‘Andrew Jackson’ opens tonight at Burroughs

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘Andrew Jackson’ opens tonight at BurroughsLilly Johnson as Andrew Jackson with the ensemble and band members during a scene from punk-rock historical musical “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson" — Photo by Laura Austin

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The Burroughs High School Performing Arts Department opens “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” tonight, drawing audiences into an evening of entertainment — and a teachable moment.

“The parallels between the age of Andrew Jackson and now are astonishing, to say the least, and perfect for teaching and learning the high-level metacognition skills we are held accountable for as a secondary-level educational institution,” said BHS Drama Teacher Tristan Kratz.

The production is a “re-imagining” of Jackson’s rise to power, his presidency and his legacy, said Kratz. “He was our first populist president and the creator of the Democratic Party. He remains one of the most controversial presidents, until recently, and this play addresses his treatment of the native peoples and his cult of personality.”

The production taps into the historic unrest and discontent during the early 1800s, while connecting to parallels in the modern-day political climate.

“This story examines a larger-than life personality and self-made man who takes on the status quo and wins the people’s love to sit in the highest seat of the nation. And if history were punk rock, it would be, and is, ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.’”

Kratz said that virtually every lyric and line in the play gives an educational element to the theatrical material. “In any play the students and I have at least eight weeks to develop text analysis and then make choices on how to communicate the intense learning and relevant connections within the text and the development of the characters.”

She said that one example is that this was the first some of her students learned of Jackson’s treatment of the native populations through war, relocation and forced assimilation. Another insight her students gained was Jackson’s dismantling of the federal banking system.

“The cast members, by nature of the rehearsal process, get to really delve into the topics addressed and inherent in this play and learn the hard history that is central to this presidency, rather than the more romantic, sanitized and politically correct version most people are either familiar or comfortable with,” said Kratz.

“For me, as a director, but first and foremost as an educator, the plays are about learning — deep, intelligent, profound examination and learning. And I know for some that makes them uncomfortable. I also know for some, art and theater should just be safe and entertaining — which I can appreciate in certain contexts.

“But as an educator, teaching students critical reasoning, discernment and providing young people with a safe and powerful venue in which to apply their learning in a creative and artistic manner is vital.

“As these young people come to experience and understand art and expression beyond the mass-produced, mass-marketed and self-affirming variety … the kind of art that is challenging, informational, self-reflective and examining is necessary, a form of civic responsibility and a sign of a healthy democracy.”

Kratz noted that she is excited about the “innovative and groundbreaking play,” which also served as one of the inspirations for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wildly popular “Hamilton.”

Burroughs will also be the first high school to perform the play, she said. “The students have the intelligence and courage to tackle a very demanding and controversial play,” she said. “And it is controversial in that it challenges preconceived notions about our history.”

She also praised the level to which the students have immersed themselves in the study of the play. “They are smart, loving, compassionate, very brave young people. They inspire me daily. I wish more adults could behave like these young people. They deserve a heck of a lot more support and respect than they’ve been given recently.”

Parents should be advised of strong language and content that may not be suitable for all audiences.

Curtain time is at 7 p.m., and the doors open for seating at 6:30 p.m. Subsequent performances will be held Nov. 3, 9 and 10.

Tickets are available from members of cast and crew and at the door.

Story First Published: 2018-11-02