Chatting about your Chautauqua Subject

As the task . . . fun . . . adventure . . . of researching a Chautauqua subject is underway, one of the informal but formative techniques of research is chatting up the character with others.

Few others will be nearly as interested in the amazing things I just learned about Winston Churchill, but the chat I am talking about is not for me to share my erudition; it is for me to find out what others are interested in about him and what they know (or think they know).

When I portrayed Houdini, everyone told me about his death in the water torture cell.  It never happened, except in a Tony Curtis movie, but it was good for me to know that expectation and interest.

Listening to the public can reveal popular conceptions and misconceptions about the subject, and informal conversations can also open new areas of investigation.

As I was talking to a gentleman and his wife at a Chautauquan luncheon, he mentioned having known Albert Einstein’s cousin Hans in Greenville back in the ’40s.  I knew that Einstein’s son Hans was living here then but two Hans Einteins in Greenville, South Carolina?

Within minutes of the end of the luncheon, I was parked in the South Carolina Room of the Greenville Main Public Library with a research librarian ferrying me any available Einstein files.  Sure enough, two Hans Einsteins!  I learned that even they thought it was an amazing coincidence, but the two Hanses did not they were actually cousins until Albert Einstein visited and made the family connection.  Since I was playing to Upstate Carolina audiences, this made a wonderful story about identity, Einstein’s relation to family, local connections, and the interplay of Albert and the community – all because of a brief chat about my character.