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Just in Time for the Presidential Election: ArtsCenter Stage Is Presenting “44 Plays for 44 Presidents”

ArtsCenter Stage will stage a community-theater production of 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, directed by Mark Filiaci, on Sept. 28-30 and Oct. 4-7 as part of the nationwide Plays for Presidents Festival (http://playsforpresidents.com/).

The Neo-Futurists [http://www.neofuturists.org/] of Chicago updated this play from their original [2001] production of 43 Plays for 43 Presidents,” ArtsCenter Stage artistic director Jeri Lynn Schulke points out. “They updated the play and assembled the Plays for Presidents Festival 2012.”

She adds, “Plays for Presidents is a group of affiliated theater artists, media specialists, and history buffs who see the potential in creating a national conversation and artistic event countering the clamor and monotony of mainstream political coverage. The main focus for Plays for Presidents this year is the inaugural mounting of a festival connecting producers from across the country in using 44 Plays for 44 Presidents to engage audiences in political reflection and see themselves as agents of change in the context of presidential history.

“The Plays for Presidents staff includes several Neo-Futurist alumni, along with educational, corporate, theater, and media professionals whose expertise and passion help shape and communicate their ultimate message for greater civil engagement through a new breed of patriotism,” says Schulke.

Schulke says, “An alum from the Neo-Futurists and one of the co-writers of 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, has parents who live in Chapel Hill. When the festival was on the search for theaters to bring on board, they suggested ArtsCenter Stage to her and the festival’s co-chair and project director, Andy Bayiates (her husband, too!), contacted me to gauge our interest in participating. He e-mailed me the script, and I read about four pages and e-mailed him back with a big Yes! I then read the entire script, and was so glad I did!”

Schulke admits, “This production gives me (personally) an outlet for which to point my enthusiasm for the electoral process and to combine what I know and do and love (theater) with that process. There is an undercurrent throughout the show that really underlines how we as a society shape our destiny. The show highlights the fact that this is our government, and hence it is our responsibility and right to voice our opinion about how our country is run. I also love the fact that we are participating in this nationwide festival run by the Plays for Presidents Festival 2012.”

She explains, “There are over 44 theaters (including professional theater companies and community theaters), colleges/universities, and high schools participating with productions of this play this election year. Being part of a larger undertaking, bringing local actors, designers, our director, and more into contact with other organizations working on the same production connects us to the larger theater world.”

44 Plays for 44 Presidents director Mark Filiaci adds, “I was particularly drawn to the historical accuracy in each of the pieces. Regardless of the brevity or format of the presentation of each President, the authors took great pains to incorporate facts into the plays.

“Whether the piece is comedic or tragic, dance oriented or narrative, visual or aural, they all contain revealing facts about these 44 leaders of our country, either before, during, or after their terms, that influenced the decision-making process of their administrations,” notes Filiaci. “The challenge was incorporating all these different formats into one linear piece — which was also the fun part.”

He adds, “I think another challenge was in dealing with the modern Presidents, those that so many of us grew up watching and analyzing over our lifetimes. How much of the collective consciousness to present without turning the play into a skit.”

ArtsCenter Stage's "44 Plays for 44 Presidents" cast includes (from left) Michael Brocki, Derrick Ivey, Page Purgar, and Stephen Wall

ArtsCenter Stage’s “44 Plays for 44 Presidents” cast includes (from left) Michael Brocki, Derrick Ivey, Page Purgar, and Stephen Wall

When the curtain rises on 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, Jeri Lynn Schulke says, “A company of actors take the audience from the founding of our country through present day highlighting each president’s time in office. Beginning with George Washington’s (Derrick Ivey) almost Eden-like perfection, the scenes shift frequently between the comic and the tragic, from Ben Franklin (Ros Schwartz) giving Thomas Jefferson (Derrick Ivey) a Borscht Belt-style roast, to the frank portrayal of William Henry Harrison’s (Stephen Wall) life as an ‘Indian slayer,’ and later the grim onset of the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (Page Purgar).

“Act II starts off the twentieth century with the assassination of William McKinley (Michael Brocki), moves through a Nixon-praising dance number [and] a George Bush Sr. (Ros Schwartz) mini-musical about dirty campaigning, and arrives at a polarized America in both the George W. Bush (Derrick Ivey) and Barack Obama (Stephen Wall) plays. A variety of theatrical styles are used: from vaudeville in the Van Buren (Page Purgar) play, interpretive dance in the Garfield (Stephen Wall) play, game show in the Arthur (audience member) play, classroom lecture in the Wilson (Derrick Ivey) play, singing in the Coolidge (Derrick Ivey) play, spoken word in the FDR (all cast members) play, Vegas-style show tunes in the Nixon play. Slides, videos, and audio recordings of the presidents are incorporated throughout the production.”

