Sunday, June 12, 2022

Tracing Ancestors for Playwrights

Richard "Alan" Nichols, 87th birthday party with a few friends
                                        Glad I was one of them, 10 July 2021. Photos:KRB

Actors-Craft Studio, Kansas City, MO
When the late eighty-seven year old Richard "Alan" Nichols, actor, director, playwright, approached me for family research, I was excited to accept this autobiographical research project for the a3Genealogy Media Team. We often do historical research for larger media firms and publishing firms, academic and documentary writers, and even for clients who wish to book bind their legacy; but only 7 times in our fourteen years of operation for playwrights. 

The a3Genealogy Media Team, accustomed to tight deadlines, uncovered Alan's line back to the USA immigration of Jean Pierre Nicolín, born 1838, Chevenez, Switzerland.

"Alan" was looking to share his Meriden Connecticut ancestors. He wanted to share the first eleven years of his story as a dairy farmer's son, 1934-1945, to audiences. This work showcases the making of the actor,  those influencing years before studying under Uta Hagen. The years before becoming a well-respected actor. 

1866 Ship Manifest

As most immigrants,the Nicolín Americanizing of names began quickly upon arrival: Nicolín became Nichols, and Henri, Alan's direct line, can be seen as Henry, but he later settled on Harry. Like family names, the play too transformed. Chamberlain Hwy was once the working title. Thanks to this New Haven highway the a3Genealogy team uncovered photos of the farm and family. 

When the Media Team came up empty handed, they turned to our famous phone campaigning strategies. We began with Chamberlain Hwy- cold calling.  It was luck! First call, I found Lorraine Stub. The stars must have been aligned that day, that exact time. I learned that Lorrain, not only lived across from the historical Nichols Dairy Farm, she also worked with the Berlin Historical Society Museum. Read her email note below.

Lorraine and the Berlin Historical Society Museum staff / volunteers uncovered photos, helped with interviewing the locals, and were essential in creating the community background for the play. (Thanks Lorraine!)

Nichols Dairy Farmhouse, Chamberlain Hwy

The play Cat Hole Road, 1934-1945, Our only road away, Our only road home: A Collage of Childhood Memories was written and completed by Alan during the pandemic. It was designed to be presented as "story theatre:" A Story Theatre for Five Actors.

Continued Call for Genealogist

In spring of 2022, the cast of actors were in place, practices were going swimmingly, and as the genealogists, I was called on to verify facts. Questions from who were the Wrights?, to who was the elderly black woman, Mrs. Washington, whose free- mulatto family lived in Berlin, Connecticut since at least 1811? (Blog coming Tuesday on this free-colored family from Berlin, Connecticut). 

As we know, even with dramatic adaptations, we must be true to history and social culture when creating an autobiography in writing or for the theatre. Nothing is more disappointing than to have genealogical cited work to take the shape of fiction, unless of course it is fiction. And, we have had fiction writer clients. But Alan, wanted truth! He'd ask follow up questions taking the research team back to the records. 

  But, He Didn't Make It

Lorraine Stub, Berlin Historical Society Museum, Meriden CT, 17 May 2022; email

When he was hospitalized April 2022, Alan spent his days making adjustments of his script from his hospital room chair. He added and subtracted music cues. Oh the harmonica was his favorite.  There are abt 30 harmonica cues in this 90 minute piece. One could see the spark in his eyes when the topic turned back to the play, the music score, the practices, the actors. 

From his rehab room he shared with a couple of close friends that he wanted to "see the play on stage in June" as planned. The showcase was already on the books scheduled for 18 Jun 2022.

But Alan, the acting coach and friend to many, passed from this earth on 12 May 2022. A private memorial will showcase Cat Hole Road, 1934-1945, Our only road away, Our only road home: A Collage of Childhood Memories in his memory. 

Due to limited space, this is a private memorial.

   Be Historically Correct

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate Accessible Answers 

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