Monday, August 03, 2009

I finally visit "Revolutionary City" (Colonial Williamsburg) on a Monday


Today, I finally made it to Colonial Williamsburg on a Monday, in time to see the “Building a Nation” portion – that is, in my case, three sections of it – of “Revolutionary City”, which airs only on Mondays. In the midsummer it starts around 11 AM, probably to beat the Virginia tropical thunderstorms; in the spring and fall it sometimes starts later.

I asked why this section airs only on Mondays, and the guide said, “this section is very difficult for many people to understand.”

The first of the three sections that I saw was “Lady Washington Visits the Capitol”, supposedly happening in August 1777. Martha visits the capitol, meets with her husband, and then listens to pleas of soldiers injured in the war and still not discharged or compensated by the new nation (which at the time was a Confederation) or by the commonwealth. By the way, I see that the country’s first draft may have been the National Conscription Act passed by the Second Congress in 1792, link here The war itself had been fought largely by state militias. (PBS’s timeline of conscription is interesting, here.) The episode was punctuated with a large cannon blast.

The next section was held behind the coffee house, and is called “Thy Rod and Thy Staff”, and the online version had been discussed here April 2009. In person, the performance is compelling: a black man rejoices in being considered fit to become a pastor, but he becomes a political bedfellow with slave owners who will help him get access to printing presses – a lesson that anticipates today’s Internet.

Then, in “Looking Forward: a Founding Father Envisions the Future of the American Republic”, Randolph introduces George Washington (in front of the Raleigh Tavern), who, among other things, insists that the current generation pay its own debts and not pass them on to its children. How prescient!

One thing I noticed about the kids who attend Revolutionary City in the summer: most are lean. It seems that kids who don’t spend all their time playing computer games are more likely to be interested in an outdoor event like this.

I asked a staff member at a Colonial Williamsburg store if any DVD had ever been made of the skits in Revolutionary City. Not so far, she said, and she thought it could be suggested. A good screenwriting exercise would be to stitch the skits together into an independent film -- but you have to own the material first. Colonial Williamsburg would do well to consider trying to develop and sell the concept to the indie film market. But it would have to hire directors, writers, and work with the motion picture industry in the usual manner.

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