America is at a critical time in our history when our founding values are being questioned. When issues of social and racial justice are raging across our land. When we are searching for "the better angels of our nature" as Abraham Lincoln so famously challenged.
From "The Land of Lincoln" this play takes its cue from John Oliver Wilson's book Idea of America: Our Values, Our Legacy, Our Future, and dramatically presents these issues in a compelling dialogue between cast and audience.
Playwright J.C. Steele takes Wilson's treatise and stages the discussion in the fictional world of "The Hall of Legends"- a museum in Washington, D.C. where characters from history come to life. A founding member of Bankside Repertory Theatre Company in Alton, Illinois (www.banksiderep.com), Steele has authored and produced a number of plays, ranging from literary adaptations to original comedies. Those plays have appeared on the stages of Bankside, The Rally Theatre and the Ivanhoe Theatre in Chicago, and the Edinburgh International Fringe Theatre Festival.
We.The.People is intending to make its premiere at the Robert Duvall Theatre on the campus of Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, in or around the Spring of 2022. Produced by Bankside Repertory Theatre Company with Principia presenting, the production plan is to stream the live stage version over the internet during its initial run with partners On the Stage productions in New York City.
The premiere's connection to the Heart of America appears in its location on the Mississippi River near the site of the seventh and final Lincoln-Douglas senatorial debate of 1858. Downstream from Hannibal, Missouri, home of Mark Twain and his famous literary characters, and upstream from the embarkation point of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition, the play hopes to hear past voices give insight and direction to the challenges of our future.
The time is now, the place is The Hall of Legends, part of a museum in Washington, D.C. where a tour group is finishing a normal tour of the exhibits and comes to find that the multimedia presentation they were led to expect has turned into a live, free-form discussion about the concept of United States citizenry.
The theatre audience discovers quickly that they are "The Group" and that they are welcome to leave because of the technical difficulties preventing the multimedia presentation, or to stay and join in on a synopsis of the key ideas of The Hall of Legends. For those electing to stay, it becomes apparent that the discussion is not going to follow the usual script and that all sorts of ideas are up for review- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
While this impromptu discussion is getting underway, there is a sudden interruption from an activist group that is part of a larger assembly staging a protest at The Mall and other D.C. monuments. Adam and his companion Evelyn are amongst the protesters that enter the Hall and get drawn into the conversation about the rights and responsibilities of being an American citizen.
Due to the sporadic nature of the technological elements of what was to have been the usual show, the discussion participants begin to understand the important principles that are the foundation of the USA, as those ideals struggle to emerge from the "Old World" forces and beliefs which stand in the way of progress and political evolution. For every Enlightenment Era ideal that was adopted by the Founding Fathers, there was a powerful counterforce blocking the implementation of those ideals. Every concept of self-determination had to confront institutionalized slavery. Every dream of pursuing happiness was plagued by opposing greed and exploitation. And every attempt to equalize the citizenry and level the playing field was attacked by racism, elitism, sexism or religious "tribalism."
Six characters consider the fundamental principles and crucial events in the history of the U.S.A. in this intimate and frank look at the scale of the problem of establishing the freedom and equality within a government system-what it takes to make it possible for citizens to enjoy the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Set on a bare stage that uses two large projection screens, the story is told through the current ideas of the characters as well as the voices from history from "The Legends." These historical figures, sometimes seen and heard, sometimes interpreted by the people in "the room where it happens" illustrate the good intentions, the bad actions, the righteous protests, and the tragic frustrations and consequences that have marked the evolution of the U.S.A. The ongoing discussion within the play presents the hope that the "Idea of America" is one that is worth the continual effort to establish and refine.