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Historical interpreter will portray Lafayette during 250th Birthday Celebration Sept. 6

On Sept. 6, the College community will receive a very unique look at the Marquis de Lafayette. As part of the College’s 250th birthday celebration for the Marquis, historical interpreter Loic Barnieu will portray General Lafayette at various events throughout the day.

During the 2007-08 academic year, the College is planning a celebration in recognition of the life and legacy of the man for whom it is named. Major events will include a lecture series, entitled Lives of Liberty, featuring renowned speakers; a historical exhibit at the Williams Center for the Arts, entitled A Son and his Adoptive Father: The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington, and a birthday party on Sept. 6.

  • A web site dedicated to the celebration and to the Marquis’ unique connection to the College provides information and updates.

Barnieu, a native of France himself, has been interpreting Lafayette for audiences since 2001 through the American Historical Theatre (AHT) in Philadelphia. He has appeared in character at battlefield celebrations, dining events, and private affairs up and down the East Coast, including the National Archives, the French Embassy, and the dedication of the statue of Lafayette in York, Pa.

During the Sept. 6 celebration, Barnieu will appear as the Marquis at the dedication of the historical marker commemorating the founding and naming of the College in 1824 at 12:15 p.m. in the northeast corner of Centre Square. From 3-4 p.m., he will appear at the opening reception for the Son and his Adoptive Father: The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington exhibit in the Williams Center for the Arts gallery. He will also kick-off the birthday celebration with his arrival by carriage to the Quad for the All-College Dinner and cutting of the birthday cake at 6:15 p.m.

“I enjoy interpreting my character,” says Barnieu. “I became hooked on Lafayette when I first started to study him. I know everything about his life. He was passionate, honest, and had a good vision – truly a man of liberty.”

According to AHT artistic director Bill Sommerfield, Barnieu portrays Lafayette as he’s reminiscing on the Revolution and his travels through the United States.

“He speaks about meeting Washington as a young man,” Sommerfield explains. “But in particular, he promotes the role of education in support of democracy, emphasizing that in order to have true democracy, society must be educated.”

Barnieu believes he shares more with Lafayette than his heavy French accent and charming mannerisms; he shares his cause.

“I recognize myself in him,” he explains. “I feel very close to him in that I can relate to his goals in life and when I believe in something, I work toward it.”

While he was still living in Europe, Barnieu served as a soldier in Yugoslavia. He believes that this experience taught him the chivalric qualities of acting on behalf of others, which he also believes he shares with Lafayette.

Sommerfield says that interpretation of historical characters creates a whole new learning experience for students.

“This medium provides a first person interpretation that you simply don’t get from the one-dimensional portrayals in textbooks,” he says. “This way, the character takes on humanistic qualities that allow the audience to better understand who he or she was, not merely what he or she was.”

Barnieu, previously a full-time actor in Europe, explains that interpreting a character in this way requires acting abilities, especially improvisation, because of the importance of remaining in character during typical conversation. But he also says that remaining in character while trying to please an audience can be a tricky mix.

“Most people expect you to simply be entertaining,” he says. “In order to accurately portray Lafayette for who he was, I try to be entertaining, but I don’t want to be a clown. Lafayette was actually very shy in some situations, and he was also a very good listener, one of the reasons he had such a good relationship with Washington. He was also very smart and tried to teach others, but he did so respectfully and made every effort to learn from them as well.”

Barnieu says that the task of interpreting Lafayette grows easier the more he does it, as well as the more he studies him.

“I constantly read about him to help keep him fresh in my mind,” he explains. “Writing about him helps a great deal as well. I also write a column about Lafayette for the New York History Museum.”

Barnieu was born in Burgundy, France, and he received theatrical training from the Alain Knapp Theater School in Paris. His stage career began with his performance in “Le Menteur” by Corneille, and continued with the TV production company, M6, and as a co-founder of the “Corps et Ames” (Body & Mind) Theatre Company.

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