Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tecumseh! - the play


After our short tour of old Chillicothe on June 11th it was off to the amphitheater on the north side of Chillicothe near the Great Seal State Park. There are no aquatic seals there. The series of hills in the park are in fact the inspiration for the Great Seal of Ohio.
The sign coming into the amphitheater is meant to represent where Tecumseh's name came from which is the anglicized form of the Shawnee name Tecumtha which means "Shooting Star" or "Panther Across The Sky". Tecumseh was born into the Kispoko band of the Shawnee that was represented by a Panther. Supposedly a comet was present at the time of his birth so they chose this for his name. I think the illustration looks more like a Dianetics ad myself.

Great Seal State Park
Since there were no cameras allowed during the performance we paid extra for the pre-show tour where the actors who appear in the play demonstrated the weapons, took us up on the stage area, showed us the prop room, demonstrated a fall, etc. Unfortunately I was having some battery/camera issues and didn't get to take too many pictures. If you go with young children I recommend taking this tour so they see that there is no real blood or bullets being fired. The blood is actually laundry detergent with food coloring. Easy to clean up!  They also opted for shorter rifles and the smaller cannons from a later time period for the ease of use by the actors. We learned that in case of rain, just like in the old days the gunpowder won't light, so they had small shotguns ready to go for the battle scenes just in case. If you are doing a play about the 1770's to 1813 you need some explosions to keep it real.
A tribute to Chief Arthur Rolette
They also had a small museum with a tribute to Arthur Rolette who came to opening night on June 30, 1973. Arthur Rolette, then principal chief of the Absentee Shawnee of Oklahoma. He was a direct descendant of Tecumseh and passed away in 1977. The playwright Alan Eckert recalled, "Arthur came up to me, threw his arms around me and gave me a big bear hug. When he turned to me, there were tears in his eyes as he said, 'You've brought Tecumseh to life.'

A nicely stocked gift shop that wasn't too terribly tacky awaited us. At least according to the packaging, the novelty arrows, drums and headdresses were made by Cherokee and not from China. I opted for a t-shirt, a fridge magnet and a fine Ohio Indian History map I plan to frame.

stocking up on provisions
The play was fantastic, exciting and as expected over the top and quite incorrect in some historical detail but I was there to be entertained not be educated. They actually spent a good amount of time on the relationship between the Galloways (especially Rebecca) and Tecumseh which I was not expecting. Rebecca was a white woman who taught Tecumseh to read and write when he visited near present day Xenia and they supposedly had a relationship and nearly married. It is from these visits and access to books that Tecumseh may have learned of some items that his brother The Prophet "predicted" such as the 1806 eclipse that secured his standing among Tecumseh's pan-Indian Confederacy.

They kind of skipped over Tenskwatawa's conversion from alcoholic loudmouth to The Prophet and made it seem that Tecumseh only propped him up knowingly as a ruse and did not mention the vision he experienced while in a coma like trance when others thought he was dead and they prepared him for a funeral.

Several times throughout the play, Simon Kenton was portrayed as having great respect for the Shawnee and thwarted attempted by his companions to do wanton harm to them. From what I have read, this was quite true with people like Kenton and Daniel Boone who didn't act like hostile rednecks. In the Battle of Thames death scene for Tecumseh, he is shown misidentifying the body purposefully because he knew that his body would be mutilated by the whites and felt he deserved better. The Shawnee story says that the body was retrieved and taken to an undisclosed location and that is what we saw at the end.

Tecumseh and I meet at last!

After the play there was a meet and greet with the actors. I had expected to get my "Tecumseh!" book signed but while I was in line I realized I didn't really see the point in doing that but I did make sure I got in the line to meet the actor who played Tecumseh and get a picture with him.

Overall it was a great representation of the life of Tecumseh and I would gladly see it again! In fact I would like to visit Chillicothe again to take in some more of its history, there are several Hopewell Cultural Park there as well as the "Father of Ohio" Thomas Worthington estate. I'll be back.

See the entire photo album here

UPDATE: I just learned after posting this that Allan W. Eckert, the playwright of the Tecumseh drama and noted author, passed away in California early today at the age of 80. He did a lot to raise awareness of much of this forgotten time period and he will be missed.

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