Jeffersonian Independence Day; Clay Jenkinson brings portrayal of historical figure to Truckee
What could be better than bringing the author of the Declaration of Independence to Truckee on the July Fourth weekend?It may seem impossible to most, but with the help of a University of Nevada, Reno professor, Truckee’s Sierra Business Group will host an interactive presentation with Thomas Jefferson at the Truckee Community Center Saturday, July 5, at 7 p.m.In an effort to raise much-needed funds for the Truckee Library, Chautauquan actor Clayton Jenkinson will perform an untraditional one-person characterization of the nation’s third president. Both Jenkinson and event organizer Molly Harrison said they are excited about bringing a bit of history and culture to Truckee.”Truckee is ready for more events like this one,” Harrison said. “Clay is the perfect person to sell.”Harrison’s interest in Jenkinson was spurred by the KUNR radio productions of the “Thomas Jefferson Hour,” which air Monday nights. It was there that Harrison learned of Jenkinson’s award-winning history presentations and of his ability to have fun while raising awareness of the importance of Jefferson’s life.Jenkinson is not only a Rhodes and Danforth scholar, he is also the winner of the National Endowment for the Humanities highest award, the Charles Frankel Prize. Jenkinson’s interest in Thomas Jefferson began back in North Dakota, his home state.”About nine years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to the idea of becoming Thomas Jefferson,” Jenkinson said. “I have been doing it off-and-on ever since.”His interest in Thomas Jefferson has really come alive in Reno, especially with the radio program. What is most interesting to Jenkinson is Jefferson’s unmistakable paradoxical philosophies.”Even though Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence, which provided the base of American freedom, he was a racist and a sexist,” Jenkinson said.It was widely known that Jefferson owned slaves and treated women as if their only purpose was to produce children.Jefferson’s Native American policy was also contradictory. He would praise the culture but would use every chance he had to uproot Native Americans from their lands.”He didn’t seem to realize how his principles affected his own life,” Jenkinson said.Jenkinson is passionate about spreading the awareness of Jefferson’s greatness. He said that although Jefferson is known for his philosophies written into the Declaration of Independence, his greatest feat was the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty. It laid the foundation for the wall between church and state, a freedom that today’s Americans share with yesterday’s colonists.Jenkinson took a leave from teaching in the humanities department at the university to write his thoughts on Jefferson. “The Paradox of Thomas Jefferson” will be on store bookshelves in the fall.Both the Chautauquan presentations and the book have proven to be fun for him.Jenkinson’s methodology is exact. He begins his first-person presentation of Jefferson with an 15-minute, unscripted monologue while walking through the audience. He then takes audience questions and attempts to answer as Jefferson would have.After the question-and-answer period, he breaks from his character and contextualizes the historical characterization and then responds to more questions about his personal research .He said the last part of the presentation is usually the most important because of the many different themes raised by the audience.Throughout the presentation, Jenkinson answers all questions with Jefferson’s language. He enjoys talking about all parts of Jefferson’s life, including his death. He is challenged, however, when he takes the intellectual risk of speculating on Jefferson’s perspectives on 20th century issues.”It is so hard to be human today,” he said. “Because my characters are clear about what the world is all about, I dress up in tights and get to be boldly confident on stage. It’s easy playing historical heroes.” His enthusiasm is what Harrison is counting on for raising funds for the Truckee Library.SBG hopes to raise between $2,000 and $4,000, with proceeds from ticket sales and the sale of signed $2 bills going directly to the library, Harrison said.”It is so wonderful how our community businesses have pulled together to help the library by donating time, resources and refreshments for the presentation.”Harrison said that the presentation is an all-ages activity and she hopes more students from eight years old and up will participate.”This is a great opportunity and a fun way for kids to learn about a person who was so important to American history,” she said. Jenkinson agreed.”It is so important for people to realize that what Jefferson wrote as the Declaration of Independence is not finished yet,” he said. “It is not being used as broadly as he had wanted it to be.”Tickets cost $10 for adults with advance purchase or $13 at the door. Student tickets cost $5.Tickets can be purchased at the Bookshelf at Hooligan Rocks and Musaic CD’s & Tapes, both in Truckee.
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