Erma Bombeck will entertain audiences in June when renowned living history presenter Susan Marie Frontczak reprises the role of the suburban American housewife/syndicated columnist in a touring production of “Ohio Chautauqua 2019: 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 Defiance (June 4), Milan (June 11), Geauga County (June 18) and Warren (June 25). 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,” says Frontczak, who portrayed Erma in various Ohio outdoor stages last summer. “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.”
As part of her research, Frontczak wrote six essays about Erma’s humor, life and enduring appeal:
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 2019: Modern Legends” tour includes portrayals of Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Julia Child, Cesar Chavez and Bobby Kennedy during other evenings throughout June.
— 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.)