Jeff caught up with Jim Fitzler, faculty at Hastings College, to see how the Plays for Presidents Festival fits into Nebraska.
Jeff M: You’re reaching the end of the academic year. How are you?
Jim Fitzler: Three weeks from the end of the year so I’ve been better. I like strike. Just getting ready to open Exit the King. It’s kinda metaphoric for the staff who are leaving.
JM: What drew you to this festival?
JF: Somehow Wendy Weinhold (Plays for President Festival Media Consultant) told us to email you guys. I think that’s it! I have no memory!
JM: What tipped the scale to say this show is right up Hastings College’s alley?
JF: We had worked on the Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Plays/365 Days, and we were the only place that did all the plays in the cycle. We did them all as audio plays by telephone. We tracked everyone down and did them from pay phones if we had to.
Anytime we can get connected to other places is big for us. We’re not big on competitions so this is right up or our alley.
JM: So this isn’t the first time you’ve done something nationally recognized. How does this show fit into the Hasting’s theatrical experience?
Fitzler's Production of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
JF: It’s totally different than anything else we do! The whole point of teaching is to give as many experiences as possible. There isn’t a “thing we do” per se. It’s like a commedia style without commedia. It’s rare that a script can combine politics and farce. My background is performance art and minimalist — so anything you can do with just a coat is a blast! We call it a play so why is it so painful. Just let them do that.
JM: Since your production is in the fall semester do your students know about it yet?
JF: Not many students have been involved yet. They know we’re talking about it. We want to get the film together before the spring so we can mess with it. We did Assassins in January which has some personalities from your show. They’re going to be an inside joke on our end.
JM: What brought you to selecting Gerald Ford for your film?
JF: Well, the Nebraska connection really, but personally, and this wasn’t a factor by any means, my dad was a lobbyist for cattle feeders growing up. I met Ford many times! He wasn’t the most memorable guy, but as a kid he was really tall and clumsy looking. But he was very nice.
Jim works professionally as a Director, Musician, Designer and Writer working in theatre and film. He was founding member of Open Channels, the producing wing for DIXON PLACE, the Obie Award winning theatre in New York; was founding member and Artistic Director for the nationally recognized theatre company Big State Productions in Austin, Texas; and has worked as a free-lance artist in theatre across the United States.
Medium, Meet Message
Jimmy Carter (sans sweater)
I have this recollection of a TV spot wherein Jimmy Carter stood amidst a field of golden prairie-like foliage (perhaps wheat… or tall grass) wearing a red sweater and talking very quietly and earnestly in his soft, Southern drawl. I have no idea what he was talking about, but the overall tone was soothing and (I assume) aiming very solidly for trustworthy.
Whether this memory comes from actually viewing the spot as it happened, having seen it later, or having created it in my head as a mashup of actual interaction/observation and associative leaps made from a lifetime of media consumption I’ll never know. But I do remember thinking he looked a lot like Fred Rogers (a seminal figure in my early 70s childhood). And, as an adult, my go-to mental picture of Carter remains that of “sweater-clad possibly-farmer standing in a sunny field middle-America-style.”
"Join, or Die" - widely considered the first published political cartoon
The intersection of political messaging and media as vehicle has long been present in our election-cycle process. Political cartoons emerged as early as 1754, the first being published Ben Franklin in his Pennsylvania Gazette. Newspapers have thrown their weight behind candidates, chosen to reveal or hide presidential scandals, and become synonymous with campaign politicking… the two locked in an elicit embrace that ultimately feeds a 24-hour news cycle and supports the employment opportunities of what would otherwise be considered the soapbox Sunday crazies one might find wandering through a community park.
And then this happened.
Not new, by any means. We’ve long seen the impact of television spots and appearances on voter perceptions and selections (along with an increasing awareness of the Super PAC relationship to political messaging). Think about the Eisenhower using marketing execs to craft messaging for his political ads or the Kennedy/Nixon debates. Clinton’s use of MTV and the Arsenio Hall show to appeal to young voters. Obama showing up on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
And they all have their talking points; they all have the demographic they’re hoping to target with the spot, and they often end up looking foolish or desperate. This job of marketing the presidency is a weird thing. And it works in sharp contrast to the party-driven machinery meant to highlight every gaffe and trumpet every mistake.
