Now, being so involved in Living History I have seen numerous performances by a variety of living historians over the years. And I find each one thrilling. To see a person step out of themselves and into a figure from the past always amazes me. But none more so than Mel Hankla as George Rogers Clark. Maybe it’s because George Rogers Clark was one of the first stories that I read and researched. Maybe it is because I’ve gotten to know Hankla and worked with him on a few projects. But what I really think, is that it is just because he is so good at it.
And last week at Fort Boonesborough was no exception. Hankla played to a full house. The weather co-operated a bit more than the weekend before when the fort was covered with a blanket of snow. Although it was rainy all of the tables were nearly full when “the taste of the frontier” dinner began. Ham, potatoes and green beans cooked over the hearth fire was the menu of the evening. I had only a few moments to talk to a few re-enactors I knew before it was time to set up camera gear. But even so I talked to a few more folks in passing. One woman had brought her German born husband as a way to expose him to more American History. Another woman had come from West Virginia. We joked that it was along way to come – but she had family in the area and throughout Kentucky. So they watch for events at Fort Boonesborough because it is centrally located for several branches of the family – and then the meet at the fort.
But as pleasant as the meal and the visiting were, everyone had really come for the performance. And they were not disappointed. George Rogers Clark strode into the room in his most military fashion immediately captivating the audience. Hankla has been performing as George Rogers Clark for almost four years now and is as comfortable with Clark as he is performing Simon Kenton who he as been interpreting for about 12 years. Both of these performances are part of the Kentucky Humanities Council – Chautauqua Series. Hankla has also added two other performances as Isaac Shelby and Benjamin Franklin which can be booked through his own company American Historic Services.
In addition to performing a character “in first person” one of the most interesting aspects of these performances is the question and answer period. Hankla finds this especially helpful with George Rogers Clark. He explains that realistically since Clark had a leg amputated in later life that his performance sticks to the time in Clark’s life prior to that incident. And many of the aspects of Clark’s life have been misunderstood or misrepresented and the question and answer period give both Hankla and the audience a chance to examine some of the less understood areas of the General’s life.
But don’t take my word for it – watch the Newsreel for excerpts of the performance and then be sure to catch General George Rogers Clark the next time he has a public performance in your area.