5 Questions with ... Allison Benko: Reimagining the ‘Burning of Fairfield’
FAIRFIELD — She was assistant director for Lincoln Center’s Tony Award-winning production of “Oslo,” and has premiered and developed musicals — even an opera.
But Fairfield native Allison Benko, 25, is taking on the local scene with the rewrite of the Fairfield Museum and History Center’s annual “Burning of Fairfield,” the story of the tragic two-day event in 1779. The Tufts University graduate has not only provided a new take on the local tradition, but she has also made it interactive.
During the “Rebels vs. Tories” interactive performance, audience members are invited to hurl insults or compliments, and will learn who took the blame for the ransacking of the Burr Mansion during the British attack, that resulted in the near-total destruction of the town’s center. British troops marched along the beach and headed inland, up what is now known as Beach Road, for the attack on July 7 and 8.
Benko recently answered questions about her role in the new version of the story.
Q: How did you get involved with “Rebels vs. Tories”?
‘Rebels vs. Tories’
Performances are Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 2 p.m.
at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, 370 Beach Road.
Tickets are $20 for members, $25 for nonmembers
For tickets, visit fairfieldhistory.org/programs-events
A: I’m connected with Fairfield Center Stage, a wonderful community theater group here in Fairfield, currently led by Eli Newsom. They had been discussing with the Fairfield Museum about possibly collaborating on some exciting new programming, among them the outdoor, concert production of “The Music Man” that recently took place on the historic town green. The Fairfield Museum also expressed interest in more heavily theatricalizing its annual “Burning of Fairfield” event. The theater group recommended me as a candidate, and here we are.
Q: How long did it take you to come up with the new script?
A: I was lucky not to be starting from scratch. I had the museum’s original script, plus a number of primary source documents through which I carefully combed. It took some time to curate exactly the right primary sources, and to trim them down for brevity and comprehensibility. But I’m proud to say that the bulk of the piece is collaged from Revolutionary-era letters, testimonies, decrees and other documents.
Q: Why go interactive?
A: There is tremendous power in site-specificity, which more and more theater companies are realizing, what with the popularity of New York productions like “Sleep No More” and “Then She Fell.” But my decision really came down to the fact that we’ll be standing on the actual site where these events took place historically. You can feel the history beneath your feet, and that begs for interactivity.
Q: Does the show work if an audience is shy and doesn’t want to interact?
A: Oh, we’ll take care of that. Some crowds will naturally be easier than others, but the actors will be injecting plenty of energy into the performance. With them carefully guiding the interactions, and given their charisma, I think it’ll be hard for audiences not to engage.
Q: What’s the next project for you?
A: I’ve got so many lined up. Right afterwards, I’m opening “The End of Mermaids” in New York, which will premiere at Corkscrew Festival from July 12 to 22. It’s a weird and wonderful play about a failing mermaid-themed theme park, in which the mermaid performers are also systematically being eaten alive by an alligator named Larry. You can find more information and tickets at corkscrewfestival.org/the-end-of-mermaids.