But no matter what your political affiliation, it should be noted this new move by Obama heralds a shift in tactics. Suddenly we have a media as medium foray coupled with a clear platform message – all within the arena of “entertainment,” rather than the more regularly contentious realm of advertising. An interesting and bold move… one that has already sparked backlash and garnered giddy approval.
And because of the omnipresent and overly insistent nature of social media… this type of intersection will likely only increase in the years to come. Presidents will tweet and blog and be your fb friend. They’ll show up on late-night tv shows and continue to engage in this process that spotlights their most human qualities. Nerves and stumbles, bad puns and jokes that fall flat, askew ties and too-energetic laughter.
The medium is not going to disappear… but perhaps in this age of global and social interconnection, the message will get stronger. Not as a marketing tool, but as an honest attempt to talk about why your choice as a voter matters. About why this person’s decisions, philosophies, and ideas will directly impact you. About how you have strength.
For all of you involved in the Plays for Presidents Festival – thank you for taking this on. Thank you for stepping in to create yet another medium for a message aimed squarely at the electorate. Thank you for sharing links (Doug Oliphant!), and joining in conversation, and engaging your communities, and paying attention.
You are the medium AND the message.
McKinley: The Modern Man, The Moving Image
“Was William McKinley the first ‘modern’ American president?” Hmmm. There’s some deep thinkin’. It sounds like a weighty and worthy question for all you historians out there. If I were my own senior thesis advisor, I would most definitely sign off on this research in my quest to graduate with honors. For now though, all I have to do is compose a blog post, which requires far less time in the stacks and, sadly, lacks a payoff of mortarboards and tassels.
William McKinley + Giant Parasol = Modern President?
I am not actually certain how the modern presidency is best defined. I know, this does not instill faith in a Secretary of Research, but bear with me. Good research is in the questions after all, and McKinley’s place in history begs a few. His terms straddled the 19th century (which was all Victorian and full of pioneers eating hardtack and generally very sepia) and the 20th (which was the sleek, stainless steel, super-modern, EPCOT Center of an American century!). He seems well-placed as a transitional figure, so maybe we’re onto something. Yet, since the presidency is ever-evolving, the question of the first modern one is wide open:
Maybe it’s Wilson, who completed the move from Isolationist America to Architect of Global Politics with the League of Nations.
How about Roosevelt? The New Deal forever changed the relationship between government and society, and enabled muralists to significantly contribute to GNP.
Truman ushered in the nuclear age.
Kennedy ushered in the telegenic age.
Obama is the first Executive meme.
Heck, Hayes ended Reconstruction, shifting the focus of the presidency from regional conflict to the larger project of creating America: Industrial Giant.
Maybe they all are modern, from Washington on down, since the very notion of a democracy – political power wielded by ordinary people exercising their rational faculties – is still the apotheosis of the Enlightenment.
Wow. The competition is sure stiff, but if all of those guys are going to make the list, Billy M. should really get his due.
Modern Chapter 1: Look out world…
With all due respect to Dr. Woodrow Wilson, reluctant entrant into World War I, it was really William McKinley, reluctant entrant into the Cuban struggle for independence, who thrust the United States onto the world stage. Since its founding, the United States stood aside, more or less, while the powers of Europe divided up the spoils of the world and saw their colonial fortunes wax and wane. This was until 1898.
McKinley’s vision here is somewhat in dispute. Many historians claim that he was forced, by the explosion of the Maine and the zeal of the newspapers, to invade. Once it was done, however, the rest was (duh) history. The U.S. made quick work of the Spanish and their senescent empire. In the process, McKinley laid the foundation for a true 20th century empire, one focused on military more than (though certainly not to the exclusion of) straight resource plundering. This came in handy less than two years later when the American naval fleet in the Philippines left to join to a coalition putting down the Boxer Rebellion in China. With this McKinley established the US as a power on the Pacific rim, laying the groundwork the nation’s most important economic relationships today.
Modern Chapter 2:Look Ma, I’m on TV
Politics and the 24-hour news cycle are the ever-present conjoined twins of early 21st century America. They’re gawked at, need each other to live, and at any given moment it can be difficult to discern which of the two is more parasitic. Ever since there have been people in power, there have been mechanisms to distribute news of said people. However, a revolution in that coverage began around the time McKinley came into office: the ability to be everywhere, to witness far away events, beginning with Edison and his actualities.
