Richard Hellesen is the writer of Necessary Sacrifices which is the next production at Ford’s Theatre. Previous productions at Ford’s include History On Foot- Detective McDevitt, One Destiny and The Road to Appottamox, all of which were commissioned by Ford’s Theatre. Some other works by Richard include Eureka, Birdman, Power Play, Indian Summer, The Emperor’s New Clothes. As you will read Richard became interested in American history at an early age, and his life-long love for history is evident in his work at Ford’s Theatre. I urge you to go see One Destiny in the spring when it returns (only 40 minutes, good viewing for the whole family, 2 great DC actors and only $5.00 a seat), and of course Necessary Sacrifices to see Richard Hellesen’s latest creation.
Were you interested in American History as a kid?
Very much–all history, really, because at some level I was enthralled with what is really the drama of humanity. But American history was something I found absolutely fascinating. Not so much dates, or events themselves, but how people made those events transpire. Henry Knox hauling cannons from Ft. Ticonderoga to Boston through the snow; Eisenhower reading the weather reports before deciding to go with D-Day, that sort of thing.
How did you get the commission to write One Destiny for Ford’s Theatre?
Mark Ramont, who was Director of Theatre Programming at Ford’s at that time, is an old friend from college. We’d followed each other’s careers over the years, and when the project came up – to write a short piece about the Lincoln assassination to be performed at the theatre – he e-mailed me to see if I might be interested. … My history-loving-kid-self jumped at it. I remember reading Jim Bishop’s The Day Lincoln Was Shot when I was about 10, and being fascinated with how the day unfolded -and that became central to One Destiny.
Can you explain how you came up with the concept for Investigation: Detective McDevitt – History on Foot?
Everything I’ve written for Ford’s has been an assignment: find out what the theatre needs, take the parameters they give you and craft something that works. (One Destiny: Assassination play, two actors, no set, 40-minutes. Go!). For McDevitt the assignment was: one actor, 90-minutes, the city as a set, but still involving characters and a story. Since the audience would be on a journey where they put together the pieces of the assassination conspiracy, it made sense (to me) to use as their guide a detective who is doing exactly the same thing.
Why after all this time are Americans still fascinated with Abraham Lincoln?
I don’t think there’s an easy answer. (Especially since not every American is fascinated with him or history.) On one hand, it’s unavoidable: he’s come down to us as a mythical figure, the man who saved the Union and freed the slaves, martyred on Good Friday and now 20-feet high in marble at the end of the Mall. But on the other hand, he’s useful: we can point to him as the exemplar of all the best personal aspects and virtues we like to claim for ourselves—humility, hard work, faith, humor, self-education, self-reliance. When we imagine our leaders, past and present, he’s the one who feels most like who we would want to be. We revere Washington, we admire Jefferson and we love Lincoln.
What would you like audiences to take away with them after seeing Necessary Sacrifices?
I wouldn’t presume to tell them. But I notice you didn’t ask about Frederick Douglass. That would be a good start…
Watch Richard Hellesen speaks with Phil Funkenbusch – the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum Director of Theaters, about Richard Hellesens work One Destiny.
Watch a video preview of Investigation: Detective McDevitt, written by Richard Hellesen and directed by Mark Ramont.