Monday, December 17, 2007

Talk to Living History

Posted By on Mon, Dec 17, 2007 at 11:43 PM

Every Christmas season, Papa Noel, the Cajun/Creole version of Santa Claus, magically transports famous personalities from New Orleans history to the present day. Some personalities are generally known today, locally and outside New Orleans, such as Andrew Jackson, Captain Jean Lafitte, and the Widow Paris (aka Marie Laveau). But other persons are less known although equally important to Louisiana cultural history, such as C. C. Antoine, Free Man of Color and 2-term Lt Governor. The company even includes a strolling accordionist, Count Guido, a Vaudevillian who popularized the accordion in North America.

The Living History characters stroll the French Quarter Thursday through Christmas Day, yes, Christmas Day, 11am to 4pm (3pm 12/24-25), often along Royal street, visiting hotel lobbies, restaurants, and places like the Cabildo and Historic New Orleans Collection. They are immediately noticeable, not only for their painstakingly accurate 19th century attire designed by Veronica Russell, but also for the slow pace they walk. The world was slower back in the day.

In hotel lobbies, the historic personalities hold salon, telling stories from their times, debating issues, and singing. But the best way to experience the characters is to TALK to them afterwards on the streets. Why is the zoo named after John James Audubon? Is it true he ate his bird specimens? You can ask him. Why was Lola Montez stoned by a mob in Bavaria? Ask her. What are some of the scams Captain Jean Lafitte played on U.S. Customs agents? Ask him. Why is the Vatican considering Mother Henriette Delille for canonization? Ask her yourself.

One word of caution, don't call Papa Noel "Santa Claus". He carries a hatchet.

Bringing the personalities to life are a strong company of improvisational actors who nerd out on research. Now in its 11th season, the Living History roster includes seasoned local veterans of both stage and screen, and some of the best new up-and-comers. Returning cast members include:

  • Papa Noel Dane Rhodes
  • Mother Henriette Delille Carol Sutton
  • Thomy Lafon Harold X. Evans, Artistic Director

  • Captain Jean Lafitte Mikko, meow
  • Baroness Micaela Almonaster de Pontalba Diana Shortes
  • Basile Croquere Donald Lewis
  • Josie Arlington Veronica Russell
  • Margaret Houghery Claudia Baumgarten

New cast members this Christmas season:

  • Marie Laveau Troi Bechet
  • Elizabeth Begue Cammie West
  • Ada Isaacs Menkin Donna Duplantier
  • Lola Montez Raphaele O'Neal
  • C.C. Antoine Ed Bishop
  • Andrew Jackson Vic Woodward
  • Count Guido Walt McClements
  • John James Audubon Frederick Mead, yup, that's me

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