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Performer-historian will bring Amelia Earhart live to Bethel stage

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The search for Amelia Earhart can finally be called off.

The famed aviator will be talking about her thrilling flights at Bethel College Jan. 31 at 11 a.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center.

Scholar and performer Ann Birney, Admire, takes her audience back to just before Earhart’s disappearance over the Pacific Ocean in 1937. Birney’s performance is being sponsored by Kauffman Museum as part of their annual Kansas Day celebration and is free and open to the public.

Most people don’t know that Earhart twice set out to fly around the world at the Equator before she disappeared.

The first time, heading west from California, she wrecked her twin-engine Lockheed Electra taking off from Hawaii.

Birney, as Earhart, brings listeners to April 14, 1937, as Earhart waits for her airplane, her silver “flying laboratory,” to be repaired so she can try again.

This time, she tells the audience, she will go east instead of west, hoping to reverse her luck with the reversal in direction.

Earhart came into the public eye when she became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air in 1928.

The young social worker presumed that she would then resume working with children at a Boston settlement house. One book publication and innumerable speaking engagements later, she was instead planning more record-setting flights, speaking tours, books and articles.

Among her other records, Earhart became the first woman and second person to solo across the Atlantic, the first person to solo over the Pacific, the first person to fly from Hawaii to California and the fastest female flyer non-stop across the United States.

Ann Birney is a member of Ride into History, a historical performance touring troupe that has performed throughout the United States, and from the Smithsonian to Saipan.

Made up of scholars who are also scriptwriters and performers, Ride into History is one of few “cross-over” groups whose members have been on both humanities council and arts commission rosters.

In addition to their performances, which include six other first-person narratives, the troupe conducts adult workshops, school residencies and summer camps to guide others in becoming historian-researcher-scriptwriter-actors.

Scholar and performer Birney’s interpretation of Amelia Earhart is based on extensive research. She holds a doctorate in American Studies from the University of Kansas. Like Earhart, she is a native Kansan.

Birney has been doing her Chautauqua-style performances of Amelia Earhart since 1995. In March 2000, she became the first person to do a historical performance for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, whose education curator described her performance as “what living history should be – accurate, natural, evocative, and accessible.”

Barbara Aliprantis of the American Center for the Theatre and Storytelling said of another of Birney’s performances, “Your telling of Amelia’s story was nothing less than brilliant. I was transported to another time and place.”

David Downing of the NASA Kansas Space Grant Consortium wrote of Birney’s after-lunch performance for the National Conference of Space Grant Consortium Directors: “I think you understand that this was a tough audience. Many of us have been everywhere more than once and have seen everything more than once. This was a group many of whom routinely carry on conversations when the NASA brass are presenting. You, on the other hand, had their undivided attention.”

Birney’s “Amelia Earhart, Live!” is part of Kauffman Museum’s annual Celebrate Kansas Day!, held the last Saturday in January each year, supported in part by a grant from the North Newton Community Foundation.

For more information, contact Andi Schmidt Andres, Kauffman Museum curator of education, at 316-283-1612.

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