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Ford's Reopens Doors With a Bang on Lincoln's Bicentennial

The Inauguration isn’t the only historic presidential event taking place in Washington. After an 18-month hiatus, a refurbished Ford’s Theatre will open its doors just in time for the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.

Ford’s will commemorate both occasions with a star-studded one-week flurry of events, including a “Living Lincoln” lecture series, open house and a grand reopening gala on Feb. 11 featuring director George Lucas. The entire celebration will be anchored by the world premiere of “The Heavens Are Hung In Black,” a production that runs from Feb. 3 to March 8, followed by the Tony-nominated musical “The Civil War.” (Starting next season, Ford’s will resume producing four plays a year.)

The renovation project — the first extensive restoration of the theater since 1968 — was made possible by the million Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Campaign. Tourists and locals can now look forward to an additional 5,000 square feet of lobby and museum space, new seats, enhanced accessibility, updated staging capabilities, and a new Center for Education and Leadership, which makes good on Ford’s commitment to a new education initiative, said Paul Tetreault, director of the Ford’s Theatre Society.

A major component of the reopening will be honoring the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated at the theater by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, while attending a performance of “Our American Cousin.”

Key to dissecting the 16th president’s life on his 200th birthday will be the “Living Lincoln” series, a succession of lectures, panels, plays and performances that kicks off Feb. 16. Highlights include “Lincoln as Humorist” with Conan O’Brien; “Lincoln as Commander In Chief” created by Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McPherson; an exploration of Lincoln through art as told by actor Sam Waterston and historian Harold Holzer; a panel on “Race and Emancipation in the Age of Lincoln” headed by Howard University’s Edna Medford; and a reading of a new musical, “Lincoln in Love,” based on the film “Young Mr. Lincoln.”

The nine-session series will be held on Monday nights and extend through May. Tickets are free to the public, but must be reserved.

The Ford’s Theatre is also enhancing its pubic education outreach by offering teachers the chance to attend summer seminars on Lincoln and the Civil War. In addition to continuing its student matinees and in-classroom workshops in D.C. area public schools, Ford’s is piloting a speech and oratory competition for students, which it hopes to eventually expand nationwide, Tetreault said.

For its grand reopening, Ford’s has picked the world premiere of “The Heavens Are Hung In Black,” written by James Still and directed by Stephen Rayne. The play explores the five months in 1862 between the death of Lincoln’s young son Willie and the issue of the Emancipation Proclamation, as Lincoln tries to cope with the personal and political pressures around him during one of the most crucial years of his presidency.

“The challenge of writing [the play] was to maintain the integrity of Lincoln’s character and the history of the Civil War while infusing the story with imagination and human elements,” said Still. “‘Heavens’ offers a glimpse into the world of one of our nation’s most important presidents and raises questions about how we might have behaved if faced with the pressures of that crucial time in our nation’s history.”

Playwright Still is an Emmy nominee and penned “Looking Over the President’s Shoulder,” which premiered at Ford’s during its 2003-2004 season.

“The Civil War,” to be performed later this spring, is a musical that puts a human face on this American tragedy. The play is inspired by the words of Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Lincoln himself, who officially ended that war a mere five days before he was killed in the theater that keeps his legacy alive.

Ford’s will also display the bloodstained overcoat Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated, although to preserve the delicate piece of history, the theater decided not to put the embroidered coat on permanent display, but rather on view only until April — still a unique window into history inside the very venue that is itself a part of history.

For a complete schedule of the reopening events at Ford’s Theatre, 514 10th St., NW, please call (202) 347-4833 or visit www.fords.org.

About the Author

Lisa Troshinsky is the theater reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on July 9, 2014