On the night of the 10th of May . . . the great metropolis of the Union was the scene of one of those horrors of civilization, which for a time make the great heart of humanity stop in its beatings—The Account of the Terrific and Fatal Riot, 1849

THE PEOPLE’S WILL takes as its starting point a defining event, now all but forgotten, in American history. The bloody Astor Place Riot brought a crowd of 15,000 into the streets of New York City. When it was over, 22 people were dead and dozens more wounded. The riot marked the first time American troops would fire on American citizens. Improbable though it sounds, the catalyst was a long-standing feud between two leading Shakespearean actors starring in competing productions of Macbeth.

The riot was a seismic event that rocked New York City to its core.

Our story plays out against a backdrop of sweeping political and economic change that exposed growing fault lines within American society. The issues brought into focus by the riot—nascent populism, racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, competing notions of masculinity, and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few—remain as relevant today as they were nearly two centuries ago.

To bring this epic drama to life, we’ll employ a mix of animated scenes (rendered by our animation team at Peepshow), live action (actors who play the main protagonists and speak directly to camera), interspersed with commentary by leading historians and cultural critics. No omniscient voiceover will feed “settled history” to the viewer. As the story unfolds, our interviewees will provide contrasting and varying perspectives and place the riot in broader social, economic and political context.

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