What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Two weeks ago, Ben and I got to head back home to visit my family, our friends, and see Tecumseh! Outdoor Drama, where Ben and I met two years ago. I was a cast member and assistant costumer in 2005 & 2011, and Hair & Makeup designer in 2007, and Ben was an actor from 2008 to 2011. I had come back to visit on my off years and to see the show, so the funny thing is that I’d seen him perform but we didn’t actually meet till 2011.

Tecumseh! Outdoor Drama is a completely amazing show about the life of Tecumseh, the Shawnee Indian, who attempted to unite all the Eastern tribes into one confederation to prevent the newly-formed American government from acquiring any more lands by military might or tricksy treaties. Tecumseh lost his bid for military and social equality at the Battle of Tippecanoe, and lost his life in the Battle of the Thames in 1813.

The show features horses, cannons, period weapons, giant choreographed battles, and period garments from white settlers and Shawnee Indians, along with hairstyles and war paint that are both period and culturally appropriate. It’s a big job that requires – in addition to the 75 or more actors – a team of artisans and makers well-versed both in culture and construction methods. The show is performed on the actual homeland of the Shawnee, and is blessed by the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. The Elders taught the songs and dances featured in the show to the original cast forty years ago, and preformed blessing ceremonies on the stage and the “Compound,” where the actors live all summer. Every year they’re able, the Elders come from Oklahoma to see the show, and in 2007, I was privileged to meet Chief Glenna, J. Wallace, the first female Chief of the Shawnee tribe.

The show this year was really fantastic. It had a lot of detail and nuance, the pace was excellent, and the staging and blocking (theater-speak for “where people stand”) was really innovative – which is quite an accomplishment for a show with a 41-year history. We arrived in town on Tuesday afternoon, saw the show Tuesday evening, and stuck around Wednesday to visit our friends and be all nostalgic about living in a toolshed in the woods. We even got caught in a pop-up thunderstorm, assuring that we got the full Mountain experience in our short visit.

Ben and I had a wonderful visit back to our home, the place where we met and fell in love, and where one day we plan to bring our kids to see the show – if not participate in it themselves. And for your enjoyment, here are some photos of the amazing art created there. (Check out the show’s website for photos of the show in action!)

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Our beautiful stage.

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This is a burial bier. If time and circumstance allowed, the Shawnee would place their dead on top of the scaffolding to be closer to their creator, Moneto, for the journey home. The bier would be decorated with items of importance to the decedant. After the bones were cleaned, they would be buried in the tribal cemetery. Warriors would sometimes be buried on the battlefield where they gave their lives. The items in this photo are designed and maintained by the amazing Trevyn Cunningham.

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This costumer is making a horsehair roach. A roach is a headdress that looks like a mohawk. The horsehair used in costumes and props is trimmed from the horses who perform in our show as part of their regular grooming.

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Period and modern weapons are very important parts of the show. They use reenactor’s black powder and are cleaned every day by the actor who uses it. My gun was #17, second from the left, named Wyatt.

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Of course, the best thing about the Mountain is the friends you make while living and working there. Susan Leist, an 8-season veteran, and myself.

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Ben and Holly Allen (who recently married her love, Trevyn Cunningham – they also met on the Mountain!)

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