By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News
When Sanford and Mary Lee met at the Kansas City renaissance fair in 1982, they had no idea they would put together their own medicine show and perform it for 32 years, with 30 of that being at Old Threshers.
The couple from Concordia, Mo., introduced the ?Professor Farquar and Polecat Annie Medicine Show? at the Iowa State Fair in 1988. From there, the show evolved and the pair began taking it on the road across the U.S. They have been as far west as Arizona, as far east as Ohio and have have performed in Minnesota and down south in Texas. However, there?s one simple thing that keeps them coming back to Midwest Old Threshers year after year: the people.
Lee says he enjoys coming to Old Threshers because it?s a place where he feels the history he brings is important, recognized and appreciated. Their show is all about living history as the pair take on characters they have modeled after real people. Lee says his character, Professor Farquar, is inspired by various characters in W.C. Fields movies and Polecat Annie?s after Calamity Jane. They chose to create their own show with the original characters because they wanted to make sure the history of the medicine show was remembered.
?It was a field where I felt that I belonged,? he said. ?It?s the type of music that needs to be preserved.?
The Lees? passion for history and music is what keeps them performing 100 days a year, three or four times a day.
?It was the simplest form of folk theater that I could do as a two-man show,? he said. ?We?re making it fun. A lot of our songs are about historical incidents or historical characters.?
He explained that in the early pioneer days, medicine shows were performed as a means of entertainment and to be enchanting. In Hollywood, the character is often depicted as a crook, but their show is focused on music, entertainment and magic. They ask for lots of audience participation to keep everyone engaged and to teach about the things audience members might have missed in history class. Polecat Annie brings audience members up and teaches them to juggle, getting them involved with the show, while Professor Farquar makes a pitch for his magic elixers. Then together they perform magic tricks and music to teach the history of the events going on at the time. They take the show on the road to schools and even use their costumes and regalia to teach.
All of their attire is either from thrift shops, purchased from vendors at shows they attend or online, or created themselves. They say that by providing visuals they can keep history alive in a physical way for spectators to see and admire. Of all the things they do and provide, they both agree that the music is their favorite part. For kids who see their show and get inspired to create their own, they encourage them to first stay in school, learn their history and trust that success is a process.
For more information on the show visit www.sanfordlee.com.