Posted tagged ‘Sidney Adams’

Book and DVD of Popular Local Play Willpower Now Available

June 19, 2015

Marquette, MI, June 19, 2015—When Will S. Adams was diagnosed with ossification, a mysterious disease that caused his tissues to harden until he became nearly a living statue, he refused to quit living life fully and was immensely productive. Now the original play Willpower, which translated his life story to the stage, is available as a book and a DVD.

The new book version of the play Willpower includes the full text of the play, sheet music, historical photos, and essays by the playwright and director.

The new book version of the play Willpower includes the full text of the play, sheet music, historical photos, and essays by the playwright and director.

In September 2014, Marquette’s Kaufman Auditorium was packed with people who came out to see the story of Will S. Adams translated to the stage, much as the Marquette Opera House was packed in 1906 with people who came to see his original operetta Miss D.Q. Pons. Born in 1878, Will was the adopted son of Marquette businessman Sidney Adams and his wife Harriet. He grew up in the sandstone mansion at 200 E. Ridge St., played baseball, and sang in the boys choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Then a strange disease began to stiffen Will’s legs and work its way up his body until he lost the use of his limbs, became bedridden, and eventually lost his eyesight before his early death at age thirty-one. Through it all, Will never lost his sense of humor, his energy, or his determination to make the most of every minute. In his short life, he ran his own newspaper, wrote poetry, drew cartoons, and composed the operetta Miss D.Q. Pons with Norma Ross, a local music teacher and his close friend, who also starred in the production. Will’s spirit of perseverance would attract countless admirers, including a Detroit Free Press reporter and the famous actress Lillian Russell.

In 2013, the Marquette Regional History Center hired local novelist Tyler Tichelaar to write a play and bring Will Adams’ story to the stage. The MRHC produced Willpower with the aid of a major grant from the Michigan Humanities Council and grants from the Marquette Community Foundation and Upper Peninsula Health Plan. The play was directed by Moire Embley, with Jeff Bruning as musical director. It starred many local actors and included period music. Filled with humor, romance, dreams, and faith, Willpower was received with standing ovations by audiences, and The Mining Journal’s reviewer said, “Will’s is an interesting and inspiring story to all and deserves to be told and retold.”

“Many people have expressed a desire to see the play again,” said Tichelaar, “and while I hope it will someday return to the stage, I wanted to release a book version to tell more of the history behind the play and allow Will’s story to continue to inspire us.” The newly released book includes the entire script of the play, photos from the original production, sheet music of songs from the performance, numerous historical photographs, extensive commentary on the history behind the play, and an essay by director Moire Embley.

The book version of Willpower is now available in local bookstores and gift shops and online through Tichelaar’s website at www.MarquetteFiction.com. A DVD of the original performance is also available at the Marquette Regional History Center’s gift shop.

About the Author

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., is a seventh generation Marquette resident devoted to capturing the past through his books. He is the author of the popular history book My Marquette and nine novels, including The Marquette Trilogy and The Children of Arthur series. In writing Willpower, Tichelaar grew to feel a special kinship with Will Adams, who shared his passion for literature, and with Norma Ross, who was friends with his great-grandmother.

###

Advertisements

August 5, 2014

The following article about my new play Willpower was first published in the August 2014 issue of the Marquette Monthly and online at: http://www.mmnow.com/z_current_a/b/c/arts.html#wilbri

‘Willpower’ Brings Marquette’s Ossified Man to Stage

by Tyler Tichelaar

When Kaye Hiebel and Jessica Red Bays asked me to write a play as a fundraiser for the Marquette Regional History Center, I was hesitant, considering myself a novelist, not a playwright. But when they shared with me their vision of bringing Will Adams’ story to the stage, I instantly saw its dramatic possibilities and how it would speak to modern audiences as a true tale of overcoming adversity.

Poster for Willpower, an original play by Tyler Tichelaar. Poster art by Cory Sustarich.

Poster for Willpower, an original play by Tyler Tichelaar. Poster art by Cory Sustarich.

I already knew the basics of Will Adams’ story. He was born in 1878 and adopted as a young child by prominent Marquette businessman Sidney Adams and his wife Harriet. Will was a talented singer in the boys choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, played baseball, and by the time he was a teenager, was considered a literary expert by Marquette residents.