When Edison first left his laboratory with his new camera, some of his films were seemingly humdrum, like street scenes or trains (note: some of his early films were subsidized by the railroads). Others were for popular entertainment – Vaudville performers, boxing matches, and the ever-popular exoticism of Native Americans doing traditional dances at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. For our purposes, it was when Edison made a more portable camera that world events became his for the capturing and the public’s for the viewing. McKinley became the new medium’s first political focus: having the first filmed inauguration, the first filmed war preparations, and its first state funeral.
Modern Chapter 3: Lookee here, Mother Nature
Edison captured one other first during the McKinley years: the first filmed natural disaster. On September 8, 1900, Galveston, TX was transformed from booming port to site of unparalleled devastation. A hurricane leveled the city and killed more people than every other American hurricane combined.
Author Erik Larson reports the following exchange between McKinley and US Weather Bureau Chief Willis L. Moore in 1898:
“Moore spread out a map of the Caribbean featuring the tracks of past hurricanes. McKinley studied the map, then turned to the Secretary [of Agriculture], “[James] Wilson,” he said, “I am more afraid of a West Indian hurricane than I am of the entire Spanish Navy.”” – Isaac’s Storm p. 74
Given the looming threat of war with Spain and the legend of the mighty Armada being devastated by storms (possibly the remnants of hurricanes) in 1588, McKinley’s concern was quite founded. So driven, McKinley ordered the creation of a hurricane warning system. Science and American ingenuity would protect America against the vagaries of nature. By understanding the storms and detecting them early we could prepare.
It was common “knowledge” that hurricanes which formed in the Atlantic Ocean and northern Caribbean always “recurved” to the north, the northeast, and then out to sea. This is precisely what the Weather Bureau believed on September 4th as they began to receive word of a storm approaching Cuba and the Gulf. Several Cuban priests, who were expert in the forecast of storms, warned that the recurve did not occur and the storm was headed for Texas. Mistrust of Cuba and of the priests’ unscientific, folk understanding of the weather, contributed to these warnings going unheeded. Up to 12,000 died.
In this tragedy, McKinley’s role was accidental. Sure, he didn’t visit the devastation because there was campaigning for re-election to be done, but he sent troops and supplies and was adequately mournful. The significance here is that the latest chapter of Man vs. Nature had begun. With the Galveston Hurricane, the terms of that battle really crystallized into their current form. In one corner, a kind of manifest destiny meet positivism: the natural world could be tamed with engineering, science, and will (cf. global warming, DDT, the very existence of Las Vegas and Phoenix, etc.). In the other corner, nature just bides her time and rope-a-dopes (cf. global warming, desert encroachment, Katrina).
So, on behalf of William McKinley, and that little soapbox there at the end, see ya next week!
A Staged Reading at dog and pony dc
Lorraine Ressegger, director of 44 Plays for 44 Presidents at dog and pony dc, takes time to write about preparing for a staged reading in our nation’s capital!
dog & pony dc was thrilled to receive an invitation to be a part of the Plays for Presidents Festival, and as a company in the nation’s capitol we felt it our duty to participate. What better place for an exploration of, and conversation about the 44 men who have served as this country’s leader than Washington, DC?
Not only are we excited by the play, but as an ensemble of artists that constantly and consistently seek new ways for audiences to experience theatre, we are drawn to the Neo-Futurists’ ideas of theatre “that is a fusion of sport, poetry, and living-newspaper” and performances that speak directly and honestly with the audience. We are still in the process of figuring out audience integration, pushing the boundaries and trying to figure out how it all works and why. This production gives us another opportunity to create a dialogue with our community. To quote fellow Ring Leader of dog & pony dc, Rachel Grossman, “Audience integration keeps us on our toes as artists—curious, humble—and, hopefully, keeps more DC area theater-goers also on tip-toe—inquisitive, engaged, and in the moment.”
We’ve decided to do a bootleg staged reading of 44 Presidents on October 29, 2012 – the anniversary of the infamous stock market crash – to honor our chosen president, Herbert Hoover, and to capitalize on the energy and excitement that a staged reading can generate. The artists involved will be tasked with learning the play inside and out, but will not come together for rehearsal until the day of performance. On that day, we will have a few hours of play and rehearsal and will then go live before an audience. We are hopeful that this experiment with provide a sense of immediacy and celebration to the event. We will all come together (performers and audience) as a group to tell the story – everyone is in on the playmaking, everyone is a participant in the exploration of our nation’s history.
