Every Christmas, there is a historical reenactment of George Washington Crossing the Delaware River. Two Star-Ledger video journalists decided to chronicle the process of being selected to portray the nation’s first president in the documentary Being George. The pair sat down with NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the process of making the documentary and what they learned along the way.
Videographer Adya Beasley explained that they wanted to do a story about reenactors since it’s a unique hobby and the annual crossing of the Delaware came up. Videographer Nyier Abdou explained that the crossing gets newspaper coverage every year. “When you have something like that that comes up every year, you start looking for the angle that you haven’t covered before,” she said.
The pair came up with the idea of finding out how a reenactor gets to play the role of George Washington. Beasley said they found out there are open auditions for the part. This year there were 10 finalists.
Abdou explained that the judges want to choose someone who not only resembles Washington, but who also knows the facts of the era. “It’s really important to them because this person portrays Washington at more than just this event,” she said.
There were seven judges who deliberated after the auditions. “They met up twice and they had to talk about who would be the best George Washington, who had a believable uniform,” Beasley said. “And the uniform for me was really surprising. You have to bring your own uniform. It’s all custom made.” She said reenactors spend between $2,000 and $4,000 on their uniforms.
The position offers no monetary compensation, so playing Washington is a big investment for the reenactor.
In previous years, the audition process was public and was made into an event for residents. But this year, the decision was made to make the process more formal like a theater audition and do it in private.
There was a little more drama this year than normal because the man who played Washington didn’t want to give up the role. Traditionally, there was a two-year limit, but it wasn’t formally in place and John Godzieba decided to put himself back in the running for this year’s crossing.
“I think one of the reasons people do this and take part in this audition and want to be Washington is because they respect the man so much. These are people who just over time have come to really respect George Washington and what he did and who he was and it becomes this kind of natural thing for them as they get involved with reenactment and this life,” Abdou explained.
Beasley and Abdou spent about two years working on Being George, following around the reenactors. The biggest surprise for Beasley was that participating in reenactments isn’t much different from other hobbies.
Many of the reenactors are historians in some sense, including one man who teaches history at a community college.
You can watch Being George at nj.com/beinggeorge.