Islander Senior Presenting Living History Project at Frontera

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Islander student Amber Hullum sees history not just as a matter-of-fact depiction of a life and time already lived but as a communication portal through which a conversation can begin on how a place and its culture has evolved into its present-day self.

A double major in theatre and history, Hullum has the unique distinction of presenting her theatre senior capstone project at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi as part of Frontera, a history-centered city festival that takes place this weekend, Nov. 2-4, in Downtown Corpus Christi. Her presentation will consist of a three-part living history presentation of Corpus Christi historical figures at three locations featuring 18 Islander student actors. 

“Normally what theatre majors do for a capstone project is a play; they do a full-length production of whatever they choose,” Hullum said. “I want to do living history as a career, and my end goal is to bring more living history programs to Texas because there’s not a lot of opportunity for people here to experience it. I think it’s really an amazing learning opportunity and I want to be able to bring that.”

Hullum’s project consists of three free public events, all of which take place Saturday, Nov. 3:

  • Old Town Square at Heritage Park, located at 1581 N. Chaparral St. from 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
  • Voices of South Texas, Old Bayview Cemetery, located at West and Waco streets from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • Coastal Bend Booknotes, La Retama Central Library, located at 805 Comanche St. from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. 

Fellow theatre major Sarah Robinson portrays Julia Augusta Von Blucher, one of the historical figures whose story will be told at Old Bayview Cemetery. 

“Julia’s family is one of the more prominent families in Corpus Christi’s history. The historical figure I’m playing was interested in automobiles in 1909, which was a big thing for that time period because women didn’t have a lot of say in those types of things back then,” Robinson said. “As soon as a car model came out, she would buy one and study it and learn all about its parts. She was essentially a mechanic before cars were a big thing.”

Hullum chose to feature Corpus Christi historical figures between 1836 and 1945. At Frontera, actors will provide a brief introduction and then interact with audiences with the intent of connecting a historic episode to a current event or topic. To prepare her actors, Hullum held a Living History Training Day, a dress rehearsal and conducted one-on-one sessions, she said. 

“I have an actor portraying a doctor–one of three–who was in Corpus Christi during the yellow fever epidemic in 1867,” Hullum said, referring to Dr. Eli T. Merriman. “The question he faces is, ‘What is it like to have people dying around you and you can’t do anything about it?’ And then he dies. So it makes you think about health care today and the importance of science.” 

Hullum’s interest in the concept of Living History initially developed when she began volunteering at “Sam Houston Days” in Huntsville and as a Battle of San Jacinto re-enactor at the San Jacinto Day Festival when she was in middle school in Mont Belvieu, Texas. But it was her experiences as a living history actor at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico over the past three summers that convinced her to pursue a career launching living history programs in her home state.   

Hullum credits the City of Corpus Christi for providing the platform to present her living history project to the community at large. “I would not be doing it if it were not for the City of Corpus Christi and Frontera Festival,” she said. 

Alison Frost, associate professor of Theatre at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, said living history actors help connect audiences to past figures and periods by bringing that individual’s story to life.

 “What Amber is doing is unusual because it’s not a performance relegated to a theater space,” Frost said, “Instead of directing a play written by a playwright, she is overseeing multiple miniplays for which she has taught her actors how to write and interpret the historical data for the characters they will be playing.” 

Hullum says the lack of living history programs in Texas has presented her with an opportunity to help communities rediscover the stories of the individuals who helped shape their respective cities and towns.

“We have the history; we just need the programs,” Hullum said.