By Brett Peruzzi
After Framingham resident Libby Franck retired from a career as a children’s librarian, she decided to her time to bringing to life characters from history books.
“Storytelling was always part of my job,” she observed.
Franck is a professional storyteller – but also much more. She deeply researches her subjects and immerses herself in the role of the women throughout history that she portrays, from their clothes, to the way they move, to their accent and diction. Individual historical re-enactor might be a more accurate term, rather than just storyteller, for what she does. With degrees in library science from Wellesley and Simmons colleges, she is very skilled at finding information in often obscure places.
“As I research, I look for stories and anecdotes which illuminate the characters – the stuff you will not find on Wikipedia,” she noted wryly. “For researching historical characters, I use three sources. Print materials, including books, articles, magazines, and newspapers, then secondly, places you can visit, sites where events took place, and finally, whenever possible, by interviewing people who knew them.”
Her mother, Elisabeth Hamilton Friermood, was a prolific author of historical novels for teenage girls, “So mucking about in history was part of my upbringing,” Franck said with a smile.
Franck has portrayed everyone from abolitionists and suffragists to convicts and writers. Many of the women figure prominently into the history of Framingham, formerly the state’s largest town, now a city, that has a history stretching back to the 1600s, and where she has lived for over 40 years. The Framingham History Center, which offers both exhibits and numerous programs year-round, is a venue that Franck has performed at often over the past 12 years.
“I am commissioned to create living history programs for this audience, centered around exhibits,” she explained.
Other venues she has performed at include Framingham’s Amazing Things Arts Center, Somerville’s StorySpace, Boston First Night, the New England Folk Festival, the Three Apples Storytelling Festival, as well as libraries, clubs, senior centers and historical societies.
“We always leave space in our annual programming for one of Libby’s performances,” said Annie Murphy, executive director of the Framingham History Center. “She’s fantastic and we have been so lucky to have her incredible research skills and storytelling talent. People love her performances because she truly brings history to life.”
Franck sometimes incorporates other artistic forms into her performances, both to enrich them and give herself and the audience a break from the narrative.
“Since asking an audience to listen to a complex historical story is daunting, I build in rest spaces where they don’t have to concentrate,” she explained. “Sometimes I ask singers to perform with me, giving the audience some breathing room, and to evoke the era. I also use poetry, but I don’t feel constrained to use the entire poem. Sometimes I break it up in bits, interspersed with commentary.”
To additionally recreate the era her performance is about, she also uses visuals like posters, a printed program with locales and time lines, as well as a slide show of photos, and video excerpts.
Franck related that she greatly enjoys watching the faces in the audience as she tells a story, as well as the process of discovering stories in the pages of history.
“Finding, developing, creating, and performing stories is very rewarding.”