Educational Events and Explosive Entertainmentby John Scott on Mar. 27, 2013, under Uncategorized
In the heyday of Western cinema, you could attend a double feature of your famous stars and use up an entire Saturday. You wouldn’t go just to see the gunfights and “save-the-day” plots, but also to marvel at the other skills the actors presented. You would catch rope tricks, gunspinning, and even a highly trained horse who could do just about everything except flip pancakes (no fingers).
Some of these special skills were originally developed by cowboys as a way to entertain each other during down time. Later on, folks like Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill would seek out these artists to perform in their traveling shows.
So, I’ve been to Old Tucson Studios every weekend for a month, now. Some of the employees probably think I work there. I made it to the 50th Gunfighters Reunion and watched an incredibly produced show that included bad guys coming in on horseback, rumbling stagecoaches, and a fight scene with 50 people ranging in ages from 25 to 65. Oh, I almost forgot the explosions! 86 year-old stunt coordinator Frank Young touched off a canon and saved the day. If you can imagine the thrill for us spectators, think about the great time the actors were having. I could tell that Entertainment Manager Rob Jensen was having trouble hiding the smile on his face that day (he was also performing in the skit, and tough gunfighters don’t smile).
Last Saturday was their Wild West Days, and the crowds came out for that, too. For entertainment, there was Tucson’s own Loop Rawlins spinning guns, cracking whips, and twirling ropes. This man is the future of the Old West arts, and performs nationally with other notables like Joey Dillon, and Johnny ‘Hotshot” Mincks (also a past stunt man at Old Tucson). Their performances directly impact children’s interest in the Old West. Kids are typically in awe, and walk away practicing their roping and gun-twirling skills with their toy ropes and cap guns.
Cecil Manuel, a famous traditional Native American dancer, entertained and educated the masses in his colorful garb. There were Buffalo Soldiers, musicians, and living history demonstrations. All centered around the heritage and culture of the Old West.
At one point, my roguish cohort and I were enjoying time out of the sun on benches near the Sheriff’s office. A lady and her young son caught our period garb and asked if we were doing the Lawmen of the West lecture.We informed them that we weren’t, and they had missed it by ten minutes. The boy looked crestfallen, so we regaled him with the story of Sheriff Pete Gabriel and Deputy Joe Phy, and that fateful day they shot it out on a Florence, Arizona street in 1888. That appeased them and they ran off to catch a show.
That got me to thinking about one of the reasons I do what I do. Many of us performers are concerned with the entertainment factor. Were we good? Did the audience like it? Is my fly buttoned? What we tend to forget is that we are passing on a legacy. Whether we’re spinning ropes, falling off of buildings, or just there for ambiance, we are educating some young man or woman. Maybe one of them will catch the bug and carry the torch. Hey, if it happened to me at Old Tucson in 1979, it can happen to anyone!