[Blackstudies-l] Oct. 16: Fielding Stage: “Agitation and Social Change: Examining the Legacies of Anthony and Douglass.” 7 p.m.

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Mon Oct 16 10:05:45 EDT 2017


The Agitators: The Story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, at
Geva Theatre Center opens 7:30 p.m. Tuesday with showtimes through Nov. 12.
Tickets start at $25 each at gevatheatre.org
call (585) 232-4382.

Geva also is hosting a series of free talkbacks and conversations:

» Oct. 16: Fielding Stage: “Agitation and Social Change: Examining the
Legacies of Anthony and Douglass.” 7 p.m. » Oct. 20: Wilson Stage:
Post-show conversation follows 8 p.m. show. » Oct. 24: Wilson Stage:
Post-show conversation follows 6 p.m. show.

Democrat and Chronicle
10/15/2017 - Page C01









Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass: As Rochesterians we know them well.

Or do we?

The Agitators, a new play by Mat Smart that has its world premiere at Geva
Theatre Center this month, offers a new and rare look at the friendship
between the two towering figures of American life who lived in Rochester
during! the 19th century.

The play, which opens on Geva’s main stage on Tuesday and runs through Nov.
12, takes the audience behind the scenes of a complex relationship that, in
the end, is like most friendships. Agitators in public, Anthony and
Douglass could be agitators in private, most often agreeing, sometimes
disagreeing, but remaining close to to the end, the end.

"When you’re dealing with two spirits so iconic and so grand as they are,
we forget that they worried — they felt sadness and despair and uncertainty
just like any human would — or they just needed someone to laugh with,"
says Logan Vaughn, the play’s director. "You’ll see them in a way that
they’ve not been shown before. They will feel like ordinary people who did
extraordinary things."

Documenting the extraordinary when it comes to Anthony and Dougla! ss is
not hard.

The story of Douglass’ escape from slavery and his rise to become a
journalist and orator on behalf of the abolitionist cause has become the
stuff of legend, a shining example of perseverance and devotion to freedom.

Anthony’s leadership of the movement to gain women the right to vote is
also well-known. School children are aware that she was once arrested for
voting; they know, too, that she died in 1906 before women were
enfranchised nationally in 1920.

To a lesser extent, people know that the missions of Douglass and Anthony
overlapped. He championed women’s rights; she fought against slavery.

But they split over the 15th Amendment, particularly at the 1869 American
Equal Rights Association meeting. Douglass argued that the amendment should
first give the African-American men the vote. Anthony argued that all p!
eople, men and women, black and white, should be enfranchised. Douglass’
opinion prevailed, and the amendment was ratified in 1870.

Thus each felt betrayed by the other. Nonetheless, they did not go their
separate ways. "They were able to agitate each other and yet remain friends
and remain allies," Smart says.




Continued from Page 1C

Mat Smart’s brainchild

Smart, a native of Illinois and the author of several plays, got the idea
for the story when he was in Rochester in 2013 for a reading at Geva of his
play Tinker to Evers to Chance before it was produced at the theater the
next year.

On a visit to the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, he was told of the
relationship between Anthony and Douglass, a friendship that’s depicted
down the street from the house by the Pepsy Kettavong statue, which shows
Anthony and Douglass at tea.

In a sense, Smart began to wonder what Anthony and Douglass must have said
when they were at tea.

"! Both of them were incredibly charismatic personalities," he says. "They
were leaders of movements. I just wondered what’s it’s like when you get
those two in the same room. It must have been fireworks."

Fireworks, yes, but quiet moments, too. Home from the road in one scene in
the play, Anthony soaks her frostbitten feet while Douglass soaks a broken
wrist, each having been hurt in the line of duty. It was up to Smart to
imagine the conversation during moments like this. Did they gossip; did
they strategize? And what about the times when the two orators bumped into
each other while on the speaking circuit or when they were watching a
baseball game, as they do in one scene in The Agitators that was inspired
by a passage in a book on Douglass, by Rochester author Rose O’Keefe.

"It took me a long time to! put pen to paper," Smart says. "I was scared
too, because th! ey’re such giants. So what I did, is that I kept doing
more research."

Much of that research was done in Rochester, at the Anthony House and other
sites, Smart traveling back and forth between here and his home in

"I feel embraced by the historical community here with helping me do my
research," he says. "There’s so many places to do that research. The
history is just really rich and there’s a lot of sentinels here to protect
and advocate for the history and make it accessible."


Vaughn, the director, sees her task as making sure the play, which has only
two actors, is dramatic and accessible, most certainly not a history lesson
in disguise.

It’s her third project with a two-character play. "I like them a gr! eat
deal," she says. "They are incredibly challenging. There’s a simplicity
about it, though. Often it’s just like real life, it’s two people in a room

Casting is crucial, says Vaughn, who has worked in theater in Chicago and
New York City. "it starts with choosing the actors," she says. "You want to
find two people who are extremely dynamic and can hold the stage and can
have incredible chemistry." Madeleine Lambert, a newcomer to Geva, plays
Anthony. She has credits for television’s Empire and Chicago P.D. and has
acted at the Cleveland Playhouse, Syracuse Stage and with Steppenwolf
Theatre Company in Chicago.

Cedric Mays, also a Geva newcomer, plays Douglass. He has acted! at
Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and the Indiana Repertory Company and ! on
television in Chicago Code and Detroit 1-8-7 .

Their characters age over time, as the play spans more than four decades.

The history

Anthony came to Rochester with her parents in 1845, and they were soon
active in the anti-slavery movement. In the 1850s, Anthony also took up the
cause of women’s suffrage.

Douglass moved to Rochester in 1847, drawn in part by the abolitionist
community here, and began publishing his anti-slavery newspaper, The North
Star. He left Rochester in 1872 after his house on South Avenue burned down
and moved to Washington D.C. But he and Anthony remained friends, often
meeting at conferences.

And they! were just that, friends. "It is refreshing to have full-length
play about a man and a woman, and their relationship is just so rich and
deep, and it has nothing to do with romance," Smart says.

The friendship between Anthony and Douglass evolved over time, in part
because of the tug and pull of national events. They became national
figures; they were asked to take stands on national issues. It was
inevitable, perhaps, that they would find themselves at odds.

Anthony and Douglass were together in Washington on Feb. 21, 1895, at a
meeting of the Women’s National Council. According to The New York Times,
during the morning sessions, Douglass sat with Anthony, "his lifelong

Douglass stayed on for the afternoon session and then headed to his
Anacostia He! ights home. At 7 p.m., he was enthusiastically talking with
his wife ab! out the council meeting when he collapsed and died. When
Anthony heard of her friend’s death, she at first wanted to go to Douglass’
home that night, but she was discouraged from doing this until the next day.

On Feb. 25, 1895, in Washington, at Douglass’ funeral, Anthony read a
letter from Elizabeth Cady Stanton and gave some remarks. Anthony’s sister
Mary spoke at a subsequent memorial service for Douglass in Rochester.

Frederick Douglass was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery. Eleven years later,
after her death at age 86, Susan B. Anthony would be buried there as well,
in Rochester, where they had become friends.

Jim Memmott writes articles about Remarkable Rochesterians for RocRoots.

Mat Smart

Logan Vaughn

Actors Madeleine Lambert and Cedric Mays at Susan B. Anthony Square. RON

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