“The Agitators”: A play reading of rebellion and revolution

By RAIN JI

“The Agitators” is a play that explores the relationship between Susan B. Anthony and Fredrick Douglass. COURTESY PHOTO.

Susan B. Anthony, a white suffragist, and Fredrick Douglass, an abolitionist and statesman, were both friends and enemies. “The Agitators” is a play that explores the relationship between two rabble-rousers whose tales of rebellion and revolution remain culturally significant today. The production is co-presented by Middlebury College’s Theatre Program, Town Hall Theater and the Clemmons Family Farm. 

Michole Biancosino, professor of theatre, is the director of the play reading. After realizing that current college regulations make performances inaccessible to outside guests, Biancosino reached out to Lisa Mitchell, executive director of the Town Hall Theater, to seek a collaboration and make the play reading a coordinated event. They then partnered with The Clemmons Family Farm, located in Charlotte, Vt., to present this work for free, socially distanced and in the outdoors this coming Saturday, Oct. 17. 

The 148-acre Clemmons Family Farm, an African-American owned land asset and non-profit organization, works to curate opportunities to support Black artists and celebrate African-American and African diaspora arts. 

“The Clemmons Family Farm brings a deeply meaningful sense of place to ‘The Agitators,”’ Mitchell said. 

Lydia Clemmons, president of the farm, was pleased to co-host the play reading.

“Because of the pandemic, this will be our first outdoor program in 2020. We are looking forward to sharing this beautiful place with the community we love and have missed so much,” Clemmons said. “We know that people have been yearning to find ways to come together in a loving and intentional way, especially during these tense times.”

This play reading will be the concluding event of the 21st Century Theatre Festival, an initiative and performance series at the college dedicated to bring works by diverse theatre talents to the campus. 

Biancosino pointed to the relevance of the play in today’s political and artistic climate as the chief reason for including it as part of the festival. “The question of who gets to vote is again up for debate,” she wrote in an email to The Campus. 

Although a play reading will not immediately solve issues in the society or even on the college campus, she hopes the play can provide a catalyst for further discussions. 

“[Douglass’] stirring words, from speeches and writings from the mid 1800s, also shine a light on the ways our current America of 2020 feels stuck in its history of violence, primarily against Black people,” Biancosino said. 

The ability to listen wholeheartedly and to observe the world through each other’s eyes was what made the symbiotic relationship between Anthony and Douglass iconic, Biancosino said, and she hopes to highlight the possibility of pushing forward the rights of all people, regardless of differences. 

“Art provides a way to look at your world through someone else’s eyes,” Biancosino said. 

The play reading will be livestreamed from the outdoors on October 17 and 18 at 2p.m. The registration form is free and open to all Middlebury ID holders.