is that we only “held our own” during the conflict and our only real victory (Jackson’s defeat of the British in New Orleans) came after the peace treaty had been signed. That we were able to hold our own was largely due to the long out of office John Adams. Adams had managed during his presidency to avoid a much sought after war with France that surely would have decimated US capital and armaments. In addition, Adams was responsible for the growth of the US Navy, without which our ground troops would surely have been overrun by British forces landing on our shores. Adams had, since the Revolution, believed that sea power was the one force of arms that would establish the US as a true world power. In this, as in many other things, he was truly ahead of his time. US naval strength would prove itself time and time again to be of monumental importance in safeguarding American freedoms, and, despite the advance in nuclear and other weapons, is still a vital force in the world today.
We at GEM Theatrics salute our Navy and all of our men and women serving their country at home and abroad in every branch of our armed forces. If you’d like to bring our bit of history to your venue, we’d be extremely pleased to hear from you to set it up!

GEM Theatrics Celebrates Women’s History Month!

March 9, 2012

On this International Day of the Woman, and the start of Women’s History Month in the United States, we at GEM Theatrics want to say “Here’s to the Ladies!” For myself, personally, I know that I am the luckiest guy around to have the love and support and talent and intelligence of Mary Beth, the other half of our business. I bet most of the other guys out there owe a lot to the women in their lives, too.
But today, I want to focus just a bit on two women close to our theatrical lives — Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren. If you’ve followed these blogs, you already know a lot about Abigail Adams and if you don’t believe by now that she was pretty remarkable for her time, maybe by the time I’m done you’ll be convinced.

Abigail Adams

Abigail’s experiences probably weren’t unique; we maybe just think so because so many of her letters survive. Like many wives and mothers before her and since, when left behind while their men went off to do the “Nation’s business”, she had to expand her fields of expertise. She did it, too — wonderfully well. John Adams recognized the person she became: “Farmer, Parent, political Advisor, Manager of my business, my confidant, my Counselor — my Eyes of the Revolution!”
We also know, however, there were other areas where Abigail yearned for equality —  barriers that even as liberal a man as John Adams couldn’t see fit to help her surmount. Perhaps the largest disagreement Abigail and John encountered in their more than 50 years together involved the question of equal rights for women. Don’t misunderstand me; Abigail was no Susan B. Anthony. She didn’t want the vote, didn’t want that responsibility, but she always firmly believed that women had a place in the social order of things and that place was not subservient to men. We’ve posted a short clip on the home page from “My Dearest Friend” by Mary G. Kron that illustrates her point of view: “I long to hear that you have declared in the New Code of Laws that you remember the Ladies”, she wrote John, “and are more generous and favorable to them then your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember, all Men would be tyrants if they could.” John pooh-poohed her suggestion, and my personal view is that he probably never knew how much he hurt her by doing so (Adams was NOT a very empathetic person). But, WE know.
We know, because of the friendship Abigail had with Mercy Otis Warren.

Mercy Otis Warren

Mercy Otis could have been a member of the Mayflower Society — her mother’s ancestors had come to this country on that fabled ship. Her father was a judge, a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and an ardent supporter of Independence for the American colonies. Mercy was “raised in the midst of revolutionary ideals”, one of which was the education of females. Like Abigail, she had no formal schooling, but was tutored along with her brothers in her father’s home. Also, like Abigail, she was a frequent and powerful writer. Under pseudonyms, she published poems and plays that attacked the British crown, and in 1805, under her own name(!), she published a three-volume “History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution”, the first such history written by a woman.
When Abigail was rebuffed by John for her “remember the Ladies” letter, Abigail turned to Mercy Warren: “but I will tell him I have only been
making trial of the disinterestedness of his virtue, and when weighed in the balance have found it wanting.” We don’t know for certain, but it is likely that she never said anything of the kind to Adams’ face; it is only by virtue of the fact that letters can make us braver than we might be in person (email flames, anyone?) that we know of this dispute at all.
So, during this Women’s History Month, we at GEM Theatrics remember two very special ladies: Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren. What historical women inspire you? Let us know!  We’d love to hear!

ps — stay tuned for some very special news about an encore public performance of “My Dearest Friend”.  Details are still to be worked out, but we’re very excited!

Exciting News! and Request for Help

December 9, 2011

As I write this, West Michigan is getting its first real snow of the season!  Yep, the Holidays are here and I have a couple of gifts for you and some exciting news.

