Monday, April 27, 2009

Colonial Williamsburg's outdoor drama "Revolutionary City"

In April 2006 I watched the two largest portions of “Revolutionary City,” an outdoor segmented drama experience offered at Colonial Williamsburg at several locations in the Restored area. That particular weekend I sandwiched an Equality Virginia dinner in Richmond between two visits to Williamsburg (50 miles). The website that describes these is here. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays shows Part I, called the “Collapse of the Royal Government” which starts at the Capitol. (By the way, I recommend the Capitol on the regular tour, where a young man in 18th century costume explains how the three branches of American government are related, somewhat circuitously, to the “branches” of colonial government.) Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays the second main portion is “Citizens at War”, with much of the action in the Raleigh Tavern area. In 2008 Colonial Williamsburg added a third presentation, “Building a Nation”, on Mondays only (which makes it a bit of an inconvenience). The presentations, especially the Monday portion, have sections with close starting times and overlapping, so it can be difficult to see everything.

The emphasis in the activity is showing the way ordinary citizens in Williamsburg perceived the issues of the day as it related to their lives. Young men were required to own guns and to be available for militias, but men often struggled with the issue of going to war or staying home to support families. The slaves were promised freedom (by Governor Dunsmore himself) if they would fight with the British – much is made of this in the outdoor dioramas. And freedom of religion and speech were much more subtle in practice than most people realize – you weren’t always free to oppose the rebels if you wanted to.

The website offers a number of podcasts, videos, and dramatic text transcripts in each section, which lists the major characters. Many of the podcasts are shared by many sections (and some movie files are missing).

For example, the Monday “Building a Nation” section starts with the presentations (called “That Freedom Ain’t for Me”) of two slaves, Lydia Broadnax (a slave in the household of George Wythe) and Eve, a “highly-valued slave” in the household of Peyton Randolph. This leads to a video of the April 4-5 2009 “30th Anniversary of African American Programming” with Jamie Ingram and Richard Josey, followed by a musical video “Juba” (for “Jubilee”).

Other characters include Martha Washington, Gowan Pamphlet, the Marquis de Fafayette, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry.

There is an “Electronic Field Trip” which gives an interesting video on colonial cryptography. A secret letter was related to a template which was necessary to interpret the letter. Spies were hired to confuse the enemy (the British). There is a video there on the Tea Party, that explains that participation was coerced. There is a discussion on how tobacco was important to the economy because it was smoked in Europe. There is a “made in America” video that shows how farm machinery was manufactured, and was surprisingly sophisticated for a Luddite.

There are transcripts of the debate between Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson (more or less like a miniature stage play – it could have been shown in Final Draft) on freedom of religion and the way that would migrate among the colonies (or states after victory). There is also a question on the role of government in caring for the poor.
There is also a proposed “blog”, to show what Thomas Jefferson would have written if Blogger had been available then.

Picture, old Capitol, from Wikimedia commons, taken before 1978 and in public domain. Attribution link.

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