Paula Vogel on A Civil War Christmas and Interpreting History for the Stage

Paula Vogel on A Civil War Christmas and Interpreting History for the Stage

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel on her research process and interpreting history for the stage. Filmed at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage on January 22, 2013.

One evening over dinner, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Paula Vogel delivered what she calls her “annual rant.” Why, she asked director Molly Smith, are theaters always remounting A Christmas Carol? Where is the American Christmas Carol? On the restaurant tablecloth, in crayon, Vogel outlined the plot for a new holiday play: A Civil War Christmas. The story would be set in Washington, D.C. The many characters would include Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, and an escaped child slave. Carols, spirituals, and ballads from the period would be integrated into the narrative. Smith, who was named artistic director of Washington’s Arena Stage soon afterward, commissioned the play.

Vogel recounted this origin story to a group of Center constituents who saw the New York Theatre Workshop production of A Civil War Christmas in December 2012. In our interview above, filmed during that same visit, she discusses her research process; the “shout-out[s]” she gives to the present even when writing a period piece; and her commitment to make visible the experiences of Americans who might otherwise go unheard, be they women in the home or soldiers in the field. Vogel’s current playwriting project is a Center-funded commission for Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater, based on Don Juan Returns from the War. She has conducted interviews with local veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to inform her eventual script.

Vogel’s newest play, Don Juan Returns from Iraq, will see its Center-funded world premiere production at Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater from March 19 to April 20, 2014. Visit the Wilma’s website for tickets.

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