We’re still in the process of figuring out how to work with the stage directions, props, set, costumes – but that is part of the fun! We can’t wait to see how it evolves, and we’ll be sure to keep you informed!
With dog & pony dc, Lorraine choreographed the violence in PUNCH!–that’s the way we do it, conceived and directed/choreographed Bare Breasted Women Sword Fighting, co-directed Separated at Birth, dramaturged and produced COURAGE, and performed in Cymbeline and Beertown. Lorraine lives in Virginia with her husband John and their new, very cute (and very loud) daughter Lacey.
Gnap! Assembles Hall of Losers
As we move further into the Festival lineup and closer to our final 44 Plays for 44 Presidents video mashup unveiling, I’ll be interviewing producers around the country to spotlight their ideas for creative contributions they’ll be adding to the mix.
This week, I spoke with Shannon McCormick, Artistic Director of Gnap! Theater Projects, who has a bold and innovative idea for highlighting and utilizing his creative community in pursuit of the vision and goals of the Plays for Presidents Festival.
Tell me a little bit about the project you have in mind.
Salvage Vanguard Theatre (SVT), where we’ll be performing 44 Plays for 44 Presidents also has an art gallery in the front of the building. A good friend of mine is the curator, and he and I are co-curating a show to run in conjunction with our performance. The show will be a portrait gallery of all the losing general election candidates in American history. So, losers in the front, Presidents in the show. We’re not done rounding up contributors, but we’re about halfway there. We have some really strong folks from the world of indie/art comics on board for the show – including Chicago’s Anders Nilsen – and anticipate getting some attention. We’ll also probably be doing a Kickstarter in the fall to pay for the printing of a nice book commemorating the exhibit.
What inspired the idea?
Wayne Alan Brenner - Writer & Editor at the Austin Chronicle, Curator/Designer of the Minerva's Wreck Anthologies, and Manager of Salvage Vanguard Theatre's lobby gallery
I know a number of theatres have done Presidential portrait galleries in conjunction with this show. So, I was thinking about that, but wanted to do something a little different. Fortunately my good friend Wayne Alan Brenner runs the gallery at SVT. He’s the kind of guy who’s open to whatever harebrained scheme is tossed at him. So when I settled on a portrait gallery of our losing candidates, he was totally game.
America is obsessed with success, but I’ve always been drawn to stories about losers… about talented people who don’t rise to the top. A lot of these losing candidates are very obscure characters now, but for a season, they were one of the two or three most prominent individuals in American political life. I think that’s important to remember, and to realize that guys like Jonh McCain and John Kerry and Al Gore will someday too be little-remembered figures from our distant past.
Anyone you’re particularly interested in among the bunch you’ll be focusing on with this exhibit? Who is your favorite “loser” so far?
Guys like Al Gore and Samuel Tilden are really interesting, as they won a plurality of the popular vote but lost because of the Electoral College. I think my favorite loser so far, though, is Horace Greeley who lost the election of 1872 to Ulysses Grant. He was beaten pretty soundly, but then ended up dying before the Electoral College votes were cast, so the electoral votes were scattered to various other folks. Also, he was more of a writer than a politician, and ran on ticket of disaffected Republicans – then wound up being endorsed by the Democrats, who declined to nominate their own candiate for fear of splitting the anti-Grant vote. American political history is crazy and rich.
How can people find out more information? Is there a place you’re regularly updating folks or where you’ll be highlighting the process once it gets underway?
2) Share the post: Will you be our biggest fan? Win some Presidential Swag! on your own wall. Feel free to add your own message about “liking” us.
3) At Noon on Monday, April 30 send us a screenshot of our Facebook page, as you see it, including how many of your friends currently like the page. Be sure both the number of your friends and your own Facebook avatar are in the screenshot.
Send to: email@example.com
THIS CONTEST IS OPEN TO ANYONE!
WHAT YOU COULD WIN The Fan with the most Likes receives:
1) a free item from our current Cafe Press Merch Page.
2) the ability to create a new item for the Merch Page.
