Caesar’s Ford Theatre debuts 'Shawnee Living History Tour' in Xenia
Xenia, Ohio — Caesar’s Ford Theatre held live costumed stage readings of its Shawnee Living History Tour over the weekend at the Xenia Area Community Theatre. It was the first public preview of something unique the non-profit is trying to bring to the region: more accurate, historical storytelling with actors who are citizens of federally recognized tribes. They say their living history tour contrasts outdoor dramas like the now defunct Bluejacket and Tecumseh! that rely on harmful stereotypes.
The Shawnee Living History will take audience members to four historically significant locations: Caesar Ford park in Xenia, Great Council State Park in Oldtown, Glen Helen Nature Preserve in Yellow Springs and George Rogers Clark Park outside of Springfield. A stop at Young’s Dairy for lunch is also planned along the way.
At each historic site, actors in 18th century costuming will perform connected vignettes about what the area between the Little Miami and Scioto rivers was like before statehood. In between stops, the cast will be available to answer questions, organizers said.
The tour will be led by Caesar — a Black man who lived in the Miami Valley during that era after escaping slavery in the south. He interacted with tribes like the Shawnee (who eventually adopted him), Miami, Seneca, Delaware, Potawatomi, Wyandotte— and with settlers. Caesar was an interpreter.
Actor Troy Reaves played Caesar in the costumed stage readings at the community theater. Reaves, who grew up in Ohio, said that even though a local stream and state park is named after Caesar, he didn’t learn about him in school.
“This was definitely a great opportunity to actually learn some history and to see that there was an African who actually had the privilege of being accepted in this tribe,” he said.
Another figure portrayed on the tour is Shawnee leader Nonhelema, played by Brittany Hall (Shawnee Tribe). Hall is on the board of Caesar’s Ford Theatre and flew in from Kansas to act in the stage reading.
It was Hall and her son’s first visit to their tribe’s homelands in Ohio. In an interview after the show, she said that by seeing actors from federally recognized tribes on stage, she hopes people in the crowd not only learned about the Shawnee people’s past but also their present.
“I do have the traditional look of a Native American person, but my son does not, he looks exactly like me, but came out lighter.” Hall said, “I think it's really important to show that all Native Americans do look differently and that we are still here, which is the most important thing.”
Miami military leader Chief Little Turtle was played by Benjamin Greyhat (Navajo Nation/Shawnee Tribe), a 16-year-old from Indiana. Greyhat has been doing historical acting and interpretation since he was two years old with his parents. He was cast as Little Turtle.
“It’s an honor. I look like the guy so I kind of have a connection to him,” Greyhat said. “So I really want to do the best I can for that role and show how amazing of a character he was in the time period.”
Leaders from Caesar’s Ford Theatre said if they can raise enough money, the organization wants to start taking people by van to the different local parks that will stage vignettes for a live version of the tour in 2024.
Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.