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 theater 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” was first produced in New York in 1998, ran for 85 performances and won two Tony Awards. “I wept. I was so moved and couldn’t believe this had happened in our country,” said Paul Tetreault, Ford’s director, who was sitting in the audience.
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 focuses on current issues.
“Whether the play is historical or not, the conversation is now,” Tetrault said. “Things are still happening. Gay kids are threatened and kill themselves.”
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. “This is an unsentimental play, and these are unsentimental times. Things go wrong for everyone.”
The founding sponsor of the project, the theater also announced Tuesday, is Ronald O. Perelman, chairman of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., who pledged $500,000.
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.
“Parade,” which has never been produced in Washington, was written by Alfred Uhry, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Ford’s is bringing the production that was staged at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 2009. It opens Sept. 23.
The 2011-12 season will also include “A Christmas Carol,” from Nov. 18 to Dec. 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 will open 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.