Hundreds turn out for first Chautauqua performance

From the front porch of the Upton House, Pat Williamsen surveyed the large red and white Ohio Chautauqua tent alongside the historic city hall and Perkins neighborhood.

“The historic district is the perfect setting for this,” the executive director of Ohio Humanities said. ”I mean, who has such a beautiful city hall?”

Even as the thunder clouds rolled past on Tuesday evening, the tent on Mahoning Avenue filled up with over 500 people ready for the start of the free, traveling show from Ohio Humanities that features historical characterizations and continues through Saturday.

The night’s main attraction was Hank Fincken portraying J.G. Bruff, an 1849er on a journey to California for the Gold Rush.

“It’s not just a name in a book, it’s a real person telling me this story,” Williamsen said.

Chautauqua scholar Fincken agreed with the sentiment. For him, the part he plays is deeper than just knowing a set of lines. He has spent years perfecting his knowledge of the Gold Rush – even visiting California several times to embrace his character role.

The interactive nature of his presentation allows more than the concept of learning history so it is not repeated, he said.

“(Through history,) we get a perspective on the now,” he said.

His theory held up during his engaging performance in which the audience was transported through tales to 1854, and then back to 1849, to ponder the challenges of a trip West for gold.

The audience laughed as he pointed out their follies in preparing for the hypothetical journey and enthusiastically replied to his questions on how to best navigate the difficult terrain of the plains.

Several in the audience had already made a journey just to get to Warren. Williamsen said people often will follow the tour as it stops at different cities in Ohio.

Joyce Orami of Jacksonville, Fla., planned her visit to her sister Kathy Seemann of Bristol to coincide with the Chautauqua show.

“We saw it in Madison last time and I made a point to come this time,” she said.

They were joined by Joyce Franklin of Brookfield, who arrive two hours early to snag a seat in the front row.

“I love it. It’s education and a lot of fun,” Franklin said.

The tour is presented by Ohio Humanities in partnership with the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau and sponsored by several local organizations, including the Tribune Chronicle.

Historical performances will continue beginning at 7:30 p.m. through Saturday at the tent. Each show is prefaced by a music performance at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.