THE LINCOLN LEGACY Project is essentially Tetreault’s brainchild, one for which he says there was great support among Ford’s Theatre backers. And from the start, he knew he wanted The Laramie Project to be part of it.
”I’ve kind of had The Laramie Project on my radar since we started the Lincoln Legacy Project three years ago,” he shares. ”I knew I wanted to do a project, a piece that centered on gay issues, on gay-rights issues and what those were. That leaves you a realm of things. Then thinking about Laramie and thinking about the 15th anniversary and how that plays out. I thought that was a great time for us to look at that.”
He points to Jason Collins, the gay basketball player who chose to wear a ”98” jersey as a memorial to the year Matthew Shepard was killed, and to the work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation as contemporary elements that remind him of the importance of the crime 15 years on, and the importance of revisiting it with the Lincoln Legacy Project.
Tetreault adds that this third iteration is evidence that the project’s expected five-year run at the time it was launched has given way to new ideas of making it ever richer, and with no end in sight.
”We’ve stopped using the term ‘five-year.’ We think it will just be an ongoing program, because we’ve got issues,” he says, smacking the table for emphasis. ”This country has issues that it needs to talk about. If they’re not going to talk about them in the town square, I’m going to talk about them on the Ford’s Theatre stage.
”There’s no shortage of subjects we need to talk about. The question is making sure you find a quality piece of theater that fits at the center to have that dialogue. If you can’t do high-quality work at the center, you’ll lose anyone’s interest in following the conversation. You have to do the highest-quality work at the core, and then you can actually have a dialogue.”
The question of that dialogue prompts two further points from Tetreault. One is his understanding of his audience. Pointing to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), for example, as a regular Ford’s Theatre attendee, Tetreault says that Ford’s offerings have the opportunity to influence America’s leaders, to perhaps challenge some negative ideas and encourage positive ones. At the same time, he points to the challenge of taking Ford’s Theatre’s content and moving beyond the confines of geography, enabling all Americans – if not a global audience – to join the discussion. Live-streaming a post-show interview with Judy Shepard is one of Ford’s steps in that direction.
What Tetreault seems most passionate about, however, is his dedication to honoring Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Legacy Project is by no means an effort in name only.
”The mission of Ford’s Theatre is to carry on the legacy of Abraham Lincoln,” he says. ”I think that creating a dialogue in this Lincoln Legacy Project, which is to deal with issues of tolerance, equality…. Lincoln said, ‘With malice toward none, charity for all.’ That’s what this is. That’s what the Matthew Shepard Foundation is about. Lincoln said, ‘for all.’ And that is what we’re doing. To me, this Lincoln Legacy Project, which is slowly becoming a sort of cornerstone for who we are and what we are, I think, is exactly what we should be doing, because it is, at its core, the essence of who Lincoln was.”
”I think Abraham Lincoln would want to see this play,” Tetreault concludes. “I think he would like to hear this story. And that is my guide. It’s always my guide. I think, ‘Where would Abraham Lincoln stand on issues of anti-Semitism?’ We know where Abraham Lincoln stood on issues of race. ‘Where would Abraham Lincoln stand on GLBT issues today?’ I have no question. If anyone does question that, then they just don’t know Abraham Lincoln.”
The Laramie Project as part of the Lincoln Legacy Project runs from Sept. 27 to Oct. 27 at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th St. NW. The exhibit, Not Alone: The Power of Response, runs to Nov. 3 at Ford’s Center for Education and Leadership, 514 10th St. NW. For more information about either, or to purchase tickets, call 202-347-4844 or visit fordstheatre.org.