The American Music Theater Project and the Wirtz Center presented “The Battlefields of Clara Barton” last weekend, a modern folk-rock musical exploring Barton’s role as a nurse during the Civil War.
Playwright Suzan Zeder and composer Jenn Hartmann Luck began developing the musical in 2017, but students from Northwestern, the University of Texas at Austin and the Austin Playhouse developed their own versions of the production. Based on audience reviews of the three versions of the musical, the show’s creative team will refine it before its ultimate completion.
The folk-rock musical highlights the life of Barton, who earned the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield” due to her work as a nurse during the Civil War. After the war, she continued her work as a nurse and founded the first Red Cross in the United States.
However, “The Battlegrounds of Clara Barton” explores beyond how the public generally remembers Barton. The musical also details her work as a champion for women’s rights, the abolition of slavery and public education. Additionally, the production explores Barton’s mental health issues throughout his life.
Year one in communications, Anne-Sophie Lacombe Garcia, who worked behind the scenes to help with costume making and other tasks, said she enjoyed working on a production based on an original screenplay.
“This musical represents to me that the original work is not dead,” said Lacombe Garcia. “It’s really amazing how the two women were able to do a really amazing job.”
Communication Professor Rives Collins, who directed the musical, said AMTP provides many opportunities for students and faculty to connect with professionals and develop new musicals.
This particular project enabled a multigenerational conversation between original writers and student developers, Collins said.
“This is a studio production, in which all of us here at Northwestern find ourselves in the service of the playwright and the composer, to help them see what they have written – to bring in all the talents of our students. and the dedication of our faculty and staff to helping develop new work, ”Collins said. “This one is very likely to have a life after Northwestern.”
Communication freshman Lena Moore said she attended the production to watch her friend perform.
Moore said she enjoys watching historical musicals because of their ability to delve deeply into an event or historical figure beyond common knowledge. She said she also liked the way the musical “pleaded for hidden stories” such as the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, which was made up mostly of Black Union soldiers.
“It was really cool to see the work in progress come to life,” said Moore.
The musical put on three shows last weekend, including a Saturday night performance to a full house.
Collins said he enjoyed collaborating with the students on the musical, especially because they were willing to embrace change as the work developed. With the musical marking the first time Collins has conducted live theater since the start of the pandemic, he said he believes the musical’s message is all the more relevant.
“The overall theme of ‘The Battlefields of Clara Barton’ is the illumination of dark places, or radical hope,” Collins said. “The one who says that despite the darkness, we will find ways to move forward. “
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