Everyone knows “The Star-Spangled Banner”. And, of course, everyone knows our country’s national anthem was written by a man named Francis Scott Key. But that is pretty much the extent of our general knowledge on the subject. Not many know why Francis wrote that poem, or why a shy Georgetown lawyer was stuck on a ship in the midst of the Battle of Baltimore and witnessed the rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air, or why the country was even at war with Britain during 1814.
When Hunger and Thirst first read Contrafact of Freedom, we were all struck by the unbelievable chain of events that led Francis to the deck of the HMS Tonnant on that fateful night. It was a thrilling, unbelievable story that we felt should be shared. When we learned that 2014 was the bicentennial of this historic event AND we could perform in Washington D.C., where almost all of the events of the play occurred, we knew that this was the time to present Francis’s story to our audiences.
The more we worked on this play, the more excited we became by the prospect of putting a new twist on this historical drama. We will not present this as a History Channel documentary. We will find the humor, heart, and soul of Francis’s story, and hopefully prove that historical plays are not simply dry reenactments of a history lesson. After all, both history and theatre are, at their respective cores, all about people or characters living their lives and making choices that affect those around them. It makes complete sense that these two fields should go hand in hand.
We were also intrigued by how the playwright, Alex Pappas, wove music into the script. The melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is actually not an original composition–several other period songs used that basic tune. It’s fascinating to hear the oh-so-familiar melody with completely different lyrics. We were also lucky enough to bring aboard Matthew Ellis Murphy, a very talented musical director, and cast a talented group of actors who will be singing and playing musical instruments live onstage.
Even with today’s technology, in our opinion, there is nothing as powerful as hearing live voices and live instruments being played right in front of you. All of the sound effects and battle sequences will be created with only the actors, foley sound, and limited props, creating a dynamic and unique theatrical experience.
Finally, the core message of this play fits our aesthetic and mission perfectly. Hunger and Thirst is an emerging theatre company dedicated to presenting timeless stories in an engaging environment that encourages community-building. Telling the story of Francis Scott Key and our country’s most communal song seemed like a perfect fit for us. We hope our audience will be similarly moved by Francis’s personal revelations.
Francis’s journey throughout the course of the play is one that most Americans hopefully will undergo within their own lifetime: the realization that active participation is the only way for democracy to survive. Standing on the sidelines when your country is in personal turmoil is not a viable solution. As Francis says, “It’s true what they say about us: we are an experiment. And it’s not going well. But what little we have left is still enough to work with.”
Our country may not be in the best shape, but as long as we collectively participate, we can find a solution together.
We hope that you will join our community and learn all about Francis’s incredible story and journey. We’ll see you at the theater!
— Guest writer Patricia Lynn is Artistic Director of Hunger & Thirst Theatre Collective
Contrafact of Freedom is onstage at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE,Washington, DC
Performances are: July 15 at 8:15pm, July 16 at 8:15pm, July 17 at 6:30pm,
July 19 at 12:15pm and July 20 at 2:30pm
Details and tickets or call 866-811-4111.