Actress relishes life ‘Below Stairs’
Walking, talking history: Leslie Goddard in “Below Stairs: A Servant’s Life in Early 20th-Century England.”
‘Below Stairs: A Servant’s Life in Early 20th-Century England’
Leslie Goddard, presented in association with the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance at the Highland Park Community House, 1991 Sheridan Road, Highland Park. High tea will be served.
1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 10.
Admission is $55 prepaid or $65 at the door.
Call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.eventbrite.com.
Updated: February 6, 2013 9:16AM
If you’re a fan of “Downton Abbey,” here’s your chance to meet one of the people who inspired the show, live and in person.
Well, the next best thing, anyway.
Author, historian and actress Leslie Goddard, who has made a specialty of creating one-woman shows about historical characters ranging from Jacqueline Kennedy to Titanic stewardess Violet Jessop, will perform Feb. 10 in the Highland Park Community House as English kitchen-servant Margaret Powell — whose memoir “Below Stairs” was a direct influence on “Upstairs Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey.”
High tea will be served as part of the event.
Goddard, who has a Ph.D in history from Northwestern as well as undergraduate and master’s degrees in theater, has been writing and performing her historic portrayals (which take up to a year apiece to research, write and rehearse) for about a dozen years now, her performances having increased from a few times each month to 109 last year.
Generally, the Hinsdale native focuses on American women from the late-19th to the early-20th centuries (including Abigail Adams, Civil War nurse Clara Barton, Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer and Civil War diarist Mary Chesnut), but she decided to branch out to Britain after a librarian called to ask if she had any programs that might dovetail with the popular BBC TV series “Downton Abbey.”
She didn’t, but she had recently read Powell’s memoir, which was only published here last year after being a bestseller in England since 1968, and Goddard knew she would be the perfect person to deliver the behind-the-scenes view of history she particularly enjoys.
“I always think of the people I’m portraying as characters and the program as a sort of one-person play with a narrative track and a climax,” said Goddard, who also serves as executive director of the Oak Brook’s Graue Mill and Museum. “But I realize audiences also want to know relevant details about the time period, so that gives me the chance to sneak in the sort of factual information you would normally hear in a lecture.”
So preparing the new portrayal presented all the usual challenges including researching historical details, such as prevailing ideas and attitudes of the era, to make the program educational as well as entertaining. And searching for authentic props and clothing from the period, such as genuine 1920’s servant’s outfit and the “ugly wool stockings” Powell lamented in her book.
Embodying Powell did present one new challenge, too.
“This was the first time I’ve had to do an accent, because it was so much a part of who Margaret was,” she added. “At one point she writes that if she and her friends went into a hotel restaurant, as soon as they opened their mouths the management would know not to seat them with the gentry.
“That was part of the class system in England at the time that she had trouble with.”
Goddard said that while material from Powell’s memoir is much in evidence in “Upstairs Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey” (the story of the pregnant house maid in “Downton” comes directly from “Below Stairs”), no character in either series is directly modeled after her — though she appears “in bits and pieces” in “Downton” characters such as Mrs. Patmore the cook and Anna the head housemaid.