Famous writer, story-teller, humorist and performer Mark Twain will come to life in Bemidji, as actor Richard Garey will perform his one-man show, "Mark Twain Himself," Monday, Oct. 3, at the Bemidji High School.
The public is invited to see the show at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $15 and are available at the main BHS office. For details call 444-1600, ext. 3308.
Samuel L. Clemens, who eventually became known as Mark Twain, was born Nov. 30, 1835, in Florida, Mo. His parents moved to Hannibal, Mo., on the banks of the Mississippi River when he was 4 years old.
He attended school in Hannibal until the sixth grade and became a printer's apprentice. In the newspaper office he learned to write. Later he left to become a Mississippi riverboat pilot. When the Civil War started, he traveled west and worked as a silver miner, gold miner, newspaper reporter, lecturer and writer.
His first literary success was the short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."
He traveled east and became a showman for Redpath Booking Agency in Boston. He then traveled to Europe and the Middle East and wrote "The Innocents Abroad."
He met and married Olivia Langdon of Elmira, N.Y. The Clemenses built their home in Hartford, Conn., where they raised their four children.
Using Mark Twain as his pen name, Clemens wrote "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Roughing It," "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," "Life on the Mississippi," and more, making him a world celebrity.
"I'm not what you would call an impersonator," Garey said in a telephone interview. "I am a stage actor who creates his role. I really try to bring the essence of the character back to life."
Garey, 65, is the executive director of Heritage Stage Productions and owner of the historic Planters Barn Theater in Hannibal. He is a veteran stage actor and director for more than 40 years.
Combining his love of history, literary insights and his skills as an actor, Garey brings the role of Twain to life almost on a daily basis. He has hours of Twain material in his repertoire.
"I had always enjoyed Mark Twain," he said. "It wasn't a big obsession with me. I kind of got into it as an actor."
Garey said he was teaching an acting class many years ago when he decided to introduce Twain material into a comedy section in a play. His students liked it so he decided to find a play they could perform.
But after searching for a play that had appropriate Twain content in it, Garey said he could not find what he was looking for. So, he decided to write his own play.
He gathered a group of actors and his play became a big success, he said. Eventually the acting group disbanded, but Garey said he kept receiving requests from people to keep the show alive.
Today he is the star in his own one-man show called "Mark Twain Himself," which he performs on a regular basis in Hannibal. He performs from a list of topics including "Bermuda Story," "Riverboat Captain," "Life on the Mississippi," "The Innocents Abroad," "How a Story Ought to Be Told," "Huckleberry Finn" and more.
Garey said he likes to sometimes refer to Twain as a cat that lived nine lives.
"No one ever had a more interesting, extensive life as (Twain) did," Garey said. "He continued to do shows almost up until the time of his death on all kinds of topics. He was the most quoted American author. He had something to say about almost everything. I have unlimited material."
Nearly every word Garey says during his performance is a direct quote from Twain, he said, other than a few words he uses as transitions between stories and thoughts.
"I've always wanted to do that because I can't say it better than he did. He's the master," Garey said. "I feel an obligation to be authentic with his words."
Now that he has performed his one-man show for nearly one decade, Garey said the words have become easier to say. In his early days when he performed, Garey said he had to stick to his script. Today he said he does not plan any of his shows before he steps onto the stage.
"That allows me to do what (Twain) did," he said. "He would walk on stage, try some materials on his audience and then decide what he was going to show. That's usually what I do. I have wonderful materials for kids. He really makes it fun as a performer and fun for the audience. There is always variety."
Garey has spoken to audiences of all ages and has met with elementary, middle school and high school students both nationally and internationally. He said one of the ways students can better learn about Twain is to become interested in reading.
"That's very rewarding to me to be able to help youth discover and catch some of the fun of Mark Twain and start reading," he said.
Beyond his performance as Twain, Garey also performs other one-man shows including a Christmas play titled "A Shepherd's Tale," and a historical play titled "JFK" in which he brings the character of President John F. Kennedy to life.
Ever since he was a child, Garey said he knew he wanted to be an actor.
"When I'm out there and the audience is really into what I'm doing, it's kind of a magical situation," he said. "There is this electricity that is created in a theater. It's a special thing."
Garey said he has learned many lessons over the years as an actor and teacher, but also from his time spent researching Twain.
"With Mark Twain, I've learned about enjoying life, finding the humor in things and laughing," Garey said. "Life's too short to be serious and unhappy about it. There are plenty of things to be unhappy with, but to laugh as much as you can and to find the joy in life. I think that's the most important thing."
Next year, Garey said he will perform "Mark Twain for President," in which he will unveil the political wit and wisdom of Twain, who, Garey said, did try and run for president.
The Oct. 3 show at BHS is sponsored in part by the Planters Barn Theater, Paul Bunyan Communications, Volunteers for Handicap Association, RP Broadcasting and BHS.