First, the gifts — Check out our home page and you’ll find a new video taken right from the premiere of “My Dearest Friend” by Mary G. Kron that appeared at the Dog Story Theater in November.  This short clip shows John and Abigail Adams celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  For those of you not familiar with why we have parades and shoot off fireworks on the Fourth of July, listen closely to what John Adams says.  There’s also another video from the show on the “My Dearest Friend” tab in the “Current Productions” menu on our website.  Take a look at these videos and I think you’ll see what a quality production this is — one that you’ll want to see if it comes around again or to recommend to your group (school, library, museum, corporate outing)!

Now the news — Our home page also provides information about our upcoming performance of our signature piece, “Love Letters” by A.R. Gurney on February 13, 2012 at the Grand Rapids Public Library.  Mary Beth and I are delighted to be asked to share this tender and unique look at a fifty year relationship, told entirely through letters, for Valentine’s Day!  Admission will be free, so mark the date on your calendars and keep checking the website for more details.  Come watch us play!

Last, the request — Websites are great, social media is fun, but word of mouth and personal connections are the best!  If you saw our show and liked it, if you’ve been to our website (www.gemtheatrics.com) and were impressed with our product offerings, if you appreciate history and quality theater, then we need you to tell others about GEM Theatrics.  Send your friends or associates to our website, let your child’s social studies teacher know about “My Dearest Friend”, mention our shows to colleagues in your office or at your social gatherings.  Get these people to visit our site and fill out our new contact form.  We can’t do it all — We need YOU!

Mary Beth and I wish all of you a safe and joyous holiday season!

Is it Something in the DNA?

November 27, 2011

I’ve always been interested in genealogy. It started in Sixth grade, when I was required to do a report about my family for English class. I interviewed all my relatives (all within shouting distance, anyway), and came away with very little. My parents and grandparents, it seemed, had little interest in their family trees and it was hard to find out anything really constructive or juicy. Plus, my extended family mostly came from far away from my home in Mt. Pleasant, MI. I wrote to some family members in Flint and Detroit, but didn’t get anything but vague answers. It was frustrating.
About a year and a half ago, spurred by genealogy shows on PBS and NBC, I got a membership to Ancestry.com and tackled the subject anew. Ancestry.com is a great tool where you not only get access to a LOT of records databases, but also have access to other members who let you peek at their public trees for people you both might be related to. Those things give you access to a real wealth of information to help people trace their roots back. The site has a bit of a learning curve and you have to use discretion in borrowing from information provided from other public members. I’ve had to learn, for example, to weed out those trees which show children being born to 60 year-old mothers (possible now, but I suspect out of the realm of possibility then!).
What does all this have to do with GEM Theatrics? Wait for it! Wait for it!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve also been fascinated by American History, especially from the Revolution to the Civil War. And also, for as long as I can remember, John Adams has been my favorite Founding Father. He wasn’t tall or athletic — he was sort of like me. He was intelligent and cerebral — he was sort of like me. He was “obnoxious and disliked” — he was sort of like me (depending who you ask). So, while Washington was a great hero (again depending who you ask), Franklin was a great negotiator, wit, and diplomat, Paul Revere and Sam Adams were great zealots and Tom Paine was a great spinner of propaganda, I always gravitated to John Adams. Also, I suppose I envied him; he found the love of his life fairly early and never, till death, let her go. It took me a lot longer to make that discovery (thanks, MB, for finally bringing that joy to me!). I read everything I could about John Adams, and I fell in love with the play “1776”. A few years ago, I got the opportunity to actually be in this show at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. I didn’t play John Adams, but it was close enough.
I can feel you fidgeting in your seats, so I’ll get to it: Through the magic of Ancestry.com, I can now say, without any real certainly whatever (but I don’t care), that I may be related to John Adams. Documents point to the distinct possibility that my 11th Great Grandfather was Robert Adams, whose brother, Henry Adams, founded the Adams dynasty in America that would turn out two Presidents, John Adams and John Quincy Adams. And that possibility has made me wonder: Did I gravitate to John Adams early in my life because he seemed like me, and that was it, or was there something deeper going on? Could John Adams have been my very distant cousin and could that DNA have left some sort of subliminal imprint on my being? I don’t know either enough science or philosophy to figure all of that out. For now, I just revel in the discovery and bask in the possibility of reflected glory. For a day, at least, it makes me smile!
“My Dearest Friend” is now ready to tour! Show video is coming to the website very soon! So, if you know a venue where folks would like to have history and romance come alive, or if you know a social studies or history teacher who needs to fill an hour in history class — send them here to the website. We can make it happen! Let us play for you!


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