Connecting art and politics

By Leslie Williams

In the run-up to a politically-divisive election season, a project in the works at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro aims to remind people that the situation is nothing new for America.

The Tony Award-winning musical “1776” will open Oct. 5 for a four-day run, a combined celebration of democracy and benefit for North Carolina nonprofits working to mobilize voters.

Supported in part by local funders, the proceeds from each show will go to a different nonprofit, starting with Generation Engage on Oct. 5, Common Cause on Oct. 6, Democracy North Carolina on Oct. 7 and ending with the League of Women Voters on Oct. 8.

“The whole point is to remind people not to be disengaged, but to be engaged even if it seems difficult,” says Lynden Harris, ArtsCenter stage director.

Molly Beacham, director of development at Democracy North Carolina, says the project’s merger between art and politics makes perfect sense.

“There’s nothing new about that,” she says.

The idea for the show came from Anna Marie Gutierrez, wife of the show’s director, Rob Hamilton, a technical director and designer in the department of communication and performance studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Hamilton is volunteering his time for the show, as are the cast and crew, which he calls “one of the most impressive batches of people” he has worked with in his 34 years in the theater.

Many of the cast members are what Hamilton calls “citizen actors,” people without professional stage training, including yoga instructors, a history teacher and a Gulf War veteran.

“They each came to auditions with a distinct idea of what the project was about and have a great amount of focus toward making that happen,” says Harris of the ArtsCenter.

The Triangle Community Foundation is supporting the production with $6,000 through its E. and E. Chanlett Fund and the Anna Louise Reynolds Fund.

Panera Bread’s West Franklin Street store in Chapel Hill is collecting money from patrons throughout October to donate to the four affiliated nonprofits.

And the involvement of an array of local nonprofits and businesses will help increase the event’s visibility, says Beverley Francis, director of philanthropic services at Triangle Community Foundation.

“It’s always great to be a part of efforts that involve other community groups,” she says.

The excitement generated among supporters and beneficiaries even has Hamilton thinking about the 2008 elections.

“We ourselves are so captivated by the energy and momentum that this thing has started,” he says, “that we don’t want to lose contact with all of these people who are supporting it.”

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