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Taking a Polk at history

I’m learning, perhaps a bit late in life, that if you don’t toot your own horn no one else is gonna do it for you. So here goes.

It’s not very often that us print journalists get to revel in glitz, but every now and then we get lucky. This weekend for the first — and very likely last! — time I will actually walk the red carpet at a film premiere.

OK, so it’s not actually a film. It’s a video of the latest living history performance at the Owens–Thomas House, “Dinner With President Polk,” in which yours truly plays the title character James K. Polk, 11th president of the United States and generally considered to be, as the historians’ line goes, “the least–known consequential president.”

Michael Jordan of Cosmos Mariner Productions supervised the production, which premieres next Thursday night, Aug. 2, at the Jepson Center’s Nieses Auditorium at 6 p.m. I’m told an “Actors Studio” style Q&A with the cast will follow.

Like another of Savannah’s great house museums, the Isaiah Davenport House, the Owens–Thomas House (which is operated by the Telfair Museums) also puts on occasional living history performances. The series of Polk vignettes — inviting guests to view a show throughout the house about the president’s visit to Savannah in 1849 — took place over the course of one weekend this past March.

While I played the president, the program and video are really ensemble pieces, with a cast of many interpreters at the Owens–Thomas House playing equal, diverse roles, from servant to owner of the house. The video adds a bit more texture to the live show by including some expository segments and exterior shots.

“We have plans to film future living history programs as well, but this is our first attempt,” says Paulette Thompson, head interpreter at the Owens–Thomas House. “Now that we’ve gotten better at the programs themselves, we wanted to have a way we can promote the videos through the website and through YouTube and give more exposure to the programs, so more and more people will come and attend.”

The premiere, besides being “a fun thing to do in the middle of the summer to sort of spice things up,” according to Thompson, is also “to celebrate the interpreters at the Owens–Thomas House and show how much we appreciate all their hard work. Also of course to acknowledge Michael Jordan and his crew and all their hard work.”

Thompson says the living history shows usually attempt to portray some “hidden history” of Savannah which is perhaps a bit less known. For example, before the Polk show there was a program on the exotic and somewhat morbid mourning practices of the Victorian era. And before that was a dramatization of the visit to the house by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1825.

Thompson says the “Dinner with President Polk” video is “a part of local history most people probably didn’t know about Savannah and the Owens–Thomas House. There’s a little comedy mixed with historical drama and some really good performances.”

Telfair Members get in the premiere for free, while the cost is $15 regular admission otherwise. Admission paid earlier in the day also gets you in the evening show. See you there!