'44 Plays for 44 Presidents'
opens discussion of who will be No. 45
Muhlenberg College's production, running Sept. 29 – Oct. 3, celebrates democracy in conjunction with the first Plays for Presidents Festival
Allentown, Pa (Sept. 7, 2012) – As the 2012 presidential election approaches, Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance Department prepares to celebrate with a production of the Neo-Futurists' "44 Plays for 44 Presidents," opening Sept. 29. Director Troy Dwyer leads the way as one of the founding fathers in the inauguration of the first Plays for Presidents Festival.
"People should expect to have fun, to laugh, and to be inspired to think about the world outside of the theatre," Dwyer says.
Dwyer serves as artistic director for the production, as well as co-directing the plays with Lily Dwoskin, Jerald Kaplan and Judith Mandel, and choreographers Allison Berger and Nina Pongratz. The play runs Sept. 29 through Oct. 3 in the college's 100-seat Studio Theatre, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance.
The play highlights the lives of all 44 presidents in short, often comedic, quasi-biographical scenes. The plays vary in style from a sepia-washed cowboy movie homage to a modern game show.
"You think you are going to see a play that will essentially be a history lesson--you're not," Dwoskin says. "All of the facts in the show are historically accurate, but it is NOT a historical play. It's really uniquely vaudeville. It's crazy, a lot of things are going on."
Muhlenberg's production is presented as part of the Plays for Presidents Festival 2012, in which 44 theater groups from all over the country will produce "44 Plays for 44 Presidents." The festival is closely tied with the Rock the Vote campaign to inspire people to both register and vote. The festival culminates in shows all around the nation in the months leading up to the presidential election, as well as an online video production of the show, including one scene from each of the 44 productions. Muhlenberg College's scene for the collaborative film will be James Buchanan, the 15th and only Pennsylvania-born president.
"The presidential election will be less than 80 days away during show week," Kaplan says. "With the election quickly approaching, '44 Plays for 44 Presidents' really puts into perspective what we are voting this person to do. It promotes the actual weight of being a president and reminds the audience that they have this incredible right to choose our next leader."
Like Rock the Vote, the Plays for Presidents Festival is an entirely non-partisan movement, intended to inspire all eligible voters to hit the polls, regardless of party affiliation.
"This show puts political options in different terms, making us think more about the historical moment of now," Dwyer says. "It helps us imagine what the 45th play might be."
The four directors will each be working on 11 of the scenes, working with an ensemble of 20 actors. By incorporating multimedia, dance and music, "44 Plays for 44 Presidents" showcases a diverse group of performers.
"We're not trying to have the actors embody each president," Mandel says. "The audience will and should know that they are actors; at times they even speak as themselves. By integrating dance and song alongside the acting, the show manages to really highlight so many kinds of talent in a short amount of time."
The show is interactive in a "super flavorful and playful way," says Dwyer. "'44 Plays for 44 Presidents' incites people to talk about politics by showcasing politics in a fun light. There's a narrative momentum to the piece that makes the audience anxious to see how the modern presidents are depicted."
Dwyer says that -- with four directors, two choreographers, five designers, four stage managers, and 20 actors -- the theatre production is itself a model of the democratic process in action.
"I have been working with the other directors to ensure that this project is a democracy and not a dictatorship," Dwyer says. "I want to help them notice both the pitfalls and potential of their ideas. It's difficult to do a project of this scale, but democracy is always a challenge, because you're catering to more than one person's vision. We will hopefully become a chorus of voices which will strike a harmonious final chord."
"We are the people and we are shaping the play," Mandel says. "Much like 'we the people' are shaping the future of America with our right to vote."
Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The college offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review consistently ranks Muhlenberg's production program in the top ten in the nation, and the Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States.
Performances of "44 Plays for 44 Presidents" are Sept. 29 through Oct. 3: Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Monday through Wednesday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for LVAIC students, faculty and staff and for patrons 17 and under. Performances are in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or muhlenberg.edu/theatre