But in his late boyhood, Will developed a life-changing disability. The tissues in his legs began to harden until they became immoveable—a disease the Victorians termed ossification. Numerous doctors were consulted, but none could explain the disease’s cause.

For most active boys, the diagnosis would have been earth-shattering. But Will took it as a challenge to accomplish all he could before the ossification took over his entire body. For as long as possible, he employed his hands, drawing countless cartoons of notable locals such as Nathan Kaufman and Peter White. He wrote poetry and essays and began the magazine CHIPS, illustrating it himself. Unable to sell magazine ads in person, he did it over the telephone, eventually having an attendant hold the receiver for him.

One of Will’s frequent visitors was his good friend Norma Ross, a music teacher in the Marquette Public Schools. In 1905, Will and Norma wrote an operetta titled Miss D.Q. Pons. Will composed the music in his head and hummed the tunes for Norma, who wrote down the notes. Later, Norma starred in the production, which toured the Upper Peninsula. Will attended the performances, traveling by railroad in a portable bed.

Will’s positive attitude and creative abilities made him not only popular with locals, but he won the respect of famous people such as actress Lillian Russell, who visited him when she came to perform at the Marquette Opera House. Russell was impressed by Will’s cheerfulness, despite his being blind by then, and he sang one of his songs for her. Not long before his death in 1909, Will told a Detroit Free Press reporter who interviewed him, “Don’t call me a cripple when you write your story, and don’t say I am bedridden. I don’t like those expressions. They put a fellow off, you know…. Had it been otherwise, I might have become the subject of a trust investigation committee or a bank president. And I’d rather be literary than sordid any day.”

And then there was Norma Ross. With the help of MRHC research librarians Rosemary Michelin and Beth Gruber, I learned Norma’s father had owned one of the first theatres in Marquette, Mather Hall, so at an early age, Norma was exposed to music and the theatre, and she developed her musical gift by singing in the First Baptist Church’s choir. Frank B. Spear, Sr. of Marquette offered to finance sending her to New York to be in the theatre there, but her father opposed his daughter having a “life upon the wicked stage.” Instead, she went to Northwestern University to become a music teacher. She returned to Marquette to teach in the public schools and also be very active in community theatre and music productions for decades.

In Willpower, I wanted to bring Will and Norma and their family members and friends to life. Artistic license was taken to fill in some gaps in their stories, but I tried my best to represent them truthfully. I worked in as many of Will’s actual words and expressions into the play as possible. Music was so important to Will and Norma that I knew it had to be an integral part of the production. While no copy of Miss D.Q. Pons could be found, the playbill, advertisements, and reviews all helped me to recreate a scene from the operetta to give the audience a taste of what it might have been like.

Beyond entertaining audiences, I wanted the play to offer an educational step back in time. For that reason, period music was used. An article written by Norma’s sister Grace recalled musical events at their father’s theatre, including performances of the well-known 1890s hit song, “After the Ball,” so I incorporated it into the play. Another period song, “Turn Off Your Light, Mr. Moon Man,” filled in for a similarly themed but lost song in Miss D.Q. Pons. An original song, “You Will Not Love Me,” was composed for the play by Jeff Bruning. My own tongue-in-cheek lyrics for the song are hopefully in keeping with Will’s sense of humor. Director Moiré Embley’s vision for the play also focuses on the time travel historic experience for audiences with historical costumes and furniture, and I believe audiences will be impressed with the historic-themed sets.

Writing a play is one thing. Bringing it to the stage is another. Various drafts of Willpower were shared with Embley, Marquette Regional History Center staff, and a few close friends, all of whom offered feedback and suggestions. In the process, I learned not only to consider plot and character development, but how to work in set and costume changes between scenes, and what was possible within our budget limitations. Fortunately, our budget, initially provided by the Marquette Regional History Center, was enhanced through a generous grant from the Michigan Humanities Council and matching grants from the Marquette Community Foundation and Upper Peninsula Health Plan.

Will Adams with his parents, sister Bertha, and close friend Norma Ross (seated), with whom he wrote an operetta.

Will Adams with his parents, sister Bertha, and close friend Norma Ross (seated), with whom he wrote an operetta.

