The playwright commissioned to create an original drama marking the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in Washington, D.C., is consulting with a YSU professor to ensure the historical accuracy of the production.
Scott Irelan, chair and associate professor, Theater and Dance, is working with playwright James Still on his newest play, “The Widow Lincoln,” set for a world premier at Ford’s Theatre in January. The drama is among several events and exhibits planned next year at the theater where Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.
“I’m playing a small role, just a sliver. I’m simply a scholar sharing with a creative artist,” Irelan said of his role in the project. “It’s a big deal for me to be able to share my research. It’s exciting.”
A mutual friend referred the playwright to Irelan, who has focused his scholarly research on the 16th president and the ways he has been portrayed in American theater, and they’ve worked together via email and telephone. Irelan said he’s read and studied more than 150 plays written between 1861 and 2002 that include Lincoln “in some way, shape or form,” and he was able to provide Still with a 19th century play he needed for his research.
Irelan, who joined the YSU faculty in 2012, grew up in a small town outside Toledo, earning undergraduate and master’s degrees in theater and communication from Bowling Green State University, and he became interested in Lincoln while pursuing his doctorate at Southern Illinois University–Carbondale. Searching for a dissertation theme, he became intrigued with Civil War-era plays he found in the college library. That discovery led to his dissertation, with the short title “Plays, Productions and Politics,” examining how dramatic portrayals of Lincoln reflected changes in politics, government and the economy over the years.
There are some Lincoln connections in Irelan’s newest book, Enacting Nationhood: Identity, Ideology and the Theater, 1855-99, a collection of essays on how dramatic literature depicted the North and South in that era. He co-authored a textbook that was published in 2007, has another theater text scheduled for release next year, and hopes to revise and publish his dissertation as a book within five years.