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Project 240 aims to elevate public discourse

Rich Cowden, director of the Fine Arts Center at Castleton University lists the benefits of the series for the university and the community.

Bruce Bouchard and Rich Cowden present Project 240, a 17-event series which culminates with the Election Night Gala, Nov. 8, 2016.

By Polly Lynn

RUTLAND – “An informed electorate is a prerequisite for a successful democracy,” said Paramount Theatre executive director Bruce Bouchard, paraphrasing a well-known quote from Thomas Jefferson. “That is the key to this whole project.”

The Paramount Theatre and Castleton University announced details of Project 240 on Wednesday evening, Aug. 19, in front of about 100 guests. Attendees were treated to live music and appetizers at a cocktail party before the multimedia presentation kicked off at 6 p.m. The collaborative series leading up to election night 2016 celebrates the 240th year of the American republic.

The series is the culmination of nine months of planning and will feature 17 events, 14 of which are free, over 14 months leading up to the general election on Nov. 8, 2016, Bouchard explained.

“The project exists at the intersection of civic engagement, education, and entertainment,” said Bouchard. “It is meant to bring our community together, to elevate public discourse and to demystify the elitism of theater making it truly the community’s theater.”

Events will feature nationally prominent hosts who will encourage a respectful and informed public dialogue. In addition to the nationally televised debates, the series will include patriotic musical ensembles, satirical theatre, a mock primary, documentaries, both parties’ national conventions and live election coverage. It is a non-partisan series with equal coverage intended for Republican and Democratic events.

The collaboration is the latest step in the ongoing partnership between The Paramount and Castleton.

“This series was partially inspired by the success of our Sports Live in HD series,” said Bouchard. “Then when we showed “The Hungry Heart” here last year and 800 people showed up to watch the free documentary about addiction in Vermont (half of whom came from Castleton) we knew we had to do more at the theatre to promote civic engagement.”

Rich Cowden, director of the Fine Arts Center at Castleton University, shared the stage with Bouchard Wednesday evening, presenting the series.

“We are always looking for ways to connect our students with the community and with leaders in their specific field of study. To make tangible their liberal arts education and help them recognize how math is connected to politics is connected to the arts, etc… To experience first-hand the interdisciplinary nature of education in the world,” Cowden said.

The series plans to directly engage half of Castleton Universities student body by integrating the events into the curricula of many departments in varied and diverse ways, Cowden added.

The series will kick off Sept. 16 with the Republican primary debate hosted by WCAX political analysts Steve Terry and Mike Smith, followed by the Democratic primary debate hosted by former Vermont Press Bureau chief Chris Graff on Nov. 14. In addition to these and other primary debates, the Paramount will also play host to viewings of the national conventions in July and the general election debates next fall. The Project 240 schedule reaches its apex on Nov. 8, 2016 with a celebration gala and live election night coverage.

“Election night we hope will be the biggest party the Paramount has ever seen,” said Bouchard.

Other highlights of the series include an appearance by legendary filmmaker Ken Burns and a screening of his film “The American Experience” this Nov. 21, a mock Vermont primary on Feb. 9 hosted by the Castleton Polling Institute, a Feb. 28 performance by the U.S. Army Brass Quintet alongside Robert McDonald and the Castleton Chamber Singers and Wind Ensemble, and a performance of “The Complete History of America (abridged)” by the renowned Reduced Shakespeare Company on Nov. 3, 2016.

For more info. visit project240.org.

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