Re-enacting all in the family for Rittenhouse

May 14, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - Whenever you perform for a television series or special, there is a chance of ending up on the cutting-room floor.

For a veteran actor like Chas. Rittenhouse, that's just part of the business. But his 19-year-old son, he says, likes to see his face on TV.

Both Hagerstown men are hoping their performances as extras in a PBS special airing tonight made the cut. Rittenhouse, and his son, Drew Rittenhouse, said they took on several roles for the two-hour program about Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury.

Chas. and Drew had nonspeaking roles as treasury agents and soldiers collecting their pensions. One of their roles required them to run up a flight of stairs several times, making the extreme heat one of the most memorable parts of acting that day.


Drew said he, his father and the other actors spent hours in a hot room in heavy clothes.

"When you look back on these things, you're busy all day, the outstanding impression was that it was hot," Chas. Rittenhouse said.

Both were wearing historical outfits, made mostly of wool, similar to clothing they wear during historical re-enactments for a group called the Fourth Continental Light Dragoons, which recreates the activities of the original regiment from 1777 to 1782.

Drew, a South Hagerstown High School graduate, works at a local playhouse and said his interest in acting comes from watching his parents perform.

Chas. Rittenhouse has more than 35 years of experience in show business and says he is probably best known for the role of Little Heiskell, a part he's been playing for more than 20 years. Little Heiskell is the symbol of Hagerstown.

The pair also performed as extras for an episode of "Ed" several years ago. Chas. said his scenes were cut from the television airing, but his son appeared in the show.

"Sometimes, we end up on the cutting-room floor," Chas. said. "That could happen (in the PBS special)."

He said the pair heard about the call for extras for the piece on Alexander Hamilton through the re-enactment group.

"When a production company gets in touch with our group, they know they will get a professional product," Chas. said.

The pair went to Delaware for the shoot, and spent about eight hours there on several scenes.

Drew said he is pursuing acting because he enjoys performing and watching people react to his art, whether laughing or crying.

"It makes me feel good," he said.

His father said that despite his long history of performing, it's now less about the show and more about spending time with his children, who are also involved with the re-enactment group.

"I like bonding with my children," Chas. said. "It's a bonding experience for father and son for me. We're in the show together and the trips to the shows and films ... we get a chance to talk."

To watch

What: American Experience Alexander Hamilton special on PBS

When: Tonight, at 10 p.m. on WETA or 9 p.m. on MPT or WV PBS


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