The Agitators: The Story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass
by Mat Smart
directed by Logan Vaughn
Originally produced at Geva Theatre Center, Rochester, NY
October 18 to November 12, 2017
About the Premiere Production:
Synopsis: The Agitators tells of the enduring but tempestuous friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. Great allies? Yes. And at times, great adversaries. Young abolitionists when they met in Rochester in the 1840s, they were full of hopes, dreams and a common purpose. As they grew to become the cultural icons we know today, their movements collided and their friendship was severely tested. This is the story of that 45-year friendship – from its beginning in Rochester, through a Civil War and to the highest halls of government. They agitated the nation, they agitated each other and, in doing so, they helped shape the Constitution and the course of American history.
Artistic Statement: Nineteenth Century Civil Rights Activist Frederick Douglass famously said, “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning.” Mat Smart’s compelling play The Agitators tells the story of the thunder and lightning of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass’ 45-year friendship. After meeting in Rochester in the 1840’s, they became great allies and, at times, great adversaries. They agitated the nation, they agitated (and sometimes aggravated) each other and, in doing so, they helped shape the Constitution and the course of American history. Geva’s commitment to The Agitators began in 2013, long before a script of the play existed. Playwright Mat Smart was in Rochester working on the premiere of another of his plays, and we took him to the Susan B. Anthony House, just a short drive from the theatre. In the working class neighborhood near Anthony’s house and close to where Douglass’ once stood, is a statue of Douglass and Anthony having tea. They are larger than life, and in the center of a park – they’ve become a place for kids to play and for adults to contemplate their legacies. The Agitators began to form at that moment, as Mat considered the role he, as a white male ally, can play in the conversations around gender and race. We commissioned Mat to write The Agitators in the spring of 2016, and the play has become increasingly relevant as equality and fairness are challenged more and more in our increasingly divided country. This two-character play brings alive these icons of American history as vulnerable, vital (even funny and charming) human beings, and it dramatizes the origins of the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements. We watch Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass develop a friendship based on mutual respect, and as they age, we see them work to retain that friendship while they crusade against the injustices of this country. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Woman Suffrage in New York State in 2017, this is exactly the kind of story we need to hear, and The Agitators will be part of state-wide celebrations.
Grant Statement: The Agitators is a dynamic and muscular play, with just two characters – Anthony and Douglass. The scenes span the entire length of their friendship, from the late 1840’s until Douglass’ death in 1895. Each scene takes place in a different location and the style of the play requires speedy transitions between scenes, which will be both a design and an acting challenge. Bringing the creative team together in a discontinuous week of rehearsal (and before designs are due to our shops) will be critical to solving this challenge, and ensuring that the physical world of the play supports the emotional world of the play. Additional time during the rehearsal period leading to production will allow the actors to incorporate the technical aspects of this 50-year time span, as well as the physical and emotional changes within their characters.
Set Designer: Jack Magaw
Lighting Designer: Christine Binder
Costumer Designer: Jessica Ford
Sound Designer: David Lamont Wilson
Dramaturg: Jenni Werner
Additional Funders Supporting The Agitators: M&T Bank, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York Council on the Humanities, Mary S. Mulligan Charitable Trust.