By Brett Milam
Old West Fest is coming back to the village of Williamsburg for its 10th season, with the addition of a new character: Annie Oakley.
Oakley was born Aug. 13, 1860 and was one of the leading women of the American West, noted for her gun-toting ways and a star attraction for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for years.
According to her biography, she could “shoot off the end of a cigarette held in her husband’s lips, hit the thin edge of a playing card from 30 paces and shoot distant targets while looking into a mirror.” Her death in 1926 attracted national attention.
The Sun sat down with Katie Enders, 21, the actress who will be portraying Annie Oakley. Enders has been performing with the Old West Fest for eight years. The interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
To start off, are you from Williamsburg or near there?
I’m from Mt. Orab, Ohio, which is the next town over from Williamsburg.
How did you get into performing in this festival, especially at such a young age? And what is it like to grow up, essentially through the festival? How has it changed since you first started and where do you see yourself in five years? Still performing at the festival?
I auditioned for the festival after my mom read about their open casting call online. I had been involved in theatre previously, so I thought it would be a neat opportunity. It has been a wonderful opportunity to grow up through the festival! It’s such a fun and positive environment and it’s given me the chance to become more confident and outgoing, because I’m always interacting with new people there. It’s led me to new friends and new skills that I probably never would have explored on my own. The festival has grown a lot since I started, there are always new shows, games, and vendors to explore. I would love to keep performing at the festival and get to see how it continues to expand.
What characters have you previously played and what’s different about playing Annie Oakley?
I have played a mail-order bride, a saloon girl, and a townsperson. Last year, I played the historical figure Dora Hand. The difference in playing Annie Oakley is that she is so influential and well known. Most people recognize her name, but few people know very much about her, which makes it exciting to have the opportunity to tell her story.
Furthermore, what does it mean to you to play Annie, such a revered figure in American West folklore? Is there a sense of “female empowerment” to it to play such a strong female character or how do you look at that particular aspect of it, if at all?
It’s important to me to inform people about her life and how she became the revered figure that she is today. Her path to success was full of obstacles, and it’s inspirational to be able to give life to her story through the Old West Festival. There is a sense of female empowerment in playing her, because she had to work very hard to prove herself in her field. She was a proponent of equal pay and equal rights, and paved the way for women to become paid shooters.
What goes into preparing to play a character like this? Do you have to do any sort of additional training? She was known for her shooting tricks and your show, “The Life of Annie Oakley” is advertised as performing trick-shooting and gunfighting, so what goes into preparing for that?
I’ve had additional training on the safety and use of firearms as well as rehearsals for trick-shooting and gunfights. I’ve also spent a lot of time researching Annie’s life and reading about what she was like.
When you think of the Old West, what do you think of or what do you associate it with? What has performing with Old West Fest the last eight years taught you about the West?
When I think of the Old West, I think of the Long Branch Saloon, pioneers, and covered wagon rides! Performing in the Old West Festival has taught me about things like the temperance movement and the women’s suffrage movement, and that there is so much more to the old west than cowboys and saloon girls.
Do you still or have you ever gotten nervous performing in front of an audience? If so, how do you get past that to be able to do it?
I do still get nervous performing in front of an audience, but the most important thing to remember is that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone stutters sometimes and trips over their words, even Annie Oakley.
What’s a fun fact about Annie or the West you’ve learned along the way that you think wouldn’t be well-known to people?
Annie Oakley was actually the stage name of Phoebe Ann Moses! It is believed that she chose the name after Oakley, Ohio, where she lived with her husband, Frank Butler.
What do you want people to take away from your performance in particular and the show overall?
I want people to know that even some of history’s most well known figures came up through difficult circumstances, and that there are no doors that can’t be opened through hard work.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or say?
You can catch The Life of Annie Oakley every day at 1:30 and 3:00 at the Alhambra Saloon! Admission is only $14.99!
Old West Fest begins Sept. 9 through Oct. 15, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at $14.99 a ticket. The festival is held in Williamsburg on 1449 Greenbush Cobb Road. Along with Annie Oakley, those traveling back time will see trick roping, trick whips, gun-spinning, gunfights, saloon shows, melodramas, stunt comedy shows, live music and enjoy rattlesnake chili and learn about 1878 Dodge City, Kansas, along with much more.