Individuals who garner over 30 friend “Likes” will ALSO get the opportunity to create a new item for the Merch page.
FOUNDER’S CHALLENGE: Andy Bayiates has set the bar. If you can get more likes than him (93) he will write a 2-minute biographical monologue about you!
Thanks, and we’ll see your screenshots by Monday, April 30 in our inbox: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will you be our biggest fan?
Good Presidents Still Available!: Millard Fillmore
The differences between the Plays for Presidents organization and the actual presidency are few and subtle. One is that Secretary of Research is an actual cabinet position in the former and not the latter. The current holder of that post is me, Evan Hanover, and I am delighted to meet and serve you.
Among my responsibilities is to help theaters that want to join the festival select the president they want to represent. This is no small decision. You need a president who you’re comfortable with, you can talk to, and, most importantly, with whom you have great chemistry.
Mass wedding, not related at all to Plays for Presidents or its presidential matchmaking procedures.
A theater and a president can’t just be thrown together based on our whims. I am no Rev. Moon and this festival will not be a mass wedding of 44 theaters and 44 chief execs meeting for the first time on the altar/stage. And there are a few executives out there who are frequently overlooked in these courtships. Over the next few weeks, I am going to help you get to know them, and who knows, maybe sparks will fly.
Now I know what you’re thinking– “sparks will fly” would be a great segue to some James Madison talk, since the British burned the White House during his presidency. Am I right? But if you have to explain the joke, then it ain’t no good. Nope, I am going to start with the oft-forgotten Millard Fillmore.
I don’t want to overlook Fillmore’s shortcomings; his reputation as one of the country’s worst presidents is well-earned. Most notoriously, Fillmore’s stance on slavery in the western territories and his role in the Compromise in 1850 while he was vice president did much to seal his fate. His pro-slavery position put him at odds with the president, Zachary Taylor. The rift was so great that, not only did the whole cabinet resign when Taylor died and Fillmore became president, but prominent Whigs including Lincoln fled to the Republicans. Fillmore’s presidency sounded the death knell for the Whigs, who had won the 1840 and 1848 presidential elections.1 The party essentially folded by 1856, and Fillmore would be the country’s last third party Commander-in-Chief.
It is not Fillmore’s policy positions that we should be taken with, rather it is his surprising relation to several major transitions in the American presidency. As I noted, Fillmore was America’s last third-party president. Certainly third parties still play a significant role in national politics, in fact, one can argue that twice in the last twenty years (1992 and 2000), the presence of a third presidential candidate altered the outcome of an election. Still, it seems appropriate that when the last Whig ascended to the presidency, he never appointed a vice president, as if he knew he was the last of a line without an heir.
Fillmore also made the presidency seem more populist. His first third-party was the Anti-Masonic Party (I suspect you’ll find their platform self- explanatory). He served for them in the New York State Assembly, where his biggest achievement was to help eliminate debtors prisons (rejoice, student loan holders!). In 1831, the Anti-Masonics met in Baltimore to select a presidential candidate. Never before had a party held a national convention. Other major parties soon followed, shifting power from the opaque workings of party bosses to locally elected delegates, and thereby the people.
In a similar populist vein, Fillmore was the first man to truly embody the sentiment that anyone can grow up to be president. While not all presidents before him were wealthy landowners like Washington or Jefferson, he was the first to be raised dirt poor. He lived on a small farm in Cayuga County, NY until his father apprenticed him to a clothmaker.
His ascendancy shifted the arc of the party system in American politics to a White House more welcoming of lawyers and statesmen rather than landed gentry and military frontiersmen. But maybe this kind of discussion doesn’t grab you. Maybe you crave the factoids that a Secretary of Research best traffics in, the silly ones. And so I leave you with two:
First, the prurient, which is ever-popular. Before it was a popular theme on TV magazine shows, Millard FIllmore was on the student-teacher seduction bandwagon, on the student side of the equation. Millard married his teacher, a woman named Abigail Powers. Granted this wasn’t much of a scandal, especially given that Powers was less than two years Millard’s senior, but it’ll still get an ooh and ahh from the audience.
