Ben Franklin Brings Learning To Life

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When you tour schools portraying Benjamin Franklin you can expect some interesting reactions, and Alan Prewitt who is bringing his one-man show to the Rim country Wednesday and Thursday has had his share.

"I was speaking to this group of children and I told them how I was never paid for being ambassador to France," Prewitt said. "I said I could go to congress and ask for the money, but they probably wouldn't remember me.

"This little boy raises his hand and says, 'My grandparents live in Congress (Arizona). I'll bet they can get it for you.'"

Prewitt, who is director of education and outreach for Phoenix Theatre and artistic director for its Cookie Company, will appear at the three Payson elementary schools, Pine Elementary School, Payson High School and the Payson Center for Success during his visit. In his 40-minute performance, he brings an old, humorous Ben Franklin to life, comically reflecting on the statesman's early life and a wide range of historic events.

"Ben introduces children to American history, creative writing, the library, electricity and many other subjects in a way that makes them want to know more," Prewitt said.

At the same time, he always stresses the importance of reading, education and critical thinking.

In the style of Hal Holbrook's one-man Mark Twain show, Prewitt strives to make his presentation as entertaining as possible. Among the Franklin quotes he usually works into a performance are, "Visitors and fish stink in three days," "If your head is made of wax, don't walk in the sun," and, "Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead."

While his performances will be limited to local schools, Rim country residents might just run into Ben on the streets of Payson. Once he gets into costume a process that takes about 30 minutes he stays in character until the day's performances are completed.

It has made for some interesting encounters in places like fast food restaurants.

"The great thing is that people love me," Prewitt said. "As long as I carry my kite, which I usually try to do, everybody recognizes me. If I don't, they sometimes think I'm a pirate."

Prewitt, who has written more than 65 plays for young people, discovered his resemblance to Franklin by accident.

"I was directing a performance of 'A Christmas Carol,' and I had to step in and play Ebeneezer Scrooge when my lead got pneumonia. I had this Jack Nicholson ponytail that was very stylish at the time. I put on those little glasses and looked in the mirror and said, 'My God, it's Ben Franklin!'"

The resemblance led Prewitt to do some serious research on Franklin and what he learned about his early life convinced him to create the persona and take his show on tour.

"Kids think famous people had these great lives that they came from great families," he said. "Ben Franklin was an ordinary child from an ordinary family who grew up to do extraordinary things."

It's a message Prewitt believes needs to be conveyed to young people. And at the same time, he hopes he is able to inject some creativity and imagination into the educational process.

"My whole point in coming to Payson is to emphasize to parents and teachers alike the relationship that needs to exist between education and the arts," he said. "The arts should not be extracurricular. They are an integral part of the learning process.

"Through them, we can bring learning to life."

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