By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
DAYTONA BEACH SHORES -- A local descendant of John and Abigail Adams will bring her ancestors back to life on stage.
Joan Adams Fenton will resurrect Abigail Adams in a performance recreating the lives of the nation's second "First Family" and their son John Quincy Adams, who followed his father's footsteps to become the sixth U.S. president. The performance will take place at the Daytona Beach Shores Council Chambers, 3048 S. Atlantic Ave., at 2 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, the same day as George Washington's birthday.
Ms. Fenton, who has performed as Abigail Adams about 40 times in the past, including at the Casements in Ormond Beach, the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach, and even at people's homes, said it's the first time she'll portray the second first lady in Daytona Beach Shores.
Though her performances haven't always timed with Presidents Day, a federal holiday observed on the third Monday of February to honor the legacies of past presidents, Presidents Day holds a special significance to Ms. Fenton.
"It's helped me remember the (Adams) family and the importance the president provides the country," she said. She has only performed as Abigail Adams, which she attributed to her "tremendous interest" in her family background.
In addition to Ms. Fenton, Friday's performance -- sponsored by the city's Culture and Entertainment Board -- also stars her husband William Fenton as John Quincy Adams and Ponce Inlet resident Jay Thompson, a Princeton graduate, as John Adams. The actors will recreate the family's life in the time of John Adams' presidency, their retirement years in Quincy, Mass., and John Quincy Adams' reaction to his parents' deaths.
Ms. Fenton discovered she was a descendant of the second U.S. president through her family when she was tracing back her ancestry. She said her family takes their presidential connection "very seriously" -- they traveled to Quincy, Mass., to visit the birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams at Adams National Historical Park and the Adams family crypt at United First Parish Church where the Adams family was buried.
She began performing as Abigail Adams in 1976 for the bicentennial, doing 86 solo performances in the Miami area. About five years ago, her friend Winston Stewart of Ponce Inlet inspired her to "resurrect" Abigail Adams for a performance at the condominium building where Ms. Stewart lives, later inspiring her to add John Adams and John Quincy Adams into her performances.
"It's expanding the family," Ms. Fenton said. "It tells a lot about the future of the family after their passing. That's what people will be seeing (in Daytona Beach Shores)."
Ms. Stewart said she brought up the idea for Ms. Fenton to "resurrect" Abigail Adams when the two talked about a trip Ms. Stewart took to Charlottesville, Va. where she visited the historic homes of former presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.
"It just brought history to life," Ms. Stewart said.
The discussion led Ms. Fenton to casually mention she used to perform as Abigail Adams. Ms. Stewart thought the residents in her condo would appreciate a historical performance of Abigail Adams from an Adams family descendant, but recalled Ms. Fenton was initially reluctant because she hadn't performed as Abigail Adams for a long time.
Ms. Fenton went forward with the performance after six months of preparation, playing to an audience of 30 people at Harbor Village Condominiums. The response: "Everybody loved it," Ms. Stewart said.
Ms. Fenton said she developed the performances using letters, diaries and documents from the family as source material -- sources that have been used for countless books, plays and films about John and Abigail Adams.
"This is authentic," she said. "This is a personal view of a family about what occurred around the American Revolution."