Re-Enactors Help Bring History Alive

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Halvey Daily Herald Correspondent

When he was in a student acting troupe at Northern Illinois University, Terry Lynch had to fill out a questionnaire asking the students what they hoped to be doing in 10 and 20 years.

He drew a blank. Though acting was his passion, he knew that steady work, let alone stardom, would be a long shot.

"So I just wrote that I would like to be acting in some way," he recalled.

These days, Lynch regularly performs in roles actors dream of sinking their teeth into - Andrew Jackson, Daniel Burnham, Teddy Roosevelt, St. Nicholas and others - often without setting foot on a stage.

He portrays historical figures and just-plain-folks from the past for Histories for Kids, performing in schools, libraries, trade shows and other venues.

Lynch will portray Benjamin Franklin from 7 to 8 p.m. Sunday in Century Memorial Chapel at Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St., Naperville, as part of the museum's History Speaks Lecture Series.

"The Naper Settlement shows are great," he said. "It's a 45- minute show, then there's a question/answer period with the audience. You never know what's going to happen, and you get to go into whole other areas."

When Cindy Lackore and Barb Rimmer, museum educators at Naper Settlement, started the series in 2002, historical re-enactors were hard to find and the audiences at the museum were small.

"But the more we dug, the more performers we found," Lackore said.

Because the actors often have multiple characters in their repertoires, the museum has not had to repeat any historical figures. And as word of the program's success spread, performers have been contacting the museum, she said.

Gone are the days when museum staff had to corral visitors so there would be an audience for the performer. Now audiences tend to be 50 to 75 people of all ages, and they often ask about the subject of the next performance or about specific actors and when they will next perform, Lackore said.

"It's funny to see people's reactions to the actors," she said. "They'll address them as 'Mr. President.' "

It is the challenge of improvising that is at the heart of Lynch's portrayals. Working as an actor, he studied improvisation at Second City Training Center and Improv Olympic at night while his wife, Laura, cared for the couple's two children.

But the schedule kept him away from his kids, and five years ago the couple began looking for a venue that would be a better fit.

It was Lynch working as a Benjamin Franklin look-alike at a trade show that sparked the idea of Histories for Kids. …