See history live, and free, tonight

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 5, 2010

The Natchez Garden Club and the Pilgrimage Garden Club invite Adams County and Concordia Parish residents to attend the Historic Natchez Tableaux free of charge tonight and Saturday.

What is (or are) the Historic Natchez Tableaux you may ask? It’s the Historic Natchez Pageant, renamed to reflect its origins. The pageant or tableaux began as entertainment for visiting guests in the early days of Pilgrimage. Tableau is the French word for a picture or scene. Add an x and you have the plural form — tableaux.

In the days before television, movies, DVDs and concerts in huge stadiums, the tableau vivant (living picture) was a form of entertainment in which people created a scene representing a picture or well known event. Some of you (or your parents or grandparents) may remember school productions in which students were dressed to represent characters from historic events or famous paintings. I remember children at the old Carpenter School on Washington Street, dressed and posed on stage to represent Impressionist paintings.

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So what will you see at the Historic Natchez Tableaux? There will be scenes of life in Natchez from the first European explorers to the start of the Civil War. Local volunteers of all ages will bring to life such characters as Ibrahima, an African prince captured in a raid and sold into slavery; the French explorer La Salle; and Major General Andrew Ellicott who on behalf of George Washington claimed Natchez for the United States and raised the flag on what is now Ellicott Hill.

The Showboat scene includes ballerinas and Can Can dancers from local dance schools, and Alderman and Zion Chapel Music Director Tony Fields singing Old Man River.

Other tableaux are the Soiree — an evening party at Jefferson College; the Wedding of Jefferson Davis and Varina Howell at the Briers; and the Polka — when some visitors may be surprised with an invitation to waltz around the ballroom floor.

My favorite scene is the Maypole, with toddlers dressed in velveteen suits and lace-trimmed dresses with miniature hoop skirts.

The final tableau depicts the beginning of the Civil War with young men in uniform attending a farewell ball with their sweethearts and ends with the singing of the National Anthem, symbolizing the reunification of the nation at the end of the war.

The current pageant or tableaux began as a parade in 1932. It has been presented every year since — except during World War II — at various locations including Memorial Hall (the new federal courthouse building) and the Baker Grand Theater (now the site of the City Council Chambers on Pearl Street.)

Almost of the costumes are locally made, many of them elaborate and authentic recreations of 18th and 19th century attire. Each scene is enriched by live music provided by talented professionals including a world champion bluegrass fiddler.

Adams County and Concordia Parish residents who wish to see the tableaux/pageant free of charge tonight or Saturday can obtain tickets by presenting ID at the Natchez Pilgrimage Tours counter at the Visitor Center or at the door of the city auditorium where the show starts at 8 p.m.

Regular prices are $15 for adults and half price for ages up to 17. Bring the family and tell your friends!

Marsha Colson is the director of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours.