I wasn't always Lincoln.
There was a time... before... though it was a long time ago now.
PL time. Pre Lincoln time. Pre Abraham Lincoln school shows and assemblies.
There really was.
Hard to remember now though.
I used to be a pretty standard regional theatre actor, knocking around from Kansas City to Detroit to Nashville, plying my craft in theatre companies across the nation.
That was before I married and had kids, of course, as well.
Back before George Bush was sworn in as president. No, not that George Bush, the other one, the older one.
The first month I performed as Lincoln I remember standing in a faculty room waiting for my show, and George Bush Sr. was on television taking the oath of office as president. Four years later, I stood in the same room and watched the same television showing Bill Clinton taking the same oath.
I cannot imagine I could have been very good that first week or so.
I knew very little about Mr. Lincoln when I was approached by Mobile Ed all those years ago to develop a show for kids. And yet three short weeks later I stood before my first audience, in Warren, Michigan, wearing the iconic beard and tall hat, and, essentially, just reading from a very hastily prepared script.
But over time, at the end of each performance, as they will, kids would ask question after question I did not know how to answer. So every night in those early days I went back to my books and other resources, researching the answers I had been unable to provide. As time passed, and as opportunities presented themselves, I visited all the places where the man had lived and worked (and died). I spoke with the rangers and historians at National Parks devoted to him. I watched films. I plowed through text after text, frequently wading through pages of commonly repeated information, seeking out the obscure or enlightening bits of detail that would fill in the gaping blank spots in my knowledge and understanding. Gradually those holes grew smaller. Slowly they filled in.
Now my oldest is in College and I have nearly twenty five years under my wheels, performing as Abraham Lincoln in schools all over Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. I have taken the program all over the East and West coasts. I have worked before all ages, from pre school assemblies through high school shows and adult audiences as well. Beyond school shows I have performed for scouting groups with their Blue and Gold banquets, for state fairs, political events, senior citizen centers and even in prisons. Some middle schools have the program every year and have done so for as much as two decades. And I expect there are now kids in some of my audiences whose parents may have seen my show when they were in school.
It has been a heck of a ride!
And in that time I have come to know Mr. Lincoln pretty well. I have learned his favorite foods and his most loved books. I have experienced his travels. I have investigated his daily life alongside the iconic moments of greatness. I have laughed and I have cried.
I have grown humble in his light, and hopefully wiser myself.
He was a stunning individual. His intelligence and tenacity, together with his absolute and earnest humanity and down to Earth attitudes should serve as an example to every person alive today.
My partners, other performers who also deliver this program to school, and I go to work everyday trying our best to present kids with an accurate introduction to Mr. Lincoln, his life, times and legacy. And I think that is a good thing. Kids need someone to look up to. They need examples in their lives of people with good values and strong ethics. They need someone to idolize. They could go far worse than with Mr. Lincoln.
We are now in October, celebrating in some places a minor holiday to honor the remembrance of Christopher Columbus. By all accounts he may not have been a good example for kids at all, and yet we observe a National holiday in his honor. Before we know it we will be into Halloween, and then Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays. And then will come a new year. Now, before all that happens, in the queit before the storm, would be a great time to look ahead to that new year and make a plan to observe the great national holiday in February in a special way. In February we witness and hopefully celebrate the birthdays of both presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but also, on Presidents Day, the achievements of all the men who have led our nation. Why not use that time to bring someone great into the lives of your kids? January and February are the months when schools all over the country teach our kids about the great presidents in the past of this great country. Why not look ahead and plan now for a visit from Abraham Lincoln at your school? You could do far worse, and very few programs will have as much impact.
Geoff Beauchamp is the Regional Manager of Mobile Ed Productions where "Education Through Entertainment" has been the guiding principal since 1979. Mobile Ed Productions produces and markets quality educational school assembly programs in the fieldsof science, history, writing, astronomy, natural science, mathematics, character issues and a variety of other curriculum based areas. In addition, Mr. Beauchamp is a professional actor with 30 years of experience in film, television and on stage. He created and still performs occasionally in Mobile Ed's THE LIVING LINCOLN. He also spent ten years coordinating assembly programs for the elementary school where his own children went to school.