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BWW Interview: Alisa Dupuy of The Ladies of History Historical Productions

The Woman of a Thousand Faces (and Voices)

BWW Interview: Alisa Dupuy of The Ladies of History Historical Productions If Lon Chaney was the Man of a Thousand Faces, then he has a contemporary match in Alisa Dupuy who founded and owns The Ladies of History Historical Productions, in which she dons period dress and vividly portrays a whole host of historical and literary figures ranging from Marie Antoinette and World War II Female Spies to Witchy Woman (her Halloween presentation with a feminist flare) and Catherine the Great of Russia. As she embodies this captivating cast of characters with their variety of voices and personalities and brings their stories to life, her energy never flags. She is the Woman of a Thousand Faces (and Voices) and her hugely entertaining enactments bewitch audiences, young and old.

Dupuy, a resident of Newtown, New Jersey, has been a teacher in the Princeton Public School district since 1995, was an award-winning French teacher, and is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a living history group. In her recent Dickens tea at the New Leaf Tea Room in Riverton, New Jersey, she had everyone enthralled with her one-woman show of A Christmas Carol, in which she was every character in the book. Audience members are also given special handouts as an extra treat and remain rapt in the intimate settings.

I spoke with Dupuy about how this unique tour de force theatrical (and educational) experience came to be.

Q. Tell me a little bit about your background and how you came to have such a passion for history. I understand you speak five languages.

I am a former French teacher (just retired in December), but yes, I do speak Spanish, a little German and Mandarin, as well as my native English. I was a French major, so that's how I came to meet my husband. We met in France, lived there for nine years but came to live in the States with our two young children in 1994. I started working for Princeton Public Schools in 1995. I've always loved history and going to historic places. It wasn't until 1997 that I realized I could dress up for local Renaissance Fairs/colonial days and I just had such a good time doing that, I did my best to bring it to my classroom.

Q. Were you a performer in school? Your enactments are incredibly vivid and you do so many voices and personalities.

I was a performer all my life, my parents will tell you. I loved singing especially and I started playing the guitar at age nine to accompany myself. I started playing in bars and clubs shortly after that, (with Dad as my manager and guardian) eventually joining a teen rock band when I was 11. I continued doing that until I went to college when I was 16. No time then...I did my junior year of college in France and then moved there so the "singing/being in a band" sort of fell by the wayside. But I always love to be on stage! Teaching was a perfect fit for me in that respect, captive audience and all.

Dupuy as Elizabeth the FirstQ. How did The Ladies of History Historical Productions come about? What was one of the first shows you did and where?

A friend of mine from church was working in a tea room (unbeknownst to me) and I happened to go in there one day with a friend. Now, I must mention that we were wearing Victorian bustle gowns because my sister and I (who have been involved in the SCA, Society for Creative Anachronism for a long time) had changed up our usual Renaissance/Medieval activities and attended a Victorian Week in Cape May, New Jersey. We loved the style of the dresses so much and enjoyed wearing them so much that when I noticed the tearoom in my town, I decided to go in "garb". When my church friend hosted a rather large gathering for an "April in Paris" tea party, she remembered that 1) I spoke French; 2) I was a teacher so not afraid of public speaking; and 3) I had the proper attire.

She asked me to give a talk about Paris in the 19th century. I was skeptical about doing it but after much research and many hours of memorizing the resultant script, my sister, my friend and I went to the tea, and it was a huge hit. My church friend, having moved on to another tearoom, brought me there and it literally snowballed from there. My sister, who is great with technology, quickly set up a website, made me business cards and brochures and I was off and running. In 2006, from that first show in April until that December, I did 10 shows. By 2019, I was doing 70-90 shows a year.

Q. How do you research characters? Who are some of your personal favorites?

To create a new character, I read extensively, not only about the person but also about events and other people important to them or their time period. So, for example, to do Martha Washington (one of my faves), I've read everything I can find about her, George, their slaves, their friends, the war and I did the VIP tour of Mount Vernon, which I highly recommend. I watch films, documentaries, videos on line...anything that might give me more information. I love to do Queen Victoria, Vera Atkins (a WWII spy) and Catherine the Great because I get to use French, German and a little Russian and use an accent the whole time.

Dupuy as Queen Victoria

Q. What were some of the most surprising experiences you've had doing The Ladies of History? Were there any obstacles you encountered when presenting to students?

Hmm, surprising experiences...one thing is that MEN seem so interested to hear about the undergarments of the 18th or 19th centuries. I've also enjoyed (and been surprised by) people saying that they really believed I WAS the person, or that I reminded them of a personal experience. I enjoy connecting with people. If I bring a tear to someone's eye, I feel like I did my job of really bringing the character to life. Obstacles with students... none that I can think of beyond typical teen behavior. They usually listen quite well and sometimes have insightful questions.

Dupuy as a Titanic SurvivorQ. Where do you get your costumes?

I have several seamstresses that I use, including my sister, and sometimes I buy things on eBay or Esty.

Q. Tell me about some of the characters you portray and how they developed. How many characters do you do currently?

There is a complete list on my website. Generally, I find someone who interests me, and if I feel I can resemble them in some way, I start the research. For example, I found out about the American spy Virginia Hall and wanted to portray her, but I discovered that she was tall, thin and blond, with a wooden leg so I needed to find someone in her world that I felt I could physically resemble. I found Vera Atkins. So, I would not portray Eleanor Roosevelt or Julia Child, for instance, because they were so tall and I'm only 5'. I also won't portray anyone still living or someone whom I do not remotely resemble, like Jackie Kennedy. I would portray her personal secretary for instance and talk ABOUT her rather than BE her. I do this for Marie Antoinette as well since she also was tall and blond.

Dupuy as Martha WashingtonQ. What is coming up for The Ladies of History? What programs are available for schools? Were there any particularly unusual presentations you've done?

I am in the process of expanding my reach and offering more time slots since I am now retired from teaching. This will also allow me to go into schools more once Covid has settled down. I do have several programs for schools (see website) and hope that teachers and supervisors will see the value in having me come in to bring history to life for the students. My students always got a kick out of me dressing up for them, like during our annual Renaissance Faire. It's just so memorable for them.

For more on Alisa Dupuy and her cast of a thousand, see her website: www.theladiesofhistory.com. Photos: Alisa Dupuy; Dupuy as Elizabeth the First; Dupuy as Queen Victoria; Dupuy as a Titanic survivor; and Dupuy as Martha Washington.



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