History in living wax

Adam N.’s King George III included not only an elaborate costume, but a fancy British accent in his monologue.

Luck sixth-graders combine history with art and performance

Greg Marsten | Staff writer

LUCK – The American Revolution is one of those historic times when so many characters, conflicts, battles, heroes, scoundrels and events occurred to mold the nation that some of the lesser-known characters can be forgotten.

Ladaya J. portrayed Roger Sherman, who was behind “Sherman’s Compromise,” which is how representation in the U.S. House and Senate are based both by population in the House of Representatives and by equality of representation in the Senate.

That was not the case last Thursday, Jan. 25, at the Luck Elementary School, when a total of 43 sixth-graders, under the guidance of teachers Nikki Senn and Carolyn Petersen, led a first-time effort to make some of the people of that important historic time seem closer to home.

Every one of the 43 students drew a name of a character from a hat, and had to research and write a monologue they would be expected to repeat on demand, as well as dress the part and create a backdrop for the “wax museum” staging.

Publisher and printer Mary Katherine Goddard was portrayed by Jillian F., who noted Goddard’s contributions to the Revolution, which included reproducing the Declaration of Independence and other documents that our democracy is based upon.
The sword was pretty mighty when wielded by Col. William Prescott Sr., portrayed by Garret N.
You can’t have a Betsy Ross portrayal without a flag and a sewing kit.

“They started the project in November,” Petersen said. “We’ve never done it before, but they really got into it!”

After several weeks of preparation, the students found spots in the hallway to stage their magic historical presentations, with tiny “start” buttons taped to the wall.

On Thursday afternoon, Jstudents, parents and staff at the school toured past the motionless students, who only moved and told their tales when the “start” buttons were pushed.

Almost without exception, each student recalled from memory their synopsis of the character, such as the British-accented King George III portrayed by Adam N., who wore a costume made of an altered women’s blazer, highlighted with a robe made from a living room curtain.

Most of the students had their characters’ monologues memorized, from the tale of Mercy Otis Warrens’ broad writings, celebrating human rights – depicted by Imogen M., who also drew a rendering of her character writing over candlelight – while talking about her revolutionary writings, not only revolutionary in their take on the Colonies’ independence, but in the fact that it was rare, if not unheard of, for a revolutionary publisher to be a woman in her day, her contributions often forgotten in the centuries since.

“We only invited parents and staff,” Petersen said. “I think next time we’ll open it to the public, so everyone has a chance to be a part of it!”

There were solid representations of the well-known characters of the time, from the Founding Fathers, to some of their influences, assistants and even their spouses.

Balancing on a chair, seemingly in a Victorian victory painting pose, Raegan D. not only portrayed John Paul Jones, but she probably earned extra credit for having to stand like that for several hours.

Raegan D. held this pose for an afternoon, as part of her portrayal of John Paul Jones.

She even kept a straight face as students tried to make her grin.

Carson E. showed the handcuffs that couldn’t hold in his character, John Honeyman, who was known for his brilliant misinformation campaign as a one of the first real American spies of the time, also known for his ability to gather intelligence for George Washington at Trenton.

Other characters had stories that were part of the grand tapestry of the American Revolution, such as Mary Catherine Goddard – portrayed by Jillian F. – who was known for her risks in publishing, which included her dangerous efforts to re-create and distribute the Declaration of Independence, which was the first to include the signatures of signees.

The Luck efforts were also noteworthy in how the students each took different approaches to their characters, both in how they dressed and acted but also in what they found to be important – often littered with facts that escape the typical history lesson.

“I was famous for saying ‘Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!’” stated Garret N.’s version of a sword-wielding Col. William Prescott Sr., who was a noted commander, whose saying was because the war-thinned Revolutionary soldiers were dangerously low on ammunition in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Garret’s Prescott made sure the commander’s sword – actually a cardboard replica wrapped in aluminum foil – was well placed and part of the monologue, highlighted by a few well-placed exclamations.

Handcuffs couldn’t hold John Honeyman, portrayed by Carson E.

While many of the characters were made famous in battles or death, others became know for their answers to freedom and for finding the recipe of a future constitutional republic, such as Roger Sherman – portrayed by Lydaya J. – whose name became famous for his famous “Sherman’s Compromise,” which addressed the question of representation for the blossoming states, whether by size or by equality, leading to a bicameral Congress, where the House is based on population and the Senate is based on equality of the states.

While no sword was part of her portrayal, Sherman’s pen, ideas and his compromise proved mightier, in the end, and still stand today.

The Luck wax museum effort was also unique in that they didn’t have to worry about any of the wax characters melting, although a few of the students admitted that the costumes of the American Revolution were a little warm, compared to their usual wardrobes.

“They had a blast!” Petersen said. “I think they all really did well and made it interesting for everyone.”

Mercy Otis Warren – portrayed here by Imogen M. – was one of the unsung heroes of the early revolution, as she published poems and verses attacking the royals across the seas and in their own backyards.