In addition to guest director Mark Filiaci and ArtsCenter Stage artistic director Jeri Lynn Schulke, who serves as the show’s producer, the theater company’s creative team for 44 Plays for 44 Presidents includes technical director Michael Brocki, set designer Paul Stiller, lighting designer Elizabeth Droessler, costume designer Jessie Gillooly, properties manager Brittany Bugge, video designer Adam Graetz, sound designer Marc Maximov, and stage manager Alicia Knight. Director Mark Filiaci and the 44 Plays for 44 Presidents cast choreographed the show.

“As far as the cast is concerned (and I’m hesitant to speak for them),” says director Mark Filiaci, “the concept of playing 30 or 40 different characters over an evening is somewhat daunting; but I’m sure they would tell you, it is what performing professionals have been trained to do throughout their lives and, in my case, they eagerly attacked this work with commitment, which is the basic necessity for this kind of work.

“And as far as the creative team is concerned, I think they might say that this was a particularly unique challenge in the fact that the stage, lighting, video, and music aspects of this production are so vitally intertwined with the performance aspects that one missing component would leave quite a large whole. For example, with 44 plays, we have 44 sets of props to consider and, doing the math (which I have not although I’m sure our propsmaster has), you are looking at over 200 props for one two-hour evening!” says director Mark Filiaci. “[There are also] light cues, sound cues, video cues for 44 different plays, changing every two to three minutes.

Set designer Paul Stiller says, “The set is a celebration of the right of all Americans to select our own destiny. This right is embodied in the inauguration of a president every four years. What better way than to erect a red, white, and blue scaffolding as a visible proclamation of our hard-fought freedom to all the world and to ourselves.”

Costume designer Jessie Gillooly adds, “The costumes in 44 Plays for 44 Presidents layer the classic look of the Presidents with modern styles. As the play’s creators specified, the goal is not to convince the audience that the actors are the Presidents, so many of the pieces represent a President’s most memorable trait, without recreating the fashions of his times. The Presidential Coat, an amalgamation of historical and modern, represents the office itself: always a bit too big, a burden to the wearer, but still an object of fascination and desire.”

“I know this will sound corny,” says ArtsCenter Stage artistic director Jeri Lynn Schulke, “but I think this show really does have something for everyone-slapstick comedy, murder, mystery and mayhem, songs, ballet and modern dance, spoken-word poetry, audience participation as well as Vegas show tunes. But most importantly, it is an opportunity for us as citizens to look back at this relatively young republic and think about where we’ve been, how we got here, and where we want to go in the future. Most importantly, please join us, the cast and the crew, and vote this election year.”

NOTE: The ArtsCenter cautions Triangle theatergoers: “Anyone who plans to attend the Sunday, Sept. 30th, matinee at 2 p.m. should be aware that the Carrboro Music Festival [http://carrboromusicfestival.com/] is occurring that day as well and parking will be limited. We urge patrons to arrive early to find adequate parking. Here is our map of additional Carrboro Municipal Parking: http://artscenterlive.org/sites/default/files/uploads/Parking 2012.pdf. There will also be a shuttle leaving every 10 minutes from Carrboro Plaza at Highway 54 into downtown Carrboro from 12 noon to 9 p.m. More information on that can be found here: http://www.ci.chapel-hill.nc.us/index.aspx?recordid=5488&page=22.”

ArtsCenter Stage presents 44 PLAYS FOR 44 PRESIDENTS at 8 p.m. Sept. 28 and 29, 2 p.m. Sept. 30, 8 p.m. Oct. 4-6, and 2 p.m. Oct. 7 at 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro, North Carolina 27510.

TICKETS: $18 ($13 ArtsCenter Friends and $14 students and seniors 62+), except $10 apiece for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919-929-2787, ext. 201, or http://www.etix.com/.

SHOW: http://artscenterlive.org/story/44-plays-44-presidents-september-28-october-4.

SEASON: http://www.artscenterlive.org/performance/artscenter-stage-series.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.artscenterlive.org/.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.artscenterlive.org/about-tac/visitor-info.

PARKING: http://artscenterlive.org/sites/default/files/uploads/Parking 2012.pdf.

OTHER LINKS:

Plays for Presidents: http://playsforpresidents.com/ (official website).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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