I Am Proud and a Little Surprised to Be a Chautauquan

I Am Proud and a Little Surprised to Be a Chautauquan

When my professional life began, I never expected to spend a significant portion of it "in tights."

I am a shy man and I never dreamed of dressing up like dead historical figures. Until I first donned a wig and spoke self-evident truths on behalf of Thomas Jefferson (1987). I had never been in a theater production, except as the Chief Messenger in my 3rd grade's production of Cinderella.

I do love portraying historical figures, now that I have gotten used to it. I've performed as more than a dozen great men over the years, in a dizzying range of settings, in kindergartens and maximum security prisons. I am happy to confess that I touched off a prison riot once in southern California. I've been arrested in costume mistaken for Ben Franklin, a golf pro, and the valet parking attendant, but I've also had the honor of performing for U.S. Presidents, 25 state legislatures, national judicial conferences, and the irrepressible miscreant Stephen Colbert.

My one iron commitment is to rigorous historical research and mastery of the material. Beyond that, I like to play with ideas and bring history alive by treating it not like a sacred relic but as an unresolved narrative about that which is noble, that which is appalling, and that which is merely routine in human affairs. Like my hero Jefferson, I believe in the leavening power of ideas, and the importance of a public conversation about the great issues of our experience. Unlike Jefferson, I believe that humor is the lubricant.

Thank you for your interest in my work.


You can find Clay online at clayjenkinson.com, jeffersonhour.com or on Facebook.