Actors Support Real Live Democracy At Town Meetings

Mar 6, 2018

A group of actors that are putting on the play 1776 see a lot of connections between the work of our country's founders and the people who make decisions in their local communities at town meeting.

Some of the play's actors have been traveling around the Upper Valley to talk with people as they make their way into town meeting.

At the Norwich town meeting Monday night the historical John Hancock, portrayed by Katie Kitchel handed out cards with inspirational quotes from the play, which opens at the end of March at the Briggs Opera House.

"Consensus is hard. But that's democracy at work. It's allowing citizens to engage and talk about what they care about." Perry Allison, director of 1776

The play 1776 is based on meetings held in Philadelphia leading up the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Kitchel says the production is full of tension, debate and arguments; kind of like town meeting.

"How do we debate with people who we disagree with? How do we agree with people that we disagree with," she asks. "So many of these themes are portrayed throughout the play in a really entertaining and accessible way. And so much of town meeting is about this. This is what we do, in the state of Vermont, which is so special. We come together once a year, as a community, to debate, to have conversation, to share ideas."

The actors handed out the cards and tried to catch people heading into town meeting to talk about the duties and responsibilities of maintaining a democratic republic in the 21st century.

"Consensus is hard," says Perry Allison, who is directing the play, "But that's democracy at work. It's allowing citizens to engage and talk about what they care about."

Allison says from the start the idea was to make this play more than just an entertaining evening out - to get people thinking about the hard work involved in making sure they have a voice in government.

After each production the house lights will come up, Allison says, and the cast will lead a discussion with the audience on the democratic process. 

In Norwich Monday, the town held its informational meeting leading up to the voting which takes place on Town Meeting Day.

Nan Carroll says she makes it out to Norwich's town meeting every year.

"I think it's a great tradition," Carroll says. "It never hurts to have a whole bunch of different people with different ideas and different perspectives all in the room at the same time. That's just bound to be a good thing."

There was some lively debate in Norwich Monday. The town talked about adding $100,000 to the school budget to hire another teacher, and the selectboard wants to borrow $4 million to help pay for damage from a  storm this summer.

Norwich resident Irv Thomae told the meeting that the only way Norwich can continue paying for all of these services is by bringing in more people.

"That's why we need more housing for working families, because we need more kids in the school, to keep this town affordable for all of us, as well as for all of those families that aren't here yet," Thomae said to a round of applause.

On the card that the actors from the play handed out, there's a quote from Stephen Hopkins, a delegate from Rhode Island in 1776.

In the play, Hopkins says, "In all my years I never heard, seen, nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous that it couldn't be talked about. Hell yes," Hopkins said. "I'm for debating anything."