Actor Ian Ruskin portrays founding father Thomas Paine in "To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine," at Willamette University Nov. 9.
Actor Ian Ruskin as Thomas Paine
One-man play illustrates life of founding father Thomas Paine
Professional actor and playwright Ian Ruskin is performing his one-man play, “To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine,” at Willamette University Nov. 9.
The performance, which is free and open to the public, is playing in Waller Hall’s Cone Chapel from 7:30 to 9 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by Willamette’s history and politics departments, in partnership with The Morse Center at the University of Oregon.
To Willamette history professor Seth Cotlar, Paine is one of the more well-known — yet most misunderstood — of America's founders. That's why he's excited to bring a historically informed performance to campus.
“It will raise greater public awareness of and stimulate conversation about Paine’s legacy,” he says.
Ruskin is an actor, writer and social activist who trained in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He spent 15 years in repertory companies before moving to Los Angeles in 1985. After portraying villains in such television shows as "MacGyver" and "Murder She Wrote," Ruskin returned to his roots in classical theatre and became involved in works that promote social justice.
The City of Los Angeles awarded Ruskin a fellowship in 2010 to write his one-man play — which portrays Paine as a person, instead of a historical figure. To ensure historical accuracy, Ruskin worked closely with scholars while writing the script.
On his website, Ruskin describes Paine as the one truly radical founding father, with a vision of democracy that sparked the American Revolution. In 1776, Paine’s book, “Common Sense,” sold an estimated 500,000 copies to America’s population of two million people— a feat equivalent to selling 75 million copies today.
Since political commentators like Glenn Beck depict Paine as a precursor to the anti-government Tea Party Movement, Cotlar says studying Paine's life remains relevant.
"[Ruskin] has a very different perspective on Paine’s politics, and we’re hoping that this can lead to a productive, critical conversation about the contemporary legacy of the American Revolution and people like Paine who were key participants in it," Cotlar says.