‘44 Plays for 44 Presidents’ is part of nationwide festival

History, sprinkled with a little fun

Narrator Shannon Leininger begins "44 Plays for 44 Presidents," during a rehearsal at Washburn Performing Arts Center last week.

History, sprinkled with a little fun

‘44 Plays for 44 Presidents’

7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27; and Nov. 2 and 3. Tickets are $5, and $4 for students and senior citizens. The play will be held at Washburn Performing Arts Center at Washougal High School, 1201 39th St.

For more information, call 954-3100.

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The cast of the Hoover play forms a machine of state, prone to frequent break-downs. Left to right, are Mikayala Harris, Angelica Bartorelli, Carson Connors, Miranda Sutton, Taylor Wilcox, James Stout and Shannon Leininger.

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Cast members rush to grab the presidential coat during a scene from "44 Plays for 44 Presidents."

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President John Adams (Mac Wright) speaks with Thomas Jefferson (Miranda Sutton) and James Madison (Michaela Gerring) about the future of the country.

The drama during election season isn‘t limited to the presidential debates or candidates accusing each other of sign stealing. This year, there will be drama, when students at Washougal High School take to the stage with “44 Play for 44 Presidents.”

As the title indicates, this production contains 44 mini-plays about each of the presidents of the United States. It is a part of the Plays for Presidents Festival 2012, and Washougal is joining 43 schools all across the United States who are participating during the election year.

WHS is one of only four West Coast schools, the others being San Jose, Los Angeles and Seattle.

This is exciting news for drama director Kelly Gregersen, who chose the play for his fall production after one of the lead writers contacted him and asked if Washougal would like to get involved.

“We have hundreds of years of history condensed into 100 minutes,” he said. “And it’s a real mix of play types because of the different writers involved. You’ve got a little bit of Saturday Night Live thrown in with comical, musicals, drama and dance pieces.”

The festival organizer’s website, www.playsforpresidents.com, states the during an election campaign, it’s easy to forget the big picture of democracy.

“‘44 Plays for 44 Presidents’ reminds us of the big picture, which is, despite the surface madness of elections, kind of a beautiful thing: We have a direct relationship with our leaders. This is not only because we hire and fire them periodically, but also because they stand for moments in our history when, as a people, we chose a single personality to respond to a set of vastly complex national needs. Those choices–to elect one leader to represent millions of people–say as much about the history of our people as as any other collection of names, dates and wars.”

Gregersen said that directing the play has been an educational experience.

“If you know the presidents, you’ll understand the different moments. If you don’t, you’ll get insights into their personalities. Some of the plays are rather serious, more are light hearted. But all use a lot of direct quotes from the presidents.”

He encourages the community to attend the play, especially since they get to participate as well: At the end of the evening, the audience will vote whether to see another Barack Obama play, or view the Mitt Romney version instead.

“This is just a great, fun piece for all of us who are going through the election season,” Gregersen said. “A lot of the issues and problems (now) have their root in all sorts of different things. And this is certainly not your history class version of history. This is fun and fast-paced.”

Most of the actors in the production are playing eight to 10 different roles, and must transition quickly from one to the next, which can be challenging at times.

“It has been a pretty interesting experience,” said senior Angelica Bartorelli. “The whole cast is equal and it’s nice to broaden my horizons and have a wide range of characters.”

Senior Michaela Gering agreed.

“There’s never a dull moment on the stage,” she said. “This has been quite interesting, and I’m curious to see the reactions of the audience.”

“It’s been really fun,” added junior Jacob Lively. “I’ve enjoyed getting to play actual figures of history. My favorite is Benjamin Franklin. He’s kind of a funny guy in the play, roasting Thomas Jefferson.”

Lively added that although the play is fun, its timing is critical.

“It’s really important that we are doing such a thing during such a critical moment in history,” he said.

Bartorelli said that being a part of this play has taught her some things about the presidents that aren’t always taught in history class.

“These are really tabloid type details, and it really changes your opinion about things. People are going to be watching the future generation bring history back and sprinkle our feelings on it.”