A college student in 1960s attire carrying a Civil Rights protest sign starts singing in the great hall, leading visitors to a training session to prepare for a student sit-in. The legendary John Brown thunders in an exhibition pocket theater about his anti-slavery activities and why violence is justified. Mary Pickersgill lays out a swath of cloth on the museum floor, asking visitors to help design the stars for her latest project, the 1813 American flag that would become the Star-Spangled Banner.
What is going on at the National Museum of American History (NMAH)? The History Alive! Theater Program gets visitors talking about history through an interactive, personal presentation of the stories of America’s past that resonate in the nation’s present. NMAH shows use emotion, tension, and conflict to lead visitors comfortably through a exploration of challenging issues and topics.
Now NMAH’s award-winning historic theater programs are eyeing the road. Designed to travel, the programs and their actors can re-create the Smithsonian experience at Affiliate sites. The performances can be customized to take place in a variety of locations, with different kinds of audiences, or for special celebrations such as Black History Month. The costs include a daily fee and travel from Washington; contact your National Outreach Manager for more information.
Affiliates have the unique opportunity to offer two of the most popular theater programs from the nation’s history museum to their visitors.
Join the Student Sit-Ins
Join the Student Sit-Ins is an interactive presentation of the story of the 1960 sit-in for desegregation that took place at the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Visitors take part in a training session based on an actual 1960s manual and prepare for their first sit-in. The program won the Smithsonian’s Education Excellence Award in 2009 for the Institution’s best educational program. According to one participant, “The Greensboro Lunch Counter performance was the most powerful exhibit that I’ve seen in DC. The woman who did it was wonderful and passionate and brought me to tears.” C. Vanarthos 8/13/11. For more, read about the program in the Smithsonian’s Around the Mall blog.
The Time Trial of John Brown
History and memory are not always one and the same. When History is on trial, only Time can be the judge. Created in 2010, the Time Trials series allows visitors to debate and discuss the historical legacy of controversial figures. In The Time Trial of John Brown, visitors meet the passionate and committed abolitionist who violently opposed the expansion of slavery and led a raid against the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in hopes of inciting a slave rebellion. Visitors discuss and debate Brown’s legacy: should we remember him as a heroic martyr, a vigilante murderer, something in between, or something else entirely?
So, if you’re looking for a creative new way to engage your audiences, consider History Alive! Theater Programs and step right in to history!