The Genesis of "To Begin the World Over Again"
I was introduced to the life of Thomas Paine on a trip performing my one-man play about labor leader Harry Bridges “From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks”. Two friends, artist Ann Stoddard followed by union activist Tom Paine Cronin, encouraged me to write a play about Paine. I began reading and was astounded by his story. As I read more about him my astonishment grew. His book “Common Sense” sold an estimated 300,000 copies to a population of two million (equivalent to selling 75 million copies today) and was read by just about everyone who could read. It was literally, the spark of the revolution. His pamphlets throughout the war – “These are the times that try men’s souls” – kept Washington’s troops in the fight. His book “The Rights of Man” defined the French revolution, and “The Age of Reason” challenged organized religion and championed our ability to reason. Most astounding to me was that at a time when even the most liberal of the Founding Fathers were debating as to how much white men, and white men only, must own in order to be able to vote, Paine was saying that all slaves should be freed and that all free men should be able to vote. Furthermore, in "Agrarian Justice" he supports the idea of gender equality, of the same rights for women as for men. There was no other American Founding Father anywhere close to Paine in his vision of democracy. This is a story that America needs to hear!
My method in writing was similar to the method I used writing “From Wharf Rats…”. I read dozens of books about him, interviewed people who have studied his life, and had scholars approve the accuracy of my script. I used extensive sound effects and music, but have kept the production very simple, able to be performed in any kind of space. I focused on writing a play about a PERSON, not a historical figure. For example, the first 30 plus years of his life in England were remarkably unremarkable. He had a sharp wit and could make skilled use of sarcasm, but possessed little political tact. Some claimed that he enjoyed his brandy. He died poor and largely forgotten. Those who did remember were not kind in their opinions. The New York Citizen’s obituary said “He had lived long, did some good and much harm”. Six people attended his funeral. I have aimed to have the highs and lows of his unique life there for all to see. I believe that is vital that the play reveals the man, because what is most interesting is to see a person, with very ordinary weaknesses, struggle and then succeed in some extraordinary way. --Ian Ruskin
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