Portrayor to put a new spin on classic act as John Rollison

Tjefferson@vagazette.com

John Rollison isn't a household name like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, but his is a story worth telling.

That's where James Cameron comes in.

"John Rollison was a free man of color born in a way into aristocracy, his father was gentry and his mother was mulatto. He rose to be a master shoemaker which shows you he's educated," said Cameron, who portrays Rollison.

Cameron, who previously worked as a part time employee at Colonial Williamsburg, has protrayed Rollison for 12 years and said he has studied for 8,000 hours to prepare for the role.

Rollison is a one man show and discovered Rollison through his own research. He began interpreting him after he left Colonial Williamsburg.

He has performed as Rollison at elementary schools, universities, The National Archives, Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, but this year's presentation will offer a new wrinkle.

After just a short time with Cameron, you can see his knowledge of the man he is portraying is extensive.

Rollison was a family friend of Thomas Nelson, who owned slaves and land in Virginia and during the Revolutionary War provided supplies for the navy and militia troops.

"This year is going to be a little different than most of the others that I do. This time I'm going to allow people to ask John Rollison questions based on the 21st century. I usually don't do that only because religion and politics get's into it and those are hot button issues," Cameron said.

Cameron said the persona of his Rollison portrayal is a combination of Henny Youngman, Don Rickles and John Rollison's father.

"I'll take something that a person knows from the 21st century and regurgitate it as an 18th century understanding," Cameron said.

Cameron said he has done about a 1,000 performances as Rollison and that every performance is a little different.

"There will be no surprises," Cameron said he's done the performance long enough that he can anticipate some of the questions.

Cameron said his favorite part of portraying is interacting with the audience, going back and forth with them.

"It's a lot of fun," Cameron said. "I slightly insult them first and then answer their question because if they do something that John Rollison would find strange, I will, for example, if someone was to ask 'what's the percentage of blacks to whites?' I will respond I'm not a census taker and then I'll go back and say based on the last census I will give them the breakdown."

For Cameron, he will measure the success of his performance by the feedback from his audience.

"I hope the audience takes away a better understanding of our real history and that we were more united than we are led to believe in our teachings," Cameron said. "Who would think this man would be a signer of a document with Patrick Henry and Thomas Nelson."

Jefferson can be reached by phone at 757-790-9313.

Want to go?

What: Cameron will act as Rollison during a 90 minute performance entitled "James Cameron: A Conversation with John Rollison" at the Williamsburg Players Lobby.

Where: 200 Hubbard Lane

When: 8 p.m. on Feb. 18

Tickets are $15; go to williamsburgplayers.org or call the box office at 757-229-0431.

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