I recently debuted my living history presentation, “From Sidelines to Headlines: The Intrepid Nellie Bly” at the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, CT.
I first developed the portrayal last year when I participated in a Chautauqua program at the Greater Astoria Historical Society, which culminated in two performances. The theme was nineteenth century New Yorkers and the program involved developing a portrayal and learning how to present it before an audience. At the time, preparing a mere fifteen minute script felt daunting. Never would I have imagined I would later double that time and present solo! Public speaking has never been easy for me, and this kind of a project seemed like a great way to improve that skill. Getting to wear a costume and research an admirable historical figure was also quite an incentive!
I often think about what attracted me to portraying Nellie Bly. As a writer, I guess I would naturally be inclined to embody a famous journalist. But I admire Nellie Bly the most for her bravery – how she pushed her way into the male-dominated newsroom and refused to be confined to Victorian ideas of separate spheres. To quote Maureen Corrigan in her forward for Nellie Bly: Around the World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings, “Nellie Bly could teach Sheryl Sandberg a thing or two about leaning in.”
I also admire her as a voice for the voiceless. I can’t help but feel that, through this process of becoming her, I found my voice. By embodying her bravery and other qualities, I found the courage to be in the spotlight. Standing before a crowd has never been easy for me. Growing up I often got poor marks for class participation, preferring to stick my head in the sand over uttering even one sentence aloud. That painfully shy little girl never would have guessed what she would grow up to do. I very well might always get nervous before these performances, but I look forward to more opportunities and am eager to develop other portrayals. Stay tuned – Nellie is ready for her next adventure!
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