An Interview with Alan Gephardt (Francis Scott Key)
The countdown to Chautauqua 2012 has begun, with only a month until MHC’s popular free living history performance series begins at its first location at Garrett College! Michele Baylin, MHC’s Communications Manager, spoke with Alan Gephardt, who will portray Francis Scott Key at the Elkton, Easton, and Germantown locations. We hope it provides some insight to audience members prior to Chautauqua performances.
Click here to view and print a 2012 Chautauqua Schedule. We’d love to read your comments about your experiences as an audience member who has attended a Chautauqua performance. What historical characters did you find the most engaging, enlightening, or unexpected?
(MB) How long have you been appearing as Francis Scott Key? What drew you to him?
(AG) I have been interpreting Mr. Key since 1988 or 1989. It was quite serendipitous that I came to do this. I was raised in Edgemere, in the North Point community where the Todd’s Inheritance is. One summer day in 1989 I was riding my bike near Todd’s, when the then-owner, Elmer Cook, a high school teacher whom I knew, waved me over and told me about a historical festival to be held at Fort Howard in September. In high school, I had been very active in theatre and acting. He asked me if I would be interested in doing a five minute talk as Key at the event. I agreed to do it, and the rest is history, after a fashion!
(MB) How do you prepare for a living history performance?
(AG) To prepare, I read and reread the information I have acquired about him. I always recite the four verses of the poem before I perform because I usually finish with them. There have been a few times when I have suddenly blanked, and so I always try to remember to recite.
(MB) What (if any) is the biggest misconception the public has about Francis Scott Key?
(AG) The biggest misconception about Key is that he was called “Francis,” or “Sir Francis.” People seem to forget that he was an American, not a Brit, and therefore would not have been a knighted person. He was not called “Francis” by close friends and family. He was called “Frank.” Of course, in his day, strangers would have addressed him as “Mr. Key.” People will speak to me/him familiarly, and it bothers me. We are so casual today that we are on an immediate first-name basis. In his time that was not the case, and so when I am portraying him I can only imagine how put off he would be to be addressed by his first name by perfect strangers!
(MB) Is there another historical figure that you’d like to portray?
No, at the moment there is no one else I wish to portray. If I could portray an American President that would be fun, but I don’t resemble any of them, so…
Alan Gephardt has worked in the public history field for over twenty years and is currently a Park Ranger for the National Park Service, splitting his time between Hampton National Historic Site and Fort McHenry in Baltimore, and James A. Garfield National Historic Site outside Cleveland. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in history at Towson University and his Masters at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Mr. Gephardt will join four other actor/scholars as he portrays Francis Scott Key at the Maryland Humanities Council’s Chautauqua 2012: Maryland and the War of 1812, running July 5-13 at six locations in Maryland.
Watch a documentary about Francis Scott Key, with Mr. Gephardt voice as Key: