Courtesy Ford’s Theatre
For many people, at Ford’s Theatre, it will always be April 14, 1865 — the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated while attending a play there. Although it is now a national historic site, Ford’s Theatre is also still a performance venue with a theater company that specializes in historical productions.
“Our mission is to produce works that honor Abraham Lincoln, his love of the arts and his legacy as a leader, so that dictates a lot of the type of work that we do,” said director of theater programming Mark Ramont. “We look for pieces that deal with the American experience, and we tend to skew toward a historical perspective. So most of our work has some basis in American history.”
Groups visiting Washington can tour the theater during the day and see performances of the short play “One Destiny,” which deals with the events of 1865 in dramatic fashion. In the evenings, repertory productions feature professional actors from the D.C. area.
“In the fall, we’re initiating the Lincoln Legacy project, a five-year initiative to deal with issues of intolerance,” Ramont said. “We’re going to try to begin a national conversation about civility, respect and working toward a sense of equality.”
To that end, Ford’s Theatre opens the coming season with a musical called “Parade” that deals with the early-20th-century lynching of a Jewish man accused of murder.
In the winter, the company will present a new production that it commissioned, entitled “Necessary Sacrifices,” that details the relationship between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The season closes with “1776,” a musical dramatization of the events of the Continental Congress leading up to the Declaration of Independence.
When visiting the theater, groups get much the same experience that patrons of theater would have had in Lincoln’s day.
“They’ve tried to replicate it as much as possible off of the pictures that were taken after Lincoln’s assassination,” Ramont said. “And we can’t cover up the box where the president sat — you’re always aware of where you are.”
Cleveland Play House
This year brings big changes for the Cleveland Play House, a historic organization that has been part of Cleveland’s cultural scene for almost a century.
“The Play House was America’s first permanently established theater company,” said Ed Gilchrest, director of external affairs. “It was established in 1915 as an art theater interested in doing sophisticated work, in contrast to vaudeville.”
This year, the group is leaving its home of 84 years, which adjoins the Cleveland Clinic, and moving to the Allen Theater in Playhouse Square, the city’s center for all things theatrical. As part of the move, the facility will be changed from a rarely used 2,500-seat auditorium to a 500-seat venue that will be used up to 200 nights a year.
Since the new space is part of a complex that also hosts touring Broadway shows and other theater, the Cleveland Play House will continue to focus on more eclectic work.
“We offer a large variety of work, from contemporary plays and comedies to the occasional classic, to unusual musicals that normally wouldn’t be done on tour,” Gilchrest said. “We’re opening our new theater with ‘Galileo,’ which is a great classic play from the 1940s.
“We’re doing a funny comedy called ‘In the Next Room,’ which had a great success in New York. And we’re doing a play called ‘Ten Chimneys,’ which is about the Lunts’ summer home in Wisconsin.”
The company also puts on an annual event called Fusion Fest that showcases new work, solo shows and collaborative projects with other organizations in the community.