"Empires Fall" reading attracts important audience
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 21:03
While many actors can attest to performing in front of a large audience, few can say they have performed in front of a former president.
Last Friday evening, a staged reading of “Empires Fall,” a play about the relationship between President George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of Soviet Union, was featured in the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center. The play followed one of the most crucial aspects of the former president’s career, covering the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. The production was presented by The George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, and put on by actors of Texas A&M’s Department of Performance Studies, with various high-profile attendees, including former President George H.W. Bush.
Marlin Fitzwater, the former White House press secretary for President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, explained the core theme of the play in his opening remarks.
“From 1988 until the end of the Soviet Union on December 24, 1991, [President Bush and Gorbachev] met at least nine times, exchanged 20 phone calls, 14 memos, 35 letters, and 15 cables and they became good friends,” Fitzwater said. “’Empires Fall’ is the story of a personal diplomacy and a personal friendship in the midst of turmoil and revolution.”
Fitzwater and Robert Lawson, a writer, director, composer, screenwriter and visual artist, wrote the play.
In his opening remarks, Fitzwater addressed the attending former president, George H.W. Bush.
“Mr. President, I think on behalf of at least 800 million people around the world, it is great to see you, and you look terrific,” Fitzwater said, earning a round of applause from the tightly packed theater.
The director, Yunina Barbour-Payne, a graduate student of the Department of Performance Studies, said she thought the reading was well-received.
“There were a lot more laughs than what I was expecting,” Barbour-Payne said. “Since it was a staged reading rather than a live performance, there wasn’t as much directing as a normal play would require.”
Barbour-Payne said her instructions were simple.
“I gave them just one direction and that was to lift the energy from the page, and as you could see from the performance tonight, they did just that,” Barbour-Payne said.
James Kennedy, senior theatre arts major and President George H.W. Bush in the play, said he was nervous at first, but thinks the show ran smoothly.
“I think I did pretty well, I was more nervous about this production than I have been in years, because it was like ‘oh – I’m performing for some big name people, including the former president of United States,’ so it was a little nerve-racking in that regard, but, as soon as I said the first few lines and broke the ice, it went fine after that,” Kennedy said.
Paije Bowles, junior theatre arts major and one of the reporters in the play, said the presence of the secret service at the event was nerve-wracking, but a reminder of the prominence of the event.
“I saw the inside of the secret service guys jacket and saw two magazines and a gun and was like, ‘woah.’ It was crazy to think that the secret service was actually there, watching our performance, not to mention the president himself,” Bowles said.
Bowles said the experience was definitely memorable.
“Saying our lines felt like we were talking to the president in person, and it was hard not to make eye contact,” Bowles said. “Overall, it was a really fun experience and we all got to know each other really well.”
Justin Fullerton, senior international studies major and Mikhail Gorbachev in the play, commented on the renowned audience members.
“We’ve done performances before for large audiences, but never for such an important group of people, people who have changed American history,” Fullerton said.
Frederick D. McClure, CEO of The George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, said the play went well, with an accurate rendition and portrayals.
“I think it went fabulous,” McClure said. “I’m very proud of [the actors] and the job they did tonight”.