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Starr Center for the

Study of the American Experience

Bearded Ladies in “Wide Awake: A Civil War Cabaret”

Date: 7:30pm EST January 30, 2014

The Bearded Ladies are coming, and Chestertown may never be the same! Philadelphia theatre troupe The Bearded Ladies conducts a ten-day residency at Washington College, with three performances on January 30, 31 and February 1, 7:30 p.m. each night. Limited seating! For reservations call (410) 778-7835, email: drama_tickets@washcoll.edu

“We don’t just tour, we invade,” crows John Jarboe, founder of the rollicking Philadelphia theater company, which is doing a ten-day residency at Washington College—workshops, classes, a parade!—culminating in three free performances of their hit show, “Wide Awake: A Civil War Cabaret.” 

The Caba-Play, as the Bearded Ladies call their fast-paced 60- to 80-minute productions, was inspired by the bestselling book 1861: The Civil War Awakening by historian Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. 

“Many strange and wonderful things can happen when you send a book out into the world,” says Goodheart. “But perhaps best of all was getting an email one day from out of the blue to inform me that 1861 had inspired a Civil War drag cabaret. I didn’t know quite what to expect when I saw it for the first time, but it turned out to be the funniest and smartest—and raunchiest—historical extravaganza I’ve ever seen. I went back to the dressing room right after the show and said, ‘This needs to come to Chestertown.’”

“Wide Awake” was first performed in a sold-out run at Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater in November 2011, and the company received grants from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and the Knight Foundation to expand the production for a run at the Kimmel Center in the spring of 2013 as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.

Goodheart served as historical adviser and helped workshop the play. The title is taken from his book’s first chapter. The Wide Awakes were a Civil War-era paramilitary organization whose members wore shiny black hats and capes, carried enormous torches and sometimes brandished the axes which they bore strapped to their backs in honor of their hero, Lincoln the rail splitter. Jarboe describes the play as “partGone with the Wind, part folk-punk extravaganza, with music ranging from 1827 to 2013. John Brown, P.T. Barnum and a myriad of historical characters sing, dance and rock out in an epic battle-of-the-bands.”

During their week in Chestertown, the Bearded Ladies will teach classes in the drama, history, English literature and music departments. On Wednesday, January 29, from 3 to 4 p.m., they will stage a parade (complete with band) through the campus. And they will host a playmaking workshop on Saturday and Sunday, January 25 and 26 (5-9 p.m. on 1/25 and 3-8 on 1/26), that is open to all students and the public. To sign up for the workshop, or for more information, email Drama Department chair Michele Volansky at mvolansky2@washcoll.edu. 

“The Beards represent everything that is the liberal arts:  an inquisitive, creative nature coupled with a keen awareness of the world around them,” says Volansky. “Their Civil War Cabaret is a perfect blend of arts and history. This will be my first time working with the company as a whole. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”           

“Wide Awake: A Civil War Cabaret” will be performed on Thursday, January 30; Friday, January 31; and Saturday, February 1 at Decker Theatre in the Gibson Center for the Arts. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. and are free and open to the public. Limited seating! For reservations call (410) 778-7835, email: drama_tickets@washcoll.edu

The Bearded Ladies Cabaret residency is sponsored by the Starr Center and the Washington College Department of Drama.