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Actor portrays Sierra Clubs founder

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Mark Raddatz plays John Muir, champion of wilderness.
  • Mark Raddatz plays John Muir, champion of wilderness.

Talk about walking in another man's shoes.

Mark Raddatz makes a living portraying another person. As an actor, that doesn't seem so far-fetched -- in fact, it seems like the whole point. Still, Raddatz has spent the last couple of years doing nothing but portraying John Muir, the turn-of-the-century founder of the Sierra Club. Raddatz has learned to dress like Muir, speak in his native-Scottish brogue, and, most importantly, impart Muir's passion for conservation. John Muir: Watch, Pray, and Fight! will be performed by Raddatz at the Lon Chaney Theater on Nov. 5 and 6, with a special matinee performance on Nov. 7.

"I'm offering a slice of time," said Raddatz. The show is not only a biography, but also is a lesson of one man's fight to save our wildlife and the history of America's changing landscape. Muir is known for his endless campaigning to preserve the natural wilderness found in national parks around North America, including Yosemite National Park. Onstage, Raddatz walks out as Muir, making the case for protecting Yosemite's doomed-to-be-dammed Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Raddatz says his audience's reactions vary, but are always interesting. "Some rush up afterward, wanting to sign a petition to save Hetch Hetchy," he said. "I have to explain to them that it's too late."

For Raddatz, taking on Muir was almost intimidating, though he seems born to it. A nature lover, Raddatz was traveling through the Sequoia National Park one day when it started to snow. He rented a primitive cabin, and nearby he met two women. One of them, upon seeing Raddatz emerge from his cabin, remarked that he looked like John Muir coming out of the woods. Raddatz's interest was piqued, and subsequently he read up on Muir and became fascinated with the man and his lifelong mission.

John Muir was the Raddatz's first one-man show. In his research, he realized that in order to speak as a well-known person for over an hour, he needed to find someone who actually spoke often.

"It was really difficult to do, to find material that suits a lot of talking. I found that a lot of famous people had wonderful things to say, but they don't talk enough," he said. "I also realized that if you're going to do the same role for years and years, it better be someone you like.

"Here was, by any standard, the most effective lobbyist/conservationist that ever lived. I wondered, what did he say to the groups he spoke to?"

Since Muir never wrote down his speeches, writing the monologue proved to be a challenge for Raddatz. "I went ahead and dipped in anyway ... as with most folks on a political campaign, he tends to repeat himself a lot." To develop the piece, Raddatz used newspaper accounts, as well as Muir's own pamphlets and letters to editors.

The battle for America's resources is an old one. For more than a century, Americans have tussled over control -- those for exploitation and expansion against those for preservation. Similar battles are still being fought. Muir was a man who stood up to the logging and mining companies. Raddatz believes that his message of conservation is one that is relevant to today's audience, even after two centuries.

"The constant eroding forces of commercialism, human pressures, material pressures ... we have so many pressures to reduce this [nature], to make it more 'dollarable,'" said Raddatz,

"The same concerns existed back then, and that's something we need to realize: that we always need to be vigilant."

-- Kara Luger

capsule

John Muir: Watch, Pray, and Fight!

Nov. 5 and 6, 7:30 p.m., Nov. 7, 2 p.m.

Lon Chaney Theater, 221 E. Kiowa St.

$15 each, or two for $25

573-6505

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