Imagine performing in a theatrical monologue. Imagine writing, directing, and choreographing this spectacle. Then, imagine that your character is a famous literary figure whose works have been heavily-studied for over a century. Finally, imagine performing it so well that you are asked to speak in a public program marking the 150th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau’s defense speeches of John Brown.
Dr. Kevin Radaker, chair of the English department at Anderson University, will take his dramatic portrayal of Henry David Thoreau to three Massachusetts cities on Oct. 30, Nov. 2, and Nov. 3. The program commemorates Thoreau’s passionate defense of John Brown’s attack on a federal arsenal in 1859.
[PHOTO: Dr. Kevin Radaker holds a portrait of Henry David Thoreau. Credit: Indianapolis Star/Steve Sanchez. Read the Indianapolis Star story about Radaker's performances.]
Radaker and distinguished scholars Bruce Ronda and David S. Reynolds were asked to speak at the commemorative occasion due to their expertise on Thoreau. Radaker adds a unique dimension to his lectures with entertaining methods of delivering the facts.
Radaker, a 1978 Anderson University graduate, has portrayed Thoreau more than 350 times since 1991. “When I was younger,” says Radaker, “I would grow my beard out long and then shave it just like Henry’s right before a show.” Radaker admits that now, he wears a wig and faux-beard during performances. He takes over an hour to prepare for a show, dressing in costume and full make-up. From the texts Radaker studied about Thoreau’s vocalizations, he has uncovered an accent similar to the one found in New England. “I drop the ‘r’ at the end of a word,” says Radaker. “For example, ‘admire’ sounds like ‘ad-my-ah’.”
“Thoreau has a three-fold self,” says Radaker. “And I use all three of those tones in my monologue.” Thoreau’s first personality as the biting social critic is a prevalent character seen sprinkled throughout his many works. Thoreau often shakes his finger at society for their enthusiasm over technologies such as the telegraph. “I admire Thoreau’s warning about this world becoming over-materialistic,” says Radaker.
Thoreau’s second personality as a persuasive activist of nonviolent resistance is timely. “This is the part where Henry and Kevin are not alike,” says Radaker. He finds it odd that Thoreau abandons his pacifist beliefs to defend the violent raid of John Brown. Nevertheless, the show must go on.
[PHOTO: Dr. Kevin Radaker in character as Henry David Thoreau.]
Radaker closes his show with the Thoreau that champions wild lands. Thoreau notes in his written works that he cannot be truly content unless he spends at least four hours each day walking in the woods.
Radaker likes to think he shares a similar interest with Thoreau in the outdoors. He has been to almost all of the national parks and went on camping trips every couple of weeks in his 20s.
Radaker’s Thoreau monologue will last 50 minutes. Audience members are then invited to spend 20 minutes interacting with Thoreau and asking questions. During the last 15 minutes, the audience directs questions to Radaker the actor instead of to Radaker as Thoreau.
“This is such an honor for me,” says Radaker, who will perform in three different communities during the anniversary. The Oct. 30 performance in Concord, Mass., will take place in Thoreau’s hometown. A performance in Boston follows on Nov. 2, and on Nov. 3, Radaker will speak in Worcester at the very same podium Thoreau used 150 years prior.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,800 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.