Hank Fincken will bring Christopher Columbus to life in the play “Christopher Columbus: The Shame in Glory” at 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Lorraine Theatre in Hoopeston.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $3 for kids 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased at the Little Lorraine, Hoopeston Water Dept., Hoopeston DACC and The Flower Shop. The program is sponsored in part by the Hoopeston Historical Society.
Columbus was considered a national hero in the U.S. for years before historians reexamined Columbus’s actions in recent decades leaving many considering a criminal.
Hero or villain? Fincken presents both sides of Columbus in the play, which Fincken wrote, and leaves the judgement of Columbus up to the audience.
For 25 years, Fincken has performed his eight original one-man plays throughout the USA, Spain, and South America. He has published 20 plays and stories, dozens of essays, and one book: Three Midwest History Plays and Then Some. Hank performs in schools, libraries, and colleges around the country.
He was awarded the title Master Artist by the Indiana Arts Commission, Outstanding Performer by the Indiana Theatre Association, and has received six national Pinnacle Awards for his teaching of the arts and history through video conferencing.
Fincken lived in South America for five years and speaks fluent Spanish.
He was inspired to write the play in 1991 when the Indian Humanities Council, in light of the upcoming 500th anniversary of Columbus’s 1492 voyage, gave him a grant to write a play about Columbus’s life.
Fincken took well over a year to research Columbus and write the play.
He traveled to the Dominican Republic and to Spain as part of his research, consulting with college resources and having college professors look over his work to ensure accuracy.
Fincken said it took a great deal of research to separate the fiction from the fact in regards to Columbus, even traveling abroad to some of the locations where Columbus lived and worked in hundreds of years ago.
Frustrating these efforts, however, is the fact that concrete evidence if often hard to find.
“One thing that people should understand is that an historian is a detective who never solves the case,” he said. “You’ll eliminate some of the possibilities, but you’ll never fully get it.”
Fincken concludes his program with a question and answer section with the audience and one of the questions he often gets is why Columbus was made into such a national hero in the U.S. when he never actually made landfall here.
Fincken said it comes down to the fact that history is often written to fulfill the need of the moment and when Washington Irving wrote a biography of Columbus the U.S. was looking for heroes to latch onto as a new country in the world.
As he grows older, Fincken said he’s become more fascinated with how history tells history and he’s excited to see how the story of Columbus continues to be told in the future.
“There’s a history of how we tell the history,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how the world keeps retelling this story.”
The play starts in 1492 with Columbus addressing the audience, who are playing the role of the Spanish royal court. Columbus explains his reasoning for wanting to travel west and the audience will be able to ask any questions they want.
“The show will adapt to their interests,” he said.
The show will then take the audience through the rest of Columbus’s life, hitting the high and low points, before ending with a question and answer section.
Fincken said he alters the show depending on the audience he performing for, omitting certain more intense aspects of it for younger audiences.
Additionally, since the show is largely interactive, many of the subjects he covers are dependent on the audience helping him get to that point.
“At the same time, I try not to hide stuff,” he said.
Fincken gave the example of discussing Columbus’s mistreatment of women during the voyage, saying that he likely wouldn’t discuss that during a performance unless the audience asked him to discuss it further.
“Some of the ideas come out because the audience wants to know them,” he said.
While Fincken takes a warts and all approach to Columbus’s life, he still recognizes the great importance of Columbus’s voyage and the impact it had on the world.
“He brought the continents back together,” Fincken said.
Whether good or bad, Fincken feels it’s still the most important voyage because of the number of crops, animals and cultures that are exported from Europe and brought to the Americas as a result.
Fincken recognizes how Columbus is viewed in the present day and understands why he is viewed as a monster for his treatment of the native peoples during his voyages, namely the enslavement of these people.
“It’s terrible how they suffered,” he said. “They were treated terribly.”
Fincken said the play will address how Columbus and his contemporaries justified their actions to themselves and how their religion impacted their viewpoints.
The issue, Fincken said, is that by condemning Columbus like this, people tend to diminish the Columbus’s legitimate accomplishments.
“I know some of the things the Spaniards did, it’s no wonder people hate Columbus,” he said. “At the same time, I like to think we are all products of the time we live in. Who we are is when we are. That’s why we have a different perspective.”
Through his work, Fincken wants people to learn more about Columbus, both the ill deeds and the good, and develop their own viewpoint of this historical figure.
“I don’t make that call,” he said labeling Columbus good or evil. “I want people to see as full a picture as I can make it.”
Fincken doesn’t portray Columbus as good or bad, he simply portrays him as the man that he was and leaves it up to the audience to judge Columbus.
“I’m hoping it provokes a lot of thought among the audience,” he said.