What happens when you give Andrew Jackson a microphone, a razor and a whole lot of guyliner?
Northwestern’s Arts Alliance is setting out to explore the tumultuous and often misunderstood life of our nation’s seventh president by placing him within the context of a 21st century rock scene. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson takes our favorite Native-American-hating leader and makes him the frontman of an American rock band of cowboys and tramps, casting him as an troubled adolescent with as many melodramatic outbreaks as the next emo kid.
The show in many ways plays out like a hard rock concert, with fist-pumping numbers about populism and hating Native Americans. At the same time, underneath this layer of making political jokes through entertaining and fairly offensive rock songs, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson contextualizes the narrative of Andrew Jackson, shedding light on the experiences that led up to him making the decisions that shaped the history of the United States.
“Andrew Jackson is a great example of a very flawed human being who came into a lot of power and, for better and for worse, was motivated by passions and his beliefs,” said the show’s director Nick Day, a Communication junior. “What's fascinating about him is that he's just a human being. And it’s really impossible to judge him because in this show and in studying history, you can see a human being struggling making really complex decisions.”
For instance, after opening with an introductory sing-along tune that sets the tone for the rest of the show, the first scene we see of Jackson’s life is him as a five-year-old boy wrestling the death of his parents, who were murdered by Native Americans (indicated by the rather comical sound of an invisible arrow whistling through the air and poking each family member with a cartoon-ish "pop!" sound). Jackson reacts to these unfortunate occurrences with a comically whiny song proclaiming in perfect emo kid vernacular, “Life sucks! My life sucks in particular.”
Communication sophomore Aubrey McGrath, who plays Jackson in this rendition, noted the difficulty of portraying the many contradictory aspects of this presidential figure.
“It’s kind of crazy because he's like a very contradictory person. I don't know - I'm a fan of how much of a badass he is, but I think he did some pretty horrible things in this country,” McGrath said. “It’s been interesting to kind of live in those contradictions and kind of like find a way to like him and get past those things.”
Aside from dealing with the question of whether or not Jackson is the hero or the villain of this story, Day believes the play deals most importantly with what we as Americans inherit from our founders and ancestors.
“What it’s really talking about sort of only comes out in the end. What we inherit as Americans and what we're guilty of and what we're proud of and what we learn from history are all wrapped up in this really entertaining package,” Day said.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson got some notable publicity roughly eight weeks ago during the ASG presidential elections. Remember seeing those campaign posters seeking to elect our centuries-old president for Northwestern’s student government? For the few weeks during which the ASG presidential candidates were campaigning, hoards of theater students supported Jackson for the position with social media and flyers.
According to the show’s producer Rachel Marchant, she and their marketing director came up with the PR scheme as a means of sparking early interest and discussing about Andrew Jackson. Marchant said that the idea was based off of last year’s “I Agree with Markwell” campaign, which had a similar strategy of virally spreading a name around campus without much explanation of who the person is and why he is important. And for the most part, Marchant and her team certainly succeeded in pretty much mystifying the Northwestern community.
“I think it just gave awareness to the show in a way that isn't just posters on the ground. We actually took a character and made life out of him,” Marchant said. “I'm really excited to see Andrew come to life on the stage and have the Northwestern community see him and see what he's all about.”
The show will run May 16 through May 18 in the Louis Room at Norris, opening Thursday night at 11 p.m. and then playing at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. over the weekend. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for the general public.