28 August 2014

Louisa May Alcott & Uta Pippig Team Up for the Annual Orchard House Walk/Run!

At first glance, these two women may not appear to have much in common.  Louisa May Alcott (left) is best known for writing children's stories in the nineteenth century, while Uta Pippig (right) is an international marathon winner and founder of Take the Magic Step (c), a foundation for advocating healthy and active lifestyles.
Don't be mistaken! Though separated by centuries, these strong, independent women are much more alike than they seem.

Did you know, for example, that Louisa was an avid runner?  She once wrote,
"Active exercise was my delight, from the time when, as a child of six, I drove my hoop around the Common without stopping, to the days when I did my twenty miles in five hours and went to a party in the evening."

While growing up in Concord, Louisa described many instances of  brisk morning runs in her journal, where she wrote,
"I always thought I must have been a deer or a horse in some former state, because it was such a joy to run."

In the spirit of advocating this lesser known aspect of Louisa's life and work, Orchard House Executive Director Jan Turnquist began the 10k/5k Run and 5k Walk for Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House in 2006.  Over the past eight years, this fundraiser has proven to be one of the most anticipated events on the Orchard House calendar, and with 19th century games and living history actors, there are festivities for all ages.

Executive Director Jan Turnquist as Louisa May Alcott, participating in the race in her hoop skirt!

Louisa May Alcott took five hours to walk to Boston, and Uta Pippig is also familiar with the twenty miles it takes to get into the city-- 26.2 miles, in fact--and she became the first woman to win the Boston Marathon three consecutive times, from 1994 to 1996.

Pippig has served as Honorary Chair of the Walk/Run since the beginning, and Orchard House is so pleased and honored to announce that she will be in attendance this year.  After all, a love of running is not the only thing these two women have in common; with a spirit reminiscent of Louisa's interest in reforms and advocacy, Uta Pippig is an inspirational woman striving to help people make healthier habits and lead healthier lives.

Uta Pippig congratulates the male champion of the 2011 Walk/Run
The 9th Annual Walk/Run will take place on September 14th at 12 noon at the Alcott School in Concord, Massachusetts. 

Bringing together the force of these two women will undoubtedly make this year's Walk/Run an unforgettable event!  Register online now at our active.com site or visit the Orchard House website for more information.

08 August 2014

Finding the Beauty Everyday - Reflections on our "Write Stuff!" Youth Writing Workshop

"I find it impossible to invent anything half so true or touching as the simple facts with which every day life supplies me," wrote Louisa May Alcott to Mary E. Channing Higginson on October 18, 1868.

Today, over a century later, I find myself feeling the same way as Louisa. This past week I had the privilege to lead "Write Stuff!", a summer writing workshop for kids, with the invaluable help of Lis Adams and Victoria Salemme, as well as all those associated with Orchard House, past and present.

Embarking on a weeklong journey of creative writing with a group of strangers struck me as a somewhat daunting task. I did not doubt that participants would be wonderful, but, still, I suspected that asking participants to compose, and sometimes share, writing with a group mere hours ago unknown to them might be exhilarating, yes, but also potentially terrifying, even unthinkable.

To be more fully equipped for this experience, workshop members were asked to select and bring in their own "scribbling suit." This idea was inspired by Louisa who often wore one while writing; hers included a black apron handy for wiping her pen as well as a black hat with a red bow.

On day one of our writing adventure, after touring Orchard House together, we played "get to know you" games. Participants were asked to write three facts about themselves, making one true and two invented using their imaginations. Next they each received three slips of paper and wrote a descriptive sentence on each, two in the first person and one in the third but all autobiographical in nature. Upon completion, they placed them in our "household" mailbox (a decorated box--inspired by Marmee's Household Post-Office for her daughters as a way, "to interchange thought and sentiment"), passing it around and guessing the writer.

The next day one girl eagerly asked something like, "When's the mail coming?! Maybe the mailman should come! I know, we can be the mailmen today, and you two can guess who wrote what!" They all seemed quick to like this idea, and with much excitement, took turns walking around pretending to be delivery people and bestowing their compositions on us readers. It seemed Marmee's idea withstood the test of time.

One morning we began in the Parlor, writing song lyrics. Then each took turns donning a costume and reading or singing his/her work. One girl was concerned about this activity; so, I wondered whether she might team up with someone to present. Another girl quickly volunteered to partner up, explaining that she felt nervous, too. Standing side by side, wearing old-fashioned lace gloves, one white and one black, on their outer right and left hands, the two presented. As they stood in the large doorway between the Parlor and Dining Room, with the open curtain, the Alcott sisters' productions (once held in that same spot) no longer seemed like they took place so very long ago.

Thursday morning we walked to the Emerson House Garden. We were very lucky, as Mrs. Gordinier greeted us and even explained a bit about the Emerson House. One participant exclaimed that he'd like to move here; that he loved this place! As luck would have it, he had a $20 bill along and began asking how much of the Garden his fellow participants thought he could buy with it. Ideas flew, but in the end, it was decided that he might like to work there someday--that that might do the trick.

These moments chronicle just a few workshop experiences. Part of a week during which, with enthusiasm and humor, our group "wrote" their own story, day by day. A story both touching and true.

01 August 2014

Oh, the Drama! The Alcott Family in Theater

From an early age Louisa May Alcott, and her sisters Anna, Elizabeth, and Abby May, often entertained their friends and families by performing “theatricals.” As children the two older sisters would dramatize stories for their neighbors, and as young teenagers, Anna and Louisa wrote and performed plays in their family’s barn at Hillside (now called Wayside).  For these shows they found or made their own scenery, costumes, and props; between the two sisters they took on all the major roles, and sometimes enticed their younger sisters, Lizzie and Abby May, who were less theatrically inclined, to perform the smaller roles.  Louisa loved to play the dashing heroes and villains of the pieces (such as the hero “Roderigo,” who appears in the Christmas play in Little Women), and Anna played the romantic and dramatic roles.

As older teenagers and into their adulthood, Anna and Louisa continued to be involved in theater.  They formed a community theater group in Walpole, New Hampshire; and in Concord, Massachusetts, they organized the “Concord Dramatic Union” with their friends.  Louisa’s roles now inclined toward the comic, character parts, and Anna, who reportedly was a very talented dramatic actress, would move her audience to tears with her portrayal of the serious roles.  Anna’s dream as a teenager and a young woman was to be a great actress in the theater, and for some time Louisa considered a life onstage as well.  Both young women tried their hand at playwriting; Louisa succeeded in having one of her plays, The Rival Prima Donnas,  produced and performed in a Boston theater in 1860.

After Louisa went on to become a successful and famous writer, she continued to act for charity, often playing scenes from Charles Dickens to help raise funds for worthy organizations.  In 1860 Anna married John Pratt, a young man who, with Anna and Louisa, was one of the original founders of the “Concord Dramatic Union,” and who had once played opposite Anna in one of their productions, The Loan of a Lover.  Anna abandoned her dream of being a great prima donna and raised a family of two boys, Frederick and John Pratt, but she still pitched in graciously now and then to play a dramatic role for family theatricals when the need arose.
The “Concord Dramatic Union” is today a thriving community theater, now named the Concord Players, which produces three plays each year at 51 Walden Street in Concord, Massachusetts.

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House continues the tradition of parlor theatricals by offering a week-long summer drama program for children, Apple Slump Players, and by staging tableaus and scenes in their annual living history Christmas program every December.

Lis Adams
Director of Education