Erma Bombeck will entertain audiences in June when renowned living history presenter Susan Marie Frontczak portrays the suburban American housewife/syndicated columnist in a touring production of “Ohio Chautauqua 2018: Modern Legends.”
Sponsored by Ohio Humanities, “the program showcases historical figures from the mid-twentieth century whose lives and work left a larger-than-life imprint on the American psyche.”
Frontczak will bring Erma, one of the greatest humorists of our times, to life on outdoor stages in Piqua (June 5), Gallipolis (June 12), Rossford (June 19) and New Richmond (June 26). She will tell stories and answer questions from the audience — all in the character of Erma. Free and open to the public, the evenings include live music at 6:30 p.m., followed by the performance at 7:30 p.m. For the full schedule, click here.
“Through her writing, Erma mocks expectations for housewife perfection,” Frontczak says. “She put into print what many think, but feel we aren’t supposed to admit we’re thinking. By divulging her struggles, self-doubt and maddening frustrations, she dispels the taboo.”
In describing her research behind this “living history” portrayal, Frontczak expresses gratitude to Erma’s son, Matt Bombeck; personal assistant, Norma Born; literary agent Aaron Priest; and biographer Lynn Hutner Colwell for helping her fill out her understanding of the humorist.
“The University of Dayton’s archives and its online museum, ErmaBombeckCollection.com, have been invaluable resources,” she adds. “I’m also indebted to the Aaron Priest Literary Agency, which manages the Erma Bombeck literary estate, for granting permission to draw on Bombeck’s work and for reviewing my material for accuracy.”
Frontczak, a professional storyteller from Boulder, Colorado, has given more than 700 presentations as Marie Curie, Mary Shelley, Irene Castle, Clara Barton and Eleanor Roosevelt across 39 states and abroad in her 18 years as a “living history” scholar. As a teen, she says she competed with her mother to see which of them could snag the monthly Good Housekeeping magazine first, in order to read Erma Bombeck’s column.
“Bombeck’s flair for irony and parody gave voice to something inside me. I never dreamed then that someday I would portray her. Though just as Erma had a vision for becoming a writer early on, I started writing plays and presenting them quite young. I just hope I can do her justice,” she says.
Building on the 19th-century tradition established on the shores of New York’s Chautauqua Lake, Ohio Chautauqua is a five-day community event that combines living history performances, music, education, and audience participation into a one-of-a-kind cultural event. The “Ohio Chautauqua 2018: Modern Legends” tour includes portrayals of Cesar Chavez, Betty Friedan, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and Bobby Kennedy during other evenings throughout June.
Beyond Ohio Chautauqua, Frontczak will portray Erma Bombeck in three additional performances:
• Aug. 9, High Plains Chautauqua in Greeley, Colorado;
• Nov. 15, the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, California; and
• March 10, Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center, Tarpon Springs, Florida.
— Teri Rizvi
Teri Rizvi is the founder and director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she also works as executive director of strategic communications. (Photo courtesy of Janet Adams.)