It was like a light switch flipped on in his mind. That’s how writer and director Kyle Jenks described his experience when he attended a historical reenactment of the Battle of Bennington in Bennington, VT twelve years ago.
“Wow, this is something that I would like to do,” Jenks recalled thinking in an interview on Wednesday. “There was that idea that I was in a different world.”
It was that experience that led Jenks to write an outdoor theater adaptation of Walter D. Edmonds’ book “Drums Along The Mohawk” which was first published in 1936 and made into a movie in 1939. The story combines both fictional, historical, and composite characters to tell the story of Revolutionary War events that unfolded in the Mohawk Valley in 1777.
The production is currently rehearsing at the Amsterdam United Methodist Church, and will be performed August 1,2,8,9 on the grounds of the Gelston Castle Estate in the Village of Mohawk, NY. Several of the actors and actresses are from the Amsterdam area and connected with Jenks at the City of Amsterdam’s Spring Fling event held this past May.
“When I decided to write the script for the show, I wanted to highlight as many of the real people who lived versus the fictional ones,” said Jenks. However, two of the fictional characters that he kept were Gil and Lana Martin, a young married couple moving from Albany to Mohawk and who get caught up in the events of war.
Dave De Fazio, of Amsterdam, who plays the character Gil said, “What makes the story interesting is that it takes that history and presents it in a compelling romantic sense. So you’re learning about the background of the area and the history but you’re learning about it through people’s lives.”
“He’s an every-man,” said De Fazio about his character. “But he’s an every-man that gets put into these extraordinary circumstances.”
“It’s also a story about the struggle between cultures,” added Jenks, citing the dynamic between various ethnic groups in the region which included Scottish, Irish, French, Dutch, Palatine Germans, and Native Americans.
Not only did Jenks write the script, but he also acts two character roles and serves as the director, producer, costume designer, and set designer. He also has a broader outlook for his company American Heritage Living History Productions.
“There is a vision behind the project which is to help increase heritage tourism to this area,” said Jenks. “As the production grows…we would like to do our small part in effecting the improvement in the economy here at least seasonally.”
Jenks says he would like to market tours of the Mohawk Valley region to other areas of the country as well as overseas.
Part of his strategy is also to network with similarly minded organizations in the region such as Mohawk Country who is collaborating with Jenks to promote a series of historical vignettes that tie into the “Drums Along the Mohawk” story.
Last week, a reenactment was held at the Van Alstyne House in Canajoharie which portrayed the commissioning of one of the historical characters in the story, Nicholas Herkimer, as Colonel of the Tryon County Militia. This Saturday, at 3pm, there will be a re-creation of the wedding of Gil and Lana Martin at the Palatine Church in Palatine Bridge, followed by a reception at the Nellis Tavern.
Several of the actors and actresses in the production landed their roles after meeting Jenks at the Amsterdam Spring Fling which was held in May. Ness Stark, who plays Lana, Lisa Kruger, who plays Mrs. McKlennar, and her daughter Melody Kruger, a recent HVCC theater production graduate who serves as stage manager, assistant director and plays the character Maria Herkimer, all connected with Jenks at his booth at the annual city-sponsored event.
(Photos by Tim Becker)