Fillmore was posthumously a player in a hoax perpetrated by journalist and satirist H. L. Mencken. In his 1917 article, “A Neglected Anniversary” he provided a totally
One of the White House's less fictional bathtubs.
made-up “history” of the bathtub. Among the tub trivia was a claim that Fillmore installed the White House’s first bathtub, which is still an oft-cited achievement, even though Mencken admitted the hoax several years later. To this day the hoax is festively commemorated on the streets of Moravia, NY where four-wheeled bathtubs are raced during Fillmore Days every July.
There you have it from this presidential matchmaker. Be it “ Fillmore: From Poor House to White House” or “Millard and the Imaginary Bathtub,” this one might be the guy for you.
1Though, to be fair, both Whigs actually elected to the White House served a total of only 17 months – William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor are the first- and third-shortest serving presidents, respectively. As it happens, Abigail Powers, Fillmore’s wife, followed in the grand Whig tradition begun by Harrison– at Franklin Pierce’s inauguration, Powers also contracted pneumonia and died 26 days later. For those keeping score, her case of inaugural pneumonia was lethal in six fewer days than Harrison’s.
Florida School of the Arts joins the Festival
Another Neo-Futurist’s alma mater has entered the Festival.
The college? Florida School of the Arts.
The Neo-Futurist? The legendary Noelle Krimm. And guess who Florida School of the Arts has hired to direct our show? Um…Noelle Krimm.
Noelle, who was part of the class of Neo-Futurists who hired me, has actually performed in 43 Plays for 43 Presidents, at the Carter Center in Atlanta, (when she was 3 months pregnant, mind you.) She stepped in for Karen Weinberg and rocked a great Richard Nixon.
Florida School of the Arts was from its inception, designed to be an intimate setting where students receive close and individual attention. I asked Noelle to tell me about Florida School of the Arts, and the first thing she mentioned was why an intimate setting is such a boon.
Said Noelle, “What is unique and wonderful and important about the Florida School of the Arts is that there is constant crossover between disciplines. The school is small and houses programs for actors, singers, dancers, musicians, stage managers, visual artists and graphic designers. We all worked together and played together – we were all up in each other’s business all the time. That type of understanding of art as a whole – not just a single discipline – was integral to being a Neo-Futurist and has shaped the way I approach making art myself. ”
FSA has chosen James K. Polk (our 11th president) as their contribution to the video project. Why? Interestingly enough, James K. Polk was the first president to preside over a United States that included Florida–he was sworn in the day after Florida had been admitted to the union in 1845. And that’s why Polk County, Florida was named after the President. (And Guess what? Polk county is where Noelle was born!)
Florida School of the Arts, you are smart and you know good theater and good artists when you see them. This will be the second college production directed by a Neo-Futurist for this Festival, and this makes us all kinds of happy.
Post Production Perspective
Co-Author Chloe Johnston directed the inaugural production of 44 Plays for 44 Presidents at Lake Forest College. I caught up with her to gain some perspective.
Jeff M.: Let’s start with the good stuff. Any good anecdotes from this event?
Chloe J.: Friday night after the show an actor broke his foot. He plays Ford and throws himself around stage. I didn’t find out he could do the show until 2pm. Basically the Stage Manager called the whole cast met at 4:30 to rehearse the whole show — they relearned his choreo and we did the show without him.
What an amazing testament to what the show was like. They are incredible, hardworking and enthusiastic, but it really spoke to how much ownership they had over the show. Even thought they didn’t write it they felt very attached to it.
JM: I can only imagine that the energy of a college campus might amplify the effect of doing this production. What was it like being the first in the festival and how did the students feel about it?
CJ: Students followed everything. Twitter, Facebook, and all. Three of our nine students are international students and they’re going to get to show this to their families on YouTube next to professional productions across the country. The festival is going to reach all these people who can’t see a production.
JM: Were there any insights that the students had that you may not have had writing/doing?
CJ: In some ways I didn’t even realize how deeply it was effecting them until the videos were made — until you heard how detailed their knowledge was. A number of cast members created images for the Hall of Presidents. Essentially, they were replicating the process in which we wrote the show in the first place. You read until something captures your imagination. [The students] read until they found something to paint from. Something quite important for doing the local Plays for Presidents.
JM: Was this the first production you’d been involved with since the Neo-Futurists in 2002?
CJ: In 2004 we toured it a few places from Chicago, Colorado, and the Carter Center in Atlanta. That was the last time that we’d thought about the show. Actually coming back to it after a long period I got to discover the show for the first time with them. It is great to see some tweaks over the years that were added by Andy.
