by Leigh Westphal, Museum Coordinator, Fort Collins Museum
“The Move to Fort Collins” event began as a component of Beet Street’s Finding Home series, which focuses on immigration in the United States. Because we deal with local history at the Fort Collins Museum, I felt inclined to keep our programming for the series focused on Fort Collins history. So, I came up with the idea of pulling some oral histories out of the Local History Archive that contained immigration as a main theme.
My initial thoughts were to simply have three separate members of our staff read one of the oral histories aloud as a reader’s theater-type event. However, things took a different direction when I presented that idea at a collaborative meeting with the other participants in the Finding Home series. Little did I know at the time of that meeting, I was sitting next to the director of Openstage Theatre, Denise Freestone. Upon hearing my concept, she generously offered to put a call out to actors to do the readings for us. And so, the process began.
Denise and I teamed up and she played an integral role in finding some superb actors, as well as three very talented playwrights. It was an amazing partnership in that there was such a variety of perspectives at play. As a historian, my most pressing concern was maintaining the historical integrity of the oral histories. As playwrights and actors, they were interested in creating a script that captured an audience, while being as accurate as possible. So, there was quite a bit of discussion along the way that dealt with the difference between a historical piece of non-fiction and a piece of fiction based on historical sources. I think the final product successfully walked a fine line between the two.
Also, we put together a panel discussion at the end of the event that allowed audience members to ask the authors and actors questions about the process of creating historical plays. It was an amazing dialogue that we were fortunate enough to capture on film, which is soon to be housed in our Local History Archive.
Enjoy this short excerpt, which is read by Sam Salas (as Joe Herrera) and Irene Gordon (as Elvira Herrera), written by Richard Strahle. If you’d like to see more of Sam, he’s currently starring in Openstage Theater’s production of Anon(ymous), which runs through May 2nd.