Ian Ruskin as Thomas Paine in To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine
(Image by Tom Dempsey, copyrighted, used with permission) Permission Details DMCA
In 2010 he received a COLA (City of Los Angeles) Fellowship to write "To Begin the World Over Again: the Life of Thomas Paine," a one-man play which Ruskin is now performing across America, and developing into a television movie for distribution to PBS. Like Paine, Ruskin was born in England and came to America in his mid-30's.
The author of the iconic "Common Sense," Thomas Paine's famous words fueled the American Revolution. On Dec. 17, 1776, George Washington wrote to his brother:
Your imagination can scarce extend to a situation more distressing than mine. I think the game is pretty near up.
Yet Washington had a plan for a surprise attack, a risky one, perhaps his last hope. As his shoeless, shivering soldiers climbed into boats, about to embark on the seemingly insane crossing of the Delaware River in a snowstorm, he had his officers read Paine's "The American Crisis: December 23, 1776" to his cold and weary men. They were inspired:
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
Paine was praised by Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, mentored by Ben Franklin, and condemned by John Adams. He went from poverty to world acclaim and back again, was celebrated as a hero, and jailed as a traitor. At various times he worked as a tax collector, corset-maker and briefly as a politician. Only an unexpected miracle saved him from the French guillotine. His books outsold everything but the Bible, yet when he died, only a half dozen mourners showed up to his funeral--and later his bones were dug up, and inexplicably lost.
In "To Begin the World Over Again: the Life of Thomas Paine," Ruskin's extraordinary performance brings Paine back to life. It may not be necessary to find Paine's bones, for Ruskin has found his soul.
Payne's Death House Marker. Inscription: Thomas Paine, Born 1737, Died 1809 On this site. (59 Grove S, Greenwich Village, NYC)
(Image by R. C. (of Shrewsbury, New Jersey), Historical Marker Database) Permission Details DMCA
Meryl Ann Butler: Thanks for taking time to visit with us here at OpEdNews, Ian! Your performance, which I heard on CD, is stunning and deeply inspiring. You have projected Paine's voice across two centuries, and his message seems as pertinent today as it was then. Can you share a few of Paine's thoughts that speak to today's political situation in the US?
Ian Ruskin: Yes, it is extraordinary that words written over 200 years ago still resonate as they do, and that is why I wrote this play. If America had listened to Thomas Paine then, we would be living in a very different country today, a country without the stain of slavery and the toll of endless wars, and with a government dedicated to the happiness of ALL of its citizens.
That's why I perform the play, in the hope that it's not too late!
And by the way, if Paine were here today, he'd be 16 hours a day on the internet, blogging and "wiki-leaking" everything he could get his hands on. He was, after all, the first "leaker" (in "The Silas Deane Affair") long before Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.
Paine would also be demanding the right of citizens to peer into the heart of their governments even though governments often wish to hide what heart they have.
Thomas Paine, copy by Auguste Milliere, after an engraving by William Sharp, after George Romney, circa 1876 (1792)
(Image by Public Domain via wiki, col. National Portrait Gellery, London) Permission Details DMCA
MAB: I think you are quite generous in assuming there is a heart in our government at all! I know Paine was a strong advocate of the right to vote--what would he want to tell us on that subject?
IR: In his "Rights of Man, Part One," (1791) he says: