Theater Program’s New Performance Focuses on Benedict Arnold

January 23, 2011
The Time Trial of Benedict Arnold is a new addition to the museum’s educational theater program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The performance engages museum visitors with the history of the Revolutionary War general who was well known for his acts of bravery in the Continental Army, but even more so for his traitorous attempt to hand West Point over to the British.

The theater piece connects Arnold’s prowess as a military commander to the role he played during the Battle of Valcour on Lake Champlain. The gunboat Philadelphia, used during the battle and recovered from the lake in 1935, is on permanent display in the museum. Although most of Arnold’s flotilla, including the Philadelphia, sank on the first day of battle against British forces on Oct. 11, 1776, his leadership in the Valcour action successfully delayed British efforts to isolate New England and therefore helped ensure a victory at Saratoga in 1777.

However, when Arnold felt that his military service and sacrifice were not recognized by Congress, he began secret negotiations with the British in 1779. The following year, he presented the British with drawings of West Point and a strategy on how to capture the garrison without losses. Although his British contact was hanged by the Continental Army, Arnold served in the British army until the end of the war. In 1782, he and his family moved to London where he died in 1801.

With The Time Trial of Benedict Arnold, museum visitors will become part of a mock trial, hearing from Arnold “himself” and judging his actions and historical legacy. Bringing history to life while engaging museum visitors allows them to experience history in its full complexity.

The museum’s award-winning historical theater educational program is made possible through Goldman, Sachs & Co. Funding has been provided for three years of support for performances including: Join the Student Sit-Ins at the Greensboro Lunch Counter; Broad Stripes and Bright Stars with Mary Pickersgill, the woman who sewed the Star Spangled Banner; and additional future programs in the “Time Trials” series. Performances are offered at no charge to visitors.

“Using drama and performances, our educational theater program brings historical figures to life,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “Visitors are able to immerse themselves in various time periods of history and see that history is made by ordinary people every day.”

During the winter of 2011, the museum will also feature To the Mountaintop, a performance related to the words of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and will collaborate with the Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater in a show titled Sing Out!

For more information about the theater program and performance times, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To learn more about the museum, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).