Column: ‘1776’ an Honest Exploration of the Themes of Our Founding

  • Peter Drummey, the librarian of the Massachusetts Historical Society, points to a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence, known as a "Dunlap Broadside," at the society in Boston, on June 29, 2015. Here in acid-free, low humidity stacks are 13 million pages of the personal letters and diaries of men and women who helped create the world we live in. (Bloomberg photograph)

  • FILE - In this Wednesday, April 19, 2017 file photo, members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) march past Independence Hall during opening ceremonies for the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. A year after its opening, officials say the museum will have sold over 350,000 tickets, meeting expectations, and it is in a healthy financial position. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

For the Valley News
Saturday, April 14, 2018

It would appear that the production of 1776 at the Briggs Opera House that I have spearheaded has stirred up some spirited debate (Valley News Forum, April 8). That is exactly what we were hoping would happen through the scope of the project.

On behalf of the cast and crew who have worked so hard to bring this show to the Upper Valley, I wanted to share some thoughts, including a quote from an article in The New Yorker by actor and writer Molly Ringwald reflecting back on some of the work that she has done as an artist:

“How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose? What if we are in the unusual position of having helped create it? Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art — change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go.”

The people who wrote to the Valley News criticizing the production of 1776 were expressing rage and shame at the founding of our country and the way in which some peoples were treated. Nevertheless, this is our history.

By 1770 there were 13 British colonies that were challenging how they were being governed, and sent delegates to Philadelphia to decide what to do about it. This is what 1776 looks at, and despite being almost 50 years old, I believe it does a remarkable job of representing what happened, how it unfolded, and the high-minded principles that were articulated.

It also looks at the dark compromise on slavery (addressed in the song Molasses to Rum) that was reached — which is so relevant to the current examination of racism in our country. In addition, it’s a lively portrait of Congress that legislators in our talkback sessions tell us is right on the money. It includes songs that achingly tally the costs of war (Mama, Look Sharp) and articulate the materialistic conservative viewpoint (Cool Considerate Men) that’s still part of our body politic.

All of the themes of the play were explored and felt deeply by the actors portraying their roles. None of it was overlooked or trivialized. We also worked hard to provide an inviting space to give audiences a chance to discuss what they saw in the play.

And our audiences have seemed hungry for it, packing the house for every performance and staying late into the evening for talkbacks with commentators — legislators, scholars, public servants — who also feel this production is worthwhile.

Ultimately, our goal for this production and this project was to recognize that we live in an imperfect world and that there is still lots of work to do. We hope to be contributing to the dialogue that will help us move forward in a positive, constructive way.

And because we are theater artists, we would welcome suggestions about other plays that tell an important and compelling story. Please send them along and I would be happy to read them and consider them for a future production.

Perry Allison, of Thetford, is the producer and director of The 1776 Project. She can be reached via email at the1776projectvt@gmail.com.