For forty-five years, they agitated the nation and each other. They met in the 1840s as young abolitionists, full of hopes and sharing a common purpose. They became cultural and historical icons. They were Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. Their tempestuous decades-long friendship is the subject of playwright Mat Smart’s THE AGITATORS, currently in production at Falcon Theatre as a special theater-for-film presentation. The production will be available for on-demand streaming from March 12 – 20, 2021.
This project has been more than a year in the making. Originally scheduled as the fourth production of Falcon’s 2019-2020 season, the play was mere days from opening last March when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the theater to shelve the project temporarily. Out of concern for cast, crew, and audience safety, Falcon Artistic Director Ted Weil and production director Darnell Benjamin agreed to push the production to the 2020-2021 season. Weil and Benjamin ultimately opted to produce the play as Falcon’s second theater-for-film project. This past October, the theater filmed a similar venture for Sean Devine’s play Daisy.
Anthony and Douglass found a common cause in the abolition of slavery, though each came at the subject from a different standpoint. She was white, a Quaker. He was black, an escaped slave. Both used their gifts as writers and orators, along with their shared passion for equality to forge an unlikely friendship. Slavery ended after the Civil War, and the two focused on what they hoped would be universal suffrage. Their friendship and alliance became strained with the proposal of the 15th Amendment, which would grant voting rights to black men, but not to women of either race.
Playwright Smart sees the story of the pair as timely for 21st Century America. “The distance between people in this country seems to be growing greater and greater,” Smart says. “And something that is so inspiring to me about Susan and Frederick was their ability to have a healthy, hard dialogue with the people they disagreed with…with the people who hated them. So I hope a lesson we can take from them is how we can better listen to people who believe different things than we believe, and how we may better agitate the people who disagree with us to change their thinking. Or vice versa.”
Details for streaming the presentation will appear soon on Falcon’s website (www.falcontheater.net) and on Falcon’s Facebook and Instagram (@falcontheatrenky) pages.