State honors Drake as 'Culturekeeper' for museum theater
No performance could have been more fitting during the recent Arizona Culturekeepers awards ceremony than Jody Drake reciting Sharlot Hall's impassioned plea in favor of Arizona becoming a state separately from New Mexico.
After all, Hall's poem helped convince Congress to make Arizona a separate state in 1912. And the late Kax Kierland Herberger came up with the Culturekeepers award to honor a total of 100 people during the 10 years leading up to the 100th anniversary of Arizona's statehood.
Drake has been performing as Sharlot Hall for nearly 14 years now, taking on the role shortly after helping to found the Sharlot Hall Museum's Blue Rose Theater. It's a unique troupe because it creates its own historically accurate plays and performs them in a museum. It now has 72 productions under its belt.
"That was what was so special about what Jody's done," said Marshall Trimble, who chairs the Culturekeepers nominating committee and holds the same title of Arizona's Official State Historian that Hall herself once held. "It's entertainment with substance."
And that's why Drake became an Arizona Culture-
keeper herself on Sept. 30.
The Culturekeepers nominating committee also includes long-time Prescott historic preservation activist Elisabeth Ruffner and Prescott historian and author Jack August.
Drake probably knows more about Sharlot Hall than anyone, but when Ruffner asked her to recite Hall's eight-minute statehood poem during the
Sept. 30 awards ceremony at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, Drake was petrified at the thought of trying to memorize the long poem in time and not forget any of it.
So one can only imagine Drake's horror when a past Culturekeeper honoree in the audience fainted while Drake was reciting the poem.
Trimble and Ruffner praised Drake for keeping the audience transfixed and not missing a beat. Drake said she just focused on her husband.
"Sharlot Hall was such an extraordinary individual, and you might say she was the original Culturekeeper in Arizona," Sharlot Hall Museum Director John Langellier said. "In many respects, Jody is her alter ego, someone who has an affinity for the past and brings it alive in the present.
"And the content of the past is far greater than almost anything you could make up."
Drake said she is "tremendously humbled" to be a Culturekeeper along with others from this region including Elisabeth Ruffner, her daughter and Melissa Ruffner, and the museum's long-time oral historian Mona McCroskey. Other past honorees include "Mr. Route 66" Angel Delgadillo of Seligman, Ash Fork historian Fayrene Hume and Robson's Mining World owner Jeri Robson.
"I felt like I didn't belong there, because I was sitting in the room with people who motivated me to do what I do," Drake said.
The coming year's productions will be the best ever, said Drake, who is the full-time artistic director for the theater.
Drake wrote and/or conceived of four of the productions. "A Night at Our Museum" is a local adaptation of the popular movie that will premiere in March. "Ladies of the Garden" in June will celebrate six of the women who helped bring the museum's Territorial Rose Garden to life. "Joe Mayer and the Town that Built Him" is a new folk opera that Drake wrote in honor of her late mother who lived in Mayer. It's on schedule for July. "They Called Him Buckey" is a revival of Drake's original stage play about Prescott's own Rough Rider hero Buckey O'Neill that will come in September.
It's no wonder fellow Blue Rose Theater member Parker Anderson describes Drake as a hard-working stickler for details.
Living history is an "extreme sport," Drake said. "People go to museums and trust us to tell the truth. It's my obligation.
"If you've done your work, you can stay within the parameters of good history."