Ford’s Theatre has announced a five-year project to mount one play each season with themes of tolerance, equality and other social issues and pair them with a month of weekly dialogues.

“The Lincoln Legacy Project,” a new initiative, will start in the fall with the musical “Parade,” the theatre announced Tuesday.

The play follows the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager in early 20th Century Atlanta, who after being accused of murdering a 13-year-old girl was lynched by a mob. The play’s themes about religious intolerance, racial tension and injustice will be discussed in town hall meetings and scholar and activist panels on successive Mondays in October at Ford’s.

"Parade," a musical about Leo Frank (Courtesy of Ford's Theatre Society)

The project has received a pledge of $500,000 from Ronald O. Perelman, chairman and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, its largest donation so far giving Perelman the rank of founding sponsor.

“Parade” was first produced in New York in 1998, ran for 85 performances and won two Tony Awards. Paul Tetreault, Ford’s director, was in the audience. “ I wept. I was so moved and couldn’t believe this had happened in our country,” said Tetreault.

Sitting in his office on F Street, with hordes of tourists lined up to visit Ford’s on a sunny day, Tetreault said the project continues the discussion of Abraham Lincoln’s principles as well as focusing on current issues.

“Whether the play is historical or not, the conversation is now,” Tetreault said. “Things are still happening. Gay kids are threatened and kill themselves.”

Actor Euan Morton will play Leo Frank (Courtesy of Ford's Theatre Society)

Ford’s has enlisted several partners for the “Legacy Project,” starting with The Anti-Defamation League, which was founded in the wake of Frank’s lynching in 1913, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, the D.C. Jewish Community Center and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation.

“I think this is an opportunity to bring African American and Jewish groups and audiences together to reflect on this moment in history. They can see how out of the mainstream both African American and Jewish people were in the South,” said Ari Roth, the artistic director of Theater J, another sponsor. Roth said he had been introduced to the Frank story through theater projects and hoped that would happen for others with “Parade.” “This is an unsentimental play and these are unsentimental times. Things go wrong for everyone.”

Harold Holzer, chairman of the Bicentennial Foundation, said the project fits the tributes to Lincoln. “Lincoln is both a constant reminder and an obligation. If Lincoln can be an universal ideal, whether the discussion is about race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, then Lincoln is a good way to have these discussions,” said Holzer. The foundation has also pledged $25,000 for each of the first two years of the program.

Under consideration for future season openers are: “The Laramie Project,” about the 1998 killing of University of Wyoming gay student Matthew Shepard, “Fly,” about the Tuskegee Airmen, “The Scottsboro Boys,” about the 1930s case of nine African American men accused of attacking two white women; “The Crucible,” about the Salem Witch hunts and “The Andersonville Trial,” about a Confederate POW camp.

“The core of the project is the artistic component,” said Tetreault.

“Parade,” which has not been produced professionally in Washington, was written by Alfred Uhry with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Ford’s is mounting a completely new production of the show. It opens September 23.

The 2011-2012 season, the theatre announced Tuesday, will also include “A Christmas Carol,” from November 18 to December 31; a commission from playwright Richard Hellesen about the relationship between Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass; and “1776,” the Tony Award winning musical from March 9 to May 19.

The theater is also opening its Center for Education and Leadership, across from Ford’s, in February 2012. “This is really the beginning of the focus of our programs at the center. That’s what we are talking about--leadership,” said Tetreault.