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Franklin County seeks Benjamins

January 23, 2009|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The popular image of Ben Franklin is the grandfatherly Joseph Duplessis portrait staring out from the $100 bill, but Franklin was famous throughout much of his 84 years, and the county that bears his name is looking for three people with the "Benergy" to portray the founding father at different stages of his life.

Franklin County split off from Cumberland County on Sept. 9, 1784, and the Franklin County Visitors Bureau needs some Bens for events marking the upcoming 225th anniversary.

"Ben is usually an older person in everyone's mind," said Janet Pollard, the county's director of tourism and communications. However, the bureau is looking for people to portray "Classic Ben," "Contemporary Ben" and "Young Ben," she said.

The bureau will hold the first of three casting calls for the roles at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31, at the Heritage Center as part of IceFest in Chambersburg. The next will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7, at Chambersburg Mall, with the final one at 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 16, at the Heritage Center.

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Participants will be judged on effectiveness in interpreting Franklin in the different incarnations, including appearance, attire, knowledge and presentation.

Contemporary Ben would allow the most artistic license, Pollard said. It calls for "adaptability of portrayal" and lends itself "to creative interpretation by the portrayer."

Franklin was not always the plump, balding eminence of the Duplessis engraving. As a younger man, he was publisher, writer, scientist, inventor and community organizer who championed libraries, postal service and volunteer fire companies before aging into a statesman and diplomat.

"That contemporary Ben is about 'Benergy,'" Pollard said. "It's his Ben energy that keeps him alive today."

Young Ben is meant to appeal to younger audiences and be portrayed by a young person, either as a "little version" of Classic Ben or an interpretation of him as a boy, according to the description.

The winners of the Classic and Contemporary Ben roles will be offered contracts with the bureau to participate in personal appearances and photo sessions.

For the casting calls, portrayers have to provide their own costumes, Pollard said. Not balding, not a problem, as long as the portrayal connects, she said.

"At the end of it all, it just has to work," she said.

Pollard is working with communities to incorporate the Bens into celebrations such as ChambersFest, WaynesboroFest, Greencastle's Heritage Christmas and the Franklin County Fair. As the anniversary approaches, there will be other events such as a parade, a kite-flying contest and a "Benposium."

For the Benposium, Pollard said a real professional Franklin - Ralph Archibald of Philadelphia - could be called in for an appearance.

Pollard said she has received inquiries from as far as Washington, D.C., and York, Pa.

Potential Bens may call the visitors bureau at 717-709-7204 or 866-646-8060, or send e-mail to info@explorefranklincountypa.com for more information.

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