Just in time for the United States presidential election, CU Boulder's Department of Theatre & Dance gears up for a production of "44 Plays for 44 Presidents," a funny and poignant whirlwind trip through American history. The production, presented in collaboration with Boulder’s own square product theatre, runs Sept. 23 through Oct. 2 in the University Theatre.
"44 Plays for 44 Presidents," written by the Neo-Futurists, tells the story of the United States through a series of two-minute scenes dedicated to each American president. The actors on stage travel through our country’s dramatic ups and downs, from its idealistic beginnings under George Washington to the grim onset of the Civil War to the increasingly polarized politics of our time. Between scenes, short musical interludes set the historical tone.
“We Americans are really interesting in that we’re very future-oriented people,” says Emily K. Harrison, a CU Boulder lecturer and the founder of square product theatre. “A play like this affords you an opportunity to learn about how a government is shaped, and it also lets you see inside the presidents’ personal lives.”
Perhaps the most exciting element of the show is what comes last: an opportunity for audiences to vote for the presidential candidate they’d like to see portrayed as the 45th president in the final two-minute scene.
“The 18-to-24-year-old demographic is one that historically doesn’t turn out for the vote,” Harrison says. “This will be a fun practice round for young students who have never been able to vote before.”
Harrison, who mounted “44 Plays” at square product ahead of the last presidential election, says she learned so much more about history from this play than she’d ever learned in childhood classrooms.
“I had no idea Theodore Roosevelt accomplished so much—it’s pretty remarkable,” she says. “And I never knew much about William Henry Harrison, but in his play we see the roots of racism and genocide, which a lot of people in this country don’t like to think about. History is not always pretty.”
The play may be packed with historical facts, Harrison says, but it’s far from preachy.
“You’re learning in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re in a classroom,” she says. “This play is for anyone who wants to look more deeply at history; it’s for anyone who just wants a mental break for a couple of hours; and it’s for everyone else looking for a little bit of both.”