Over tea

Yesterday, finally, Kate and I sat down together for a cup of tea.  This time we had agreed to meet at a place called Emily’s, and there isn’t one of those on every corner, so we both ended up at the same place.  We talked for an hour.  I learned that she’s sold hundreds of paintings to people driving by, and there was even an article about her in the Portland Metro newspaper about a year ago.  I suppose she’s actually more famous than me.

And we chatted about our children.  She has six.  One of them, oddly enough, is named Peter Joseph.  She struggled with ADHD issues with one of her sons, so we discussed our mutual mothering difficulties (while at home, as I discovered when I got there, Peter was throwing things around the house and pushing our Christmas tree right over in anger due to an internet connection problem).  I gave Kate a signed copy of my book (or our book, perhaps I should say), and she gave me an art print, something she’d done recently in one of her art classes.

And now we go our separate ways.  She might be moving to Seattle.  We’ll be moving to Fresno.  But the book remains, binding us together in its own way.  And Facebook.  There’s always Facebook.

While sitting at Emily’s waiting for Kate I passed the time thinking about my newest crazy idea.  Well, I don’t think it’s crazy.  Other people might.  I’d like to try impersonating Emily Dickinson for small groups of people, over tea.  It would be as if you were in her house visiting.  The “audience”  would determine the flow of the conversation by asking Emily questions.  I’d be dressed up.  I’d have things ready to say, if questions didn’t arise.  And I’d draw on my vast knowledge of the details of her life to answer questions as best I could.  I’ve seen people do this with Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain.  But I’m particularly suited to do it with Emily Dickinson.  And once I got good at it, I could earn some money that way in addition to music lessons. I tried this out a few years ago in Fresno at a Friends of the Library fundraiser.  I think people enjoyed it, though I was a little late getting into character.  A lady asked me “When were you born?” and I promptly said, “1970,” not realizing that we had started already.  Oops.  1830.  That’s when I was born.  December 10, 1830.

Three weeks now until Christmas vacation.  Here we go.


6 thoughts on “Over tea

  1. I have a friend in KC (Diane Eickhoff) who has been very successful at performing reenactments of Clarina Nichols. Next time I see her I’ll ask if she has any advice on how to get started. I vaguely recall that she initially received a grant from the Kansas Humanities Council. She also wrote a biography of Clarina Nichols which went well with the reenactment performances. Perhaps you should write a book about Emily Dickenson.
    The following link has information about Diane Eickhoff.
    There’s also information about Clarina Nichols at the above link.

  2. “Reenactment” is probably not the word to use. It’s the word that came to mind while writing my comment. Subconsciously I must have been thinking of the “Civil War battle re-enactors.” I notice that Diane Eickhoff said, “I was chosen to play the role.” “Impersonate” sounds a bit like what they do on Saturday Night Live. I’ll have to add this to my list of questions to Diane.

  3. There’s probably a term for it. I’m thinking of an interactive experience, not a drama performance. And not on a stage. I’m not a stage type person obviously. Neither was Emily Dickinson! I’ll let you know if I find the right term.

  4. Below is copy of reply from Diane. I’ve inserted horizontal lines above and below her comments. I hope you find them helpful. She didn’t comment on business issues such as advertising which I would have found of interest. She obviously has an interest in Emily’s inner thoughts (which I bet you’ve given a lot of thought to).

    Begin forwarded message:


    I’m a blog follower of Rhonda Langely, author of “Mennonite in Blue Jeans.” The following question is prompted by some ideas she’s mentioned in her blog:

    1. Do you have any advice for a woman who’s considering providing “tea with Emily Dickinson” interactive impersonations? I thought your experience playing the role of Clarina Nichols may provide some words of advice.

    Well, I think it depends on how she is going about this. I’m assuming her audience is the “with” part, and she is going to present a monologue as Emily D.

    First, she will have to establish a scene and a reason for Emily “talking” to someone. Since Emily was a recluse this would need to be a close friend or relative — or if she wants to be daring, T.W. Higginson, with whom she corresponded and who, I believe, published a couple of her poems in the Atlantic Monthly. What would be the occasion? Good question. Perhaps it might be the publication of one of her poems — her ambivalence about doing such a thing might come out and that could lead her into talking about why she writes these poems, what motivates her, why she chooses certain thems. And that could lead to reciting some a poem or two — or just famous lines. She might have been somewhere on what we call the Asperfer’s Syndrome today. But certainly having tea with some trusted individual might lead her to give this person an intimate glimpse into her inner world.

    2. What word best describes such performances? — role playing, impersonation, or reenacting?

    I call what I do a first-person portrayal or a first-person interpretation. I dislike the term “impersonation.” It sounds like I’m doing something illicit. I also dislike the term reenactment. There are so many reenactors out there whose main focus is making sure they have the right buttons on their coat, or the right style of shoes. What I do — and what I expect your friend does — is to try and present a deeper look at a fascinating woman who lived in a very different world than the one we live in today. Hope this helps, Diane.

    Clif Hostetler

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