Founding Father for a Day

Posted on 9/11/2014 2:05:25 PM

Sit in on a casual conversation with four authors of the U.S. Constitution: Ben Franklin, James Madison, Charles Pinckney, and Alexander Hamilton, as they discuss what it was like to be a part of writing the U.S. Constitution.

“A Chat with the Founding Fathers” is scheduled for Monday, September 15, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. in the Ohio Room of the Hadley Union Building. The event is part of IUP’s commemoration of Constitution Day, the day when the Constitution was signed in 1787, and is cosponsored by the Center for Student Life, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Department of Political Science.

“We often hear politicians and pundits claim to know what the authors of the Constitution intended to accomplish,” said Gwen Torges, a Political Science faculty member and coordinator of Constitution Day events at IUP. “So I thought it would be fun and interesting to ask them—directly.”

This will be the ninth time that IUP has hosted one or more Founding Father as part of its efforts to raise awareness about the U.S. Constitution in celebration of Constitution Day. For the past several years, four Founders have shared their insights with IUP students: Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Pinckney, and James Madison, portrayed by Political Science faculty members David Chambers, Steve Jackson, and Mac Fiddner and History faculty member Joe Mannard, respectively.

Portraying a Founding Father can be both fun and intimidating.

“Portraying Alexander Hamilton has been a fascinating and fun journey,” said Steve Jackson, who has played the role of Hamilton for the past seven years. “I must say that I have become much more sympathetic to him over the years of research and acting the role. The United States today is closest to Hamilton’s vision of what America would become, though not always in a positive way.”

Having knowledge of what went on at the Constitutional Convention isn’t the only challenge of portraying a Founding Father. 

“The costume can be unbearably hot, the waistcoat cinches me in a most uncomfortable way, and the wig itches, but I eagerly anticipate the opportunity each year,” said David Chambers, the first to channel a Founding Father at IUP, starting in 2007.

“It goes without saying that my knowledge of and appreciation for Ben Franklin’s significant contributions to the founding of this county have increased dramatically. It is the kinship that I have developed with this endlessly interesting, deeply intelligent man that keep me coming back for more. The opportunity to ‘inhabit’ Franklin for these short periods has made me a better teacher, citizen, and person.  If I were king of the forest, every American would be required to read Franklin’s final speech to the Constitutional Convention every single day. The wisdom contained in that short address is as relevant, and perhaps more relevant, today as it was 250 years ago.”

Being cast in the role of Founding Father James Madison has kept Joe Mannard on his toes for the past eight years.

“Portraying James Madison is always fun,” said Mannard, “but it also can be a bit daunting because one feels obligated to be ready to answer in character most any question the audience may ask. Fortunately, my colleagues from Political Science always have my back if I run into any difficulty—a good example of the type of interdependence and cooperation between independent personalities that was required to frame the Constitution in the first place.”