Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Casting call for George Washington

The volunteer who has portrayed the Revolutionary War general in the annual Christmas Day re-enactment of the momentous Delaware River crossing and other events is auditioning for another three-year term. He has 10 challengers.

Casting call for George Washington

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John Godzieba (left) portrays Gen. George Washington during the annual re-enactment of the colonial troops crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Day in 1776.

It’s time for a new George Washington to lead the colonial troops across the Delaware on Christmas Day to defeat the Hessians – or maybe not.

The three-year term of John Godzieba, the volunteer who portrays George Washington in the annual re-enactment in Upper Makefield, is drawing to a close, with auditions for the role scheduled for Thursday.  

But, as Washington did in 1792, Godzieba is seeking a second term.

There’s one big difference: Washington ran unopposed, while Godzieba has 10 challengers.

“Washington didn’t keep the presidency forever; he left after two terms,” Godzieba said Wednesday. “I want to give other people a chance.”

Godzieba also would like to keep the job, which involves about 30 appearances a year, including events at Washington Crossing Historic Park; talks to school children, historic and civic groups; and interviews.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time. The actor serves as the face of the park and the organization,” Godzieba said, referring to the Friends of Washington Crossing, the nonprofit group that hosts the re-enactment and other historic and educational events. “You put in a lot of time and effort.”

When he’s not portraying Gen. Washington, Godzieba is a lieutenant in the Bristol Township Police Department. Like all the re-enactors, he supplies his own uniform and accessories and researches the role.

“You’re always going to get that odd question, like the names of Washington’s dogs,” said Godzieba, who had to look up that answer after being caught unprepared.

Godzieba also is president of the Friends of Washington Crossing, but he said he kept out of the planning of the auditions, which traditionally were conducted on a Saturday and were open to the public and the press.

The group shifted the auditions to Thursday morning and is making them private “to raise the level of professionalism,” said Joan Hauger, site administrator for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which runs the park.

“That’s the way professional auditions are done in the theater,” Hauger said. “They’re not done in front of the general public.”

Since the applicants are amateurs, family and friends will be allowed to watch their candidate’s audition to lend support, Hauger said.

The auditions were scheduled for a weekday morning to test each candidate’s availability for school visits and other daytime events, she said.

“If they can’t make it to the audition, they can’t do the job,” Hauger said, adding that an alternate will be picked for events the winner cannot attend.  

The applicants have varied backgrounds, including some actors and re-enactors, she said. Some live in the immediate area, while others come from New Jersey and New York. A candidate from Atlanta dropped out this week.

An independent panel of seven judges “will pick the person who can best fulfill our needs, who is knowledgeable about events at the site in 1776, events leading up to and during the Revolutionary War, and the military structure,” Hauger said. “He needs to have accurate garb, the demeanor that Washington showed, to make a good presentation, and to speak well in public and extemporaneously.”

The winner will be announced in early October and will take over immediately, she said.

Godzieba may have a leg up on the competition – he knows that Tippler and Sweet Lips were two of Washington’s dogs.   

About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at cpalmer@phillynews.com, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at bfinley@phillynews.com, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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