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.
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.