Have you ever wondered what it takes to portray a woman from history in front of an audience?

Irene Nielsen and Bonnie Johnson of Historical Echoes will present "Preparing to Live in the Shoes of Women in History" at 11:30 a.m. March 28 during Life Enrichment in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center at Bethel College, 300 E. 27th St. in North Newton.

"What we decided to do there is share how we pick our characters and the research we do," Johnson said.

Historical Echoes works to educate audiences around the state about women who had an impact on history by performing in character as that woman — a presentation that takes months of research and rehearsal.

Johnson is currently researching Susan B. Anthony in preparation for performances to be given in 2019.

"It takes six months to a year," Johnson said. "You try to find as many resources as you can that talk about her and her time."

Johnson and Nielsen sometimes do a little myth busting with their audiences, who may have preconceptions garnered from exaggerated media reports or fictionalized books or movies about a woman from history.

"Was she quiet or gregarious or reserved? What did she talk about? What was she interested in? Those are things that aren't always covered in the history books," Johnson said.

The women look for their character's personal writings — letters, notes or even a diary — to get a sense of her voice in their heads.

"It's kind of fun to have that first-person information," Johnson said.

After researching a character, it can take up to a month to write a rough script or outline for the performance.

"I sort through all the material I've read and try to find the thread to tell the story," Johnson said.

At their presentation at Life Enrichment, Johnson and Nielsen will share not only how they research their characters — they each have around 10 historical women in their repertoire — but also how they find the costumes and accessories for their performances.

A big part of first-person performing is being able to read the audience, gauging their interest level and making adjustments to keep them engaged while staying true to the character's personality, Johnson noted.

"What we try to do is define the human side of the person," Johnson said.

Choosing which women to learn about and portray is a weighty decision.

"The story that behind every great man, there was an amazing woman — there's a reason that saying was made, but we don't hear those stories," Johnson said.

Johnson and Nielsen find it easier to draw in audiences for recognizable names — women who were royalty or first ladies in the White House — but also strive to tell the stories of women pioneers in medical, engineering, sociological and political fields.

"A lot of the women's stories aren't told and so this is our way to get them out there," Johnson said.

That means being aware of not only the names and dates involved in a character's life, but also the context of the political, social and economic situations in which they lived.

As a way to encourage others to become first-person performers, Historical Echoes will offer a workshop on Sept. 27 and 28, sponsored and hosted by Kansas City Kansas Community College. 

Their goal is to teach others in the art of authentic storytelling, noting the responsibility to build on the physical, emotional, social and intellectual connections of real women in history.

Participants will undergo tests to determine key components of their personality and see how they are the same or different from the character they wish to portray.

The workshop was created as a way to satisfy a growing demand for trained performers who give authentic portrayals.

Courses taught over the two-day workshop include historical perspectives, storytelling, oral communication techniques, visualization for memorization, story elements and the ethics of historical storytelling.

Not only do Nielsen and Johnson want to support entrepreneur artists and small businesses looking into adding first-person performing to their services, but they also see it as a way for those who want to tell their own stories to learn effective performing skills.

Workshop participation is limited for individual assessment and guidance.

For more information about the Historical Echoes Institute workshop at Kansas City Kansas Community College, email Pamela Howe at phowe@kckcc.edu.

For more information about Historical Echoes and its events, visit http://www.historical-echoes.com/index.cfm or email irene@historical-echoes.com.