JM: Any advice to the next production?
CJ: It’s a show that needs to settle into the performers. I thought we might over rehearse the show, but it’s a different kind of theatre than most people have done before. So the more time you have to make it your own the better. Really fit it in to your bodies for comic timing — it’s a new set of skills. There are Neo-Futuristy moments, but they are great moments for them to own it. It’s a special thing.
Chloe Johnston, (Education Coordinator and co-writer of 44 Presidents) is a Neo-Futurist alumnus. She wrote and performed in Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind in addition to creating The Emmett Project, Patriots and, most recently, collaborating on Fear, an interactive walking tour of the stories of Edgar Allen Poe.
Only 6 Presidents Left for the National Video Project
That’s right! Only six slots are left if you want to participate in the Plays for Presidents Festival 2012 video project. Once all 44 presidential “scenes” are nabbed, additional productions can still join the festival – but we’ll have no more room to include your work in the composite video that will be revealed later this year.
I was taking a gander at the presidential wallflowers still waiting to be asked to the dance, and I have to admit that in some cases, I’m a bit surprised to see who remains unclaimed. We’ve got some real catches among the final contenders. So to help encourage your selection process (or to give you ammo for the barrage you can offer your on-the-fence producer friend)… I’m going to highlight the salient perks of each remaining leader!
Quote: “Despotism can only exist in darkness, and there are too many lights now in the political firmament to permit it to remain anywhere, as it has heretofore done, almost everywhere.”
Fun presidential fact:James was best known for his beguiling and popular wife, Dolly (after whom the well-known snack cake is named). She had the wherewithall, as the White House burned down, to save certain items of significance… ultimately influencing the selection of portraits, furniture, and other artifacts still kept in the White House today.
The play within “the play”: Beautiful yet simple, this play is quietly powerful. (And if you like pyrotechnics, this baby is yours. It’s got a big wow factor and the potential for a great fire effect.)
Quote: “The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.”
Presidential factoid: He helped to broker the Louisiana Purchase before becoming president, which more than doubled the size of the country. He was considered quiet, dignified, and diligent by his peers. Jefferson said of him: “Monroe was so honest that if you turned his soul inside out there would not be a spot on it.”
The play within “the play”: Funny, political, and sharp – this play touches on some very important issues in a way that allows the audience to make connections while also getting a good giggle.
Quote: “May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not.”
Presidential factoid: The most notable thing about Fillmore is how uninspiring he was considered by his contemporaries (as well as historians). He is typically rated among the 10 worst U.S. Presidents… and most people don’t even remember his name. Poor guy!
The play within “the play”: This plays kills. Every time. The audience eats it up, and the cast always has fun performing it.
Quote: “A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.”
Presidential factoid: Most historians agree it was not the bullet that killed Garfield, but rather the method doctors used for trying to locate it. Alexander Graham Bell had invented an early “metal detector.” Every time it went off, they dug in to find the bullet. Too many failed attempts had been made before they realized the detector was picking up on the metal springs beneath Garfield’s body, rather than the bullet they were seeking to locate.
The play within “the play”: Another powerful piece that takes an entirely different approach to storytelling. Perfect for a company with strong movement, dance, or physical narrative abilities. You’ll wow them all.
Quote: “I have never been in doubt since I was old enough to think intelligently that I would someday be made president.”
Presidential factoid: McKinley believed in a free Cuba, governed by its own people. He worked against the wishes of Congress to keep Amerian out of War with Cuba, engaging in “neutral intervention” during the 100-day Spanish-American War.
The play within “the play”: Another seemingly quiet piece that ends up whomping you in the gut. It’s a poignant scene that underscores the shocking nature of his assassination. Visual, aural, and darkly haunting.
Quote: “Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.”
Presidential factoid: Coolidge was an austere and frugal man, which put him at odds with the shifting morals and cultural sentiment of the roaring 20s. He felt so out of sync with the times within which he lived and governed, he chose not to seek reelection in 1928.
The play within “the play”: One of the few “musical” numbers within the play, this piece can be interpreted many ways. Every time I’ve seen it, it strikes me how much information is conveyed in such an elegant way. It’s a perfect piece for any producer with strong musical chops!