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As a prominent D.C. theater, Ford’s has become known as a source for high-quality stage productions, ranging from classic dramas to contemporary musicals that — in one way or another — connect to or reflect on American history, culture, and diversity. All of that stems from Ford’s historical and cultural roots as the site where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by a white supremacist as part of an ultimately failed plot to overthrow the government in defense of slavery.
“The history of Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site is intertwined with the fight for racial equity and justice,” said Artistic Director Paul Tetreault in a statement last summer in the wake of the nation’s justice-seeking protests.
Prior to the pandemic, Ford’s had become known as a popular tourist attraction offering in-person interactive exhibits and theater tours — plus more live performances by way of dramatic historical reenactments, both on and off stage.
During warmer months in non-pandemic times the organization offers “History on Foot Walking Tours,” in which actors lead daytime group outings while portraying characters from Civil War-era Washington, among them the assassination-focused Investigation: Detective McDevitt written by playwright Richard Hellesen.
Hellesen has also penned One Destiny, a short one-act play in which two actors bring to life the cast of characters who were present at Ford’s on the fateful day of April 14, 1865 — actor Harry Hawk and the theater’s co-owner Harry Ford.
Since its debut in 2006 as a daytime attraction at Ford’s, actors Michael Bunce and Stephen F. Schmidt have starred in more than 1,400 performances of the play directed by Mark Ramont. Last November, they reprised the roles, this time for a 40-minute digital version recorded in an empty Ford’s Theatre by Chiet Productions.
Says Tetreault: “Through the eyes of the play’s characters, audiences come to better understand the impact of John Wilkes Booth’s hateful and treasonous act, while also realizing that he did not prevail. Democracy in America persevered, as does Lincoln’s vision for union and equality and the status of Ford’s Theatre as a haven for the performing arts.”
One Destiny is available for free streams through June 13. Visit www.fords.org.
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