National Civil War Project

The National Civil War Project is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the war (1861-65) by developing 12 new theatrical works about, or inspired by, the conflict, as well as scholarly and public presentations and student projects.

The project, which pairs performing arts organizations with universities, is to be announced Thursday at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, which will team with George Washington University. Three other partnerships round out the project: the Alliance Theater and Emory College Center for Creativity & Arts, in Atlanta; American Repertory Theater and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass.; and Centerstage in Baltimore and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Each partnership is to produce three new works. Many are still coming together, but the announced works include “Healing Wars,” a dance-theater piece by Liz Lerman that looks at healers — from the Civil War to today’s conflicts — as they treat the physical and psychic wounds of battle, at the Arena Stage in 2014; and “The Boston Abolitionist Project,” to be directed by Steven Bogart, which concerns that movement and the trial of the fugitive slave Anthony Burns, at American Repertory Theater in May.

“It’s a way of bringing the vitality, excitement, vibrancy and immediacy of theater to academic subjects,” said Steven Knapp, the president of George Washington University, in an interview on Wednesday. He said the idea for the project emerged a few years ago with Ms. Lerman. Mr. Knapp had approached Arena Stage about a partnership with the university around the time that she approached Arena about a production of “Healing Wars.”

In a telephone interview Ms. Lerman said that having “seen the spark that goes on in both fields,” her idea was “that there could be a commissioning project that would bring together artists and the new scholarship around the American Civil War.” She said she eventually involved Molly Smith, the artistic director at Arena Stage, and Diane Paulus, the artistic director of American Repertory Theater, and the idea caught fire, with the spark being the Civil War anniversary.

As the new works are commissioned and produced, the universities will organize conferences, public lecture series, community programs, student playwriting projects and exhibitions.

For example Emory and the Alliance Theater will explore “Native Guard,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Natasha Trethewey, the poet laureate, who heads Emory’s creative writing program. The “Native Guard” program will include a theatrical production from the Alliance, as well as panels and discussions about Atlanta and the war hosted by the Emory Center for Ethics.

Centerstage and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland have commissioned “At War With Ourselves,” by the Kronos Quartet, which promises to feature “a legendary American composer, a 500-voice choir and spoken word by a leading voice in American poetry,” according to a news release.

The university will also host a national conference on civil rights and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in September at the Performing Arts Center.

Universities Join Artists to Conjure the Civil War
Published: February 27, 2013
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