Some say Latin is a dead language, but Andover resident Paul Properzio disagrees, and even plans to breathe new life into the bones of a departed Latin scholar, at a performance at the University of New Hampshire.
Properzio, a Boston Latin Academy classics teacher, will portray Alston Hurd Chase, a former Phillips Academy of Andover classics chairman and teacher as part of the 61st Annual Institute of the American Classical League from June 27 to 29. He will adopt the persona of Chase as part of “Representing Our Ancestors: A Roundtable Discussions and Workshop.”
“People say to be a good teacher, you have to be a good actor,” Properzio said. “Hopefully I will be as good as an actor.”
Properzio, who has taught Latin and Greek for 33 years, said his portrayal will include dressing from the time period Chase lived in (Chase was born in 1906) as well as speaking through the perspective of the former classicist, who died in 1994.
“I’m a pretty good actor myself, pretty much of a ham, and a lot of people thought I would be the perfect match for Chase,” said Properzio, who is also editor of The American Classical League Newsletter. “So when (organizer Judith Hallet) asked me to do it, I said sure. But it’s going to take a lot of work to do this.”
While acting may not be completely foreign to this former high school Thespian Society member, “I had no idea I would be doing this, no,” he said.
Properzio, the only high school teacher slotted to perform at the event, found many reasons to call his casting a “perfect match,” including the fact that he and Chase were born in New Hampshire, lived in Andover and worked as classics teachers.
Altogether, six or seven characters will be portrayed at the June performance, which will be followed by an audience question-and-answer session. The UNH audience, he said, will likely consist of up-and-coming classicists, those already established in the field, and college students.
“So we really have to know what we’re talking about,” Properzio said.
The idea to put on the performance started this past October, when Properzio attended an event to honor the centennial of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States in Washington D.C., he said.
After watching the portrayals of several well-known classicists, he spoke with event organizer Judith Hallet, a professor at the University of Maryland.
“I said, ‘It would be really nice to have the portrayals repeated,’” he said. “She said, ‘Well that’s a great idea. Let me contact all of the actors from the Washington meeting and see who can come.’
“Their books are still being used to teach the classics, so to see these personalities come to life as characters, it’s really an amazing thing,” he said.
It turned out only two classicists-turned-actors could attend, when “all of a sudden, a lot of people gave my name (to play Chase), since I’m fairly well-known in the field and since I live in Andover and since, she said, I have the skill set,” Properzio said with a laugh.
He said Hallet has since mailed him a copy of Chase’s book Time Remembered, that he must use with other works by the author to create a script to best represent his character.
“Loving this stuff to begin with is half the fun,” he said.
After studying Chase’s manuscripts, Properzio said he will find anecdotal information that will include familiar knowledge as well as obscure facts and character traits.
“If you’re teaching this stuff," he said, "it's not going to be difficult to make that little leap to really performing whoever that teacher is, because you’re doing what these people have already done.”