National Constitution Center Uses Theater to Bring to Life Reconstruction Era

“FOURTEEN”, a new play at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, merges history and theater to bring to life Reconstruction, the period in US history after the Civil War.

Nora Quinn, director of theater programs at the National Constitution Center and producer of “FOURTEEN”, told WHYY that she was inspired to create the play because most students do not learn about the complexities of this period. “Typically the war ends and then suddenly we have the 13th Amendment, then the 14th Amendment, then the 15th Amendment,” she said. “Many people don’t discern between the three what rights each of them grants. Most people assume they happened: boom, boom, boom.”

The play takes its dialogue from directly from historical documents including Frederick Douglass’s open letter “To My Old Master” and a speech given by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, an African American abolitionist, at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. Actors also use replicas of historical artifacts as props throughout the play. During the performance, after an actor uses a prop, they place it into a niche in the set, creating a living museum exhibit.

“FOURTEEN” is part of the National Constitution Center’s new permanent exhibit on the Civil War and Reconstruction. The 35-minute performance runs through August 10 with multiple showings each day. There will be more limited showings in the fall and in 2020.