Writing Willpower has been a wonderful experience for me, and I hope audiences will find it nostalgic, entertaining, and inspiring. Please join me at Kaufman Auditorium on September 18 and 19 at 7:00 p.m. for a trip back to Old Marquette at the turn of the last century. The superb cast is led by Andy Vanwelsenaers, playing the adult Will Adams, and Jessica Red Bays, playing the mature Norma Ross. Even Fred Rydholm will make a cameo appearance.

Tickets are $15 and on sale through www.nmu.edu/tickets. For more information, visit http://www.marquettefiction.com/Willpower.html and www.marquettehistory.org.

200 E. Ridge ~ The Burt and Adams Home

April 7, 2013

The following is an excerpt from my book My Marquette:

Directly across from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is the Burt house, more commonly known as the Adams Home. The Burt family is one of the most significant in Upper Michigan history beginning with William Austin Burt who discovered iron ore in Marquette County, thus leading to the building of the mines and Marquette as a harbor town. This home was built by William Austin Burt’s grandson, Hiram Burt. Hiram and his wife fell in love with a house in France while traveling there in the 1870s, and they decided to build a replica in Marquette. Hiram owned the Burt Freestone Quarry and used its own brownstone to build his home. It included a Mansard roof with Gothic gables, and a gabled tower. Behind the house, on the sloping hill down to the lake, numerous terraces were built for gardens and a place to hold parties. Hiram Burt decided to sell the house to Sidney Adams, and then he moved to 351 E. Ridge Street.

The Adams home today. The upper floor has been removed and it is currently the Terrace Apartments.

The Adams home today. The upper floor has been removed and it is currently the Terrace Apartments.

Sidney Adams, the house’s second owner, arrived in Marquette in 1850 with only a dollar to his name, but he bought an ax for fifty cents and set out to become a woodsman. He soon could afford to buy a wagon and oxen to deliver wood to his customers. Besides starting a side business as a potato farmer, he received a contract to haul iron ore in his wagons from the mines to Marquette in the years before the first railroad arrived. He also went on to own a sawmill and to invest significantly in land.

When he bought the Burt house, Adams indulged in designing terraces on the hill behind the house and filling them with fruit and vegetables, as well as bridges for people to walk on. He extended the terraces not only behind his property but behind many more houses extending eastward along Ridge Street. Adams also reputedly built an underground tunnel that ran from his house across the street to the Episcopal Church so his invalid adopted son, William Sidney Adams, could attend church without going outside.

Will Adams, the adopted son, was born in 1878 to Detroit parents who died while he was an infant. In his youth, Will was a soloist in the boys choir at school and church and enjoyed athletic pursuits, but a baseball injury resulted in soft tissue becoming hard until eventually he ossified into a living statue. By his mid-teens he was confined to a portable couch and only his face remained mobile. By sheer willpower, Will survived to the age of thirty-two. No longer able to perform athletics, he became one of Marquette’s first literary figures, starting his own magazine business. His family hired him an attendant to whom he could dictate his magazine. He named his magazine CHIPS. Besides his own text, he included political cartoons and even caricatures of such town leaders as Peter White, Nathan Kaufman, and John M. Longyear. The paper was largely supported by advertising, so a phone was installed in the Adams home, and his attendant would hold the phone to Will’s mouth so he could talk up his bi-monthly magazine to prospective advertisers.

Will also composed an opera with his childhood friend, Norma Ross, then the directress of the Marquette schools’ music program. Will hummed melodies and Ross wrote them down. Their end result was the production of Miss D. Q. Pons an opera which premiered at the Marquette Opera House on July 3, 1905 with Ross in the title role. Will viewed the opera from the wing in his portable bed, and when its success led to the troupe traveling for sellout performances in Ishpeming, Hancock, Calumet, and Sault Ste. Marie, Will traveled with them by train. In 1906, Will also founded another newspaper, the Marquette Chronicle to which he contributed an original article each day. He died on August 10, 1909, preceded by his adopted father, Sidney Adams in 1906. Will once joked about his literary efforts, “Every specimen of writ is a silent story of how the author was saved from cerrebrius combustion.”

After her parents and adopted brother’s death, Bertha Adams remained in the house for many years, but as time went on, her father’s terraces fell into disrepair and the gardens became overgrown. When the house was sold in 1946, only slight vestiges of the gardens and terraces remained. After the house was sold, the gabled tower was removed, and the house broken up into the aptly named Terrace Apartments, which it remains today.

(photos of the terraced gardens are included in My Marquette)