News Column

The art of compromise

August 31, 2014

By Marcela Creps, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.

Aug. 31--It was in the late '90s that Cardinal's artistic director Randy White first moved to New York from Vancouver. A friend recommended White to a theater company in upstate New York to direct a play.

When the theater company offered White a job directing "1776," he admitted having to lean over and whisper to his wife, "What's '1776'?"

"I was so eager to work that I took it on," White said.

The musical story of the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence was a slight shift in what the New York theater company was accustomed to staging. White said the company took on well-known, appealing shows such as "Oklahoma."

But the show ended up being the company's biggest seller.

"It was enormously popular. They extended it like three times," White said.

The story was a bit of a history lesson for White, who applied for his citizenship this year and became an American in March.

"The thing about being a Canadian is you absorb a fair bit of American history," White said, citing off such popular historical events such as Bunker Hill, Lexington and Concord. But there are also people whose names were familiar but who White didn't know much about.

"That's what I did was immerse myself in that detail," he said. "And it's delicious. These are really smart and wonderfully articulate men."

So when White was deciding what productions Cardinal would do for the season and with the ink not yet dry on his citizenship papers, he chose to go back to the beginning of his American roots.

"Literally, I thought what better way to bring it full circle then to direct '1776.' That was a really big part of the reason," he said.

The Tony-award winning musical may be a Bloomington premiere. White explained that it can be difficult to get 25 guys who can act and sing. But Bloomington is rich with talent, so theatergoers will see a lot of talented, local actors as well as great visiting actors.

"If you've had a chance to see a past Cardinal show, we hope that you'll trust it. It's a great play. It's a great musical, and we think we're going to have a really entertaining and fun show for people," White said.

Character study

With such well-known historical figures, White encouraged actors to research their roles to get a better idea on how to play the part.

Steve Krahnke, who plays Roger Sherman, said he'd worked on a PBS documentary years ago on the American Revolution.

"So I had quite a bit of prior knowledge about this period of time," Krahnke said.

Character research is relatively easy for many of the actors as there are biographies and historical accounts to read and study.

"With the traditional plays, you learn a lot of your character from the script. But this one is a little unusual that you can delve into the historical records and find information," Krahnke said. "Randy has given us license to do that."

Not that the play aligns with history. It takes creative liberties by not only combining characters but events. White said such changes were necessary for many reasons including a stage not capable of holding all the members of the Continental Congress.

"I always tell actors, 'You're not in theater beholden to history. You're beholden to the play,'" he said.

And this is a musical where characters occasionally dance and break into song.

"I'm not convinced the actual Roger Sherman would have sung and danced," Krahnke said.

After all, Sherman was a cobbler by trade who practiced law, but wasn't as formally trained as other lawyers were at that time.

"Anybody could be a lawyer back then," Krahnke said.

But Sherman was well respected.

"What Thomas Jefferson said about him was 'He's never said a foolish thing in is life.' That is high, high praise, which isn't to say they agreed on everything," Krahnke said.

The art of compromise

For fans of C-Span, watching the Continental Congress argue and debate whether or not to separate itself from British rule will be very different from what such a debate would look like today.

In the 1700s, congressmen were gentlemen who abided by a code that meant arguing while still showing respect to those with opposing views.

"Audiences will find many people make compelling arguments. We tend to think of the founding fathers as being uniformly for independence, but that was not the case," Krahnke said.

Instead, Krahnke said, many if not most people wanted to stay British.

"I would say the majority of people at the time kind of wanted to be British. They just wanted to be treated better. In the end, it turned out that the Revolution was the only way they were going to get what they wanted, for better or worse," Krahnke said.

But manners and acting reasonably meant these congressmen had a certain way to deal with each other. The goal was not to win the argument, but to make good decisions.

"This is the age of reason. And these people invested in ideas, and they were invested in the idea that there is a logical way forward and what we're searching for is the best and most rational way to move forward," White said.

What those founding fathers went through wasn't easy.

"It was a messy business, and it could have gone either way, and it required people of conviction to actually compromise and that meant that things that some people desperately wanted that might have been bad for us were included. And people that wanted things that were good for us were not included," Krahnke said, pointing specifically to abolishing slavery.

"So, I think that one way to look at this sort of thing is not so much that this production simplifies it for people. It complicates it. There were good people doing a hard thing with the best result they could. That, I think, is important for people to understand that that's how it's supposed to be. It's not winner takes all. The essence of compromise is that everybody wins and everybody loses. That I think will be interesting in a very poignant and beautiful way," he said.

And while today's method of politics may appeal to those who like to see a good fight, Krahnke hopes that by watching this play, the audience will see that such tactics aren't necessary to achieve success.

"We did a great thing, which if nothing else, indicates this is possible," he said.

If you go

WHO: Cardinal Stage Company

WHAT: "1776"

WHERE: Buskirk-Chumley Theater, 114 E. Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington

WHEN: 7 p.m.Sept. 4 -- 7, 11 -- 13; 2 p.m.Sept. 6, 7, 13

TICKETS: $10.95-$32.95. Available online at cardinalstage.org, in person at 900 S. Walnut St. or by phone at 812-336-9300. Tickets can also be purchased through the Buskirk-Chumley Theater box office, 114 E. Kirkwood Ave., online at www.bctboxoffice.com or by phone at 812-323-3020.

___

(c)2014 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.)

Visit the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.) at www.heraldtimesonline.com

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Source: Herald-Times (Bloomington, IN)


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