A Renaissance return to Sand Harbor
Appeal Staff Writer
Peter Donaldson asks very little of his audiences: come with him on a journey, suspend reality for several hours, and watch one of the great masters come to life.
For the last nine years, Donaldson has transformed himself into Leonardo da Vinci more than 150 times. He does it to share the life and ideas of the man, but also to evoke a conversation about the resurgence of Renaissance ideas in modern life.
“I’m a storyteller, and there are a couple of stories that converge with the same ideas, and the question emerges about whether we are in a new renaissance,” Donaldson said. “I love to tell that story and pose those questions.”
Da Vinci will make an appearance at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor State Park.
Donaldson began the transformation into Da Vinci many years ago as a middle-school history teacher.
“When I saw the connections between the economics and the explosion of prosperity during the era, I began to see the comparisons,” Donaldson said.
Soon after, he took over running a children’s theater and spent the next decade writing plays.
“I cut my teeth with a very honest audience. They will tell you what they think,” Donaldson said. “If you are telling a good story – either a two-hour movie or a 29-second commercial – it will relate to everyone.”
Those experiences served as the building blocks to recreating the life and ideas of da Vinci.
To help prepare, Donaldson has read more than 100 biographies of da Vinci and acquired a $2,000 costume.
“He is so passionate, Leonardo sells himself. I make him as 3-D as possible because if I had made him a cartoon, people would grow bored,” Donaldson said.
The performance includes a portion when the audience can ask questions. The most common one is usually related to a recent bestseller.
“‘The ‘Da Vinci Code.’ That is definitely the most fatiguing question, but I give them a concrete answer,” Donaldson said.
He plays da Vinci for six months a year and focuses on another character – Salmonpeople – during the remainder. He travels throughout the Northwest to areas with salmon streams, giving presentations, and talking about the importance of preservation and sustained prosperity.
Both characters promote the same set of beliefs and ideals: encouraging the audience to seek a new renaissance of ecological stewardship, citizen science and sustainable prosperity using the arts.
“We are entering an age of pluralism and togetherness. The solutions to the problems are all around us. Nature is teaching us to solutions, and we are coming full circle.”
During the last nine years, Da Vinci has continued to spread his message to different audiences from as far away as Oklahoma.
“I enjoy what I do. I tell stories, but I also collect them and bring them with me when I travel,” Donaldson said.
“I will share what I know with Lake Tahoe, but I will also pick something up and be sharing that in Canada a week from now.”
• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at email@example.com or 881-1217.
If you go
What: “An Evening with Leonardo da Vinci” presented by Peter
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Sand Harbor State Park at Lake Tahoe
Price: Tickets range from $14-$67 and can be purchased online or at the box office