The enormous success of Hamilton on Broadway, around the country, and even in London demonstrates that the origins of the United States of America is a compelling story.
But decades before Hamilton arrived on the Great White Way, 1776 told the story from John Adam’s perspective and remains popular on stage and in film all these years later.
The next production of the Civic Theatre season will be 1776 presented with a twist to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which provided women with the right to vote. To that end, the Civic is presenting the classic musical with an all-female cast, inspired by a grant opportunity from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“I was looking into additional funding opportunities and saw the NEA was offering grants around the theme of the suffrage movement,” said Phillip Colglazier, executive director of the Civic Theatre. “They wanted to honor the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, and so I was trying to do something along those lines.”
The show itself was already in the queue even before the decision to cast all women in the roles. The show’s director, Leslie Beauchamp, heard about it last year.
“Phillip called and told me what was being planned for the next season,” Beauchamp said. “When he mentioned 1776, I thought, ‘Every man in town is going to be thrilled because those are such great roles.’ But then he called back and said he was going to use all females in the roles, and he wanted me to direct. It’s an exciting challenge, but it’s so great for the women in this community.
“There are so many talented women in this town that you have to be a triple threat and speak about six languages to get cast, whereas the men can get a lead if they can carry a tune. There are just so many more women available and so few roles. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to see these magnificent women perform.”
Changes for the coronavirus
Beauchamp points out that 1776 is much more than a musical.
“There’s a lot of non-musical stuff in this so that even though it’s a musical, it could stand alone as a play without the songs. There are so many musicals now like Les Mis where everything is sung, but I think 1776 is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest time between songs in a musical. Scene three goes almost 40 minutes between songs. It’s just so great to see these amazing actresses playing these rich, interesting characters.”
One other aspect of the performance will be new to those who didn’t see the Civic’s first production of the season, Legally Blonde: All of the performers, as well as the audience members, will be masked.
That may sound like a problem for a performance with speaking and singing, but Beauchamp assures it is not.
“I think most people have seen the microphones that are on the forehead,” she said. “That’s what we’re doing here. I saw Legally Blonde and wondered too if it might be a problem, but it wasn’t at all. You couldn’t tell the difference.”
Another change is the venue. As was the case for Legally Blonde, 1776 will be staged at the Foellinger Theatre rather than the Arts United Center, the usual home for the Civic Theatre. With distancing restrictions, the smaller venue made the performance impossible, but the move outdoors is a win-win for the organization and the Foellinger, which itself saw their big slate of concerts and events canceled this summer.
“We thought moving to the Foellinger was a good way to rebegin our operations,” Colglazier said. “We thought it would be more comfortable for the public who are a bit more comfortable outdoors right now.
“We understood that there was some apprehension once the state started opening up about going into public buildings, and we’ve been able to make plans for cleaning and setup that accommodate many of the precautions. Our first two productions were moved to the Foellinger, and our November production of Annie will be at the Embassy Theatre.”
‘Remember the ladies’
In addition to the nudge from NEA, the opportunity to connect this production to history was also aided by partnering with the League of Women Voters who will be there helping people to get registered to vote. There will also be a panel discussion following the Sunday, Sept. 13, matinee performance.
“We wanted to put together a guest panel to get the perspective of women in politics,” Colglazier said. “Jill Long Thompson, our former congressional representative, Sharon Tucker and Michelle Chambers from Fort Wayne City Council, along with Lana Keesling, City Clerk, and Nancy McCammon-Hansen, past president of the League of Women Voters of Fort Wayne, will all be there. The panel is free, so those who come to the show are welcome to stay, and those who don’t attend the show may still come to see the panel afterward.”
From a change in casting to a change in venue, Beauchamp has had to adapt quite a few times, but she is relishing the opportunity to get back to theater and making whatever accommodations are necessary to make that happen safely.
“It has been awesome to watch all of these people just roll with it,” she said. “When I start planning a show, I have images in my mind of what I want to do with the lighting and the set. But then there were a new set of facts and a new venue, and our matinee will be outdoors so that changes the lighting plan dramatically. It feels like being on Survivor or a game show. They tell you to do one thing then say, ‘Now do that one thing on stilts!’ But the excitement has been infectious and watching everyone deal with the challenges is inspiring.
“And I love the Foellinger and would love to see more plays done on that stage. It’s great that we’ve been able to make these changes and find good things to do. It’s important that we have more in our lives than quarantining at home.”
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