Thomas Jefferson's story is big. So big that Colonial Williamsburg needs two people to convey his full evolution from an upstart patriot to a statesman who helped mold America.
For more than two decades, Bill Barker's warm, far-reaching interpretation of the patriot and third President has made him a Historic Area institution. He has become an ambassador for Colonial Williamsburg, representing America's ideals and complexities.
Now Barker has company in character on the streets of the Revolutionary City with Jefferson's younger self, portrayed by fellow actor Kurt Smith. The combination of the two roles has been a collaborative effort — and a challenge Barker said he relished. His first words when he was told that a younger Jefferson was joining the fold: "I'm on board." The next question was: "How do we do that?"
Barker soon discovered the big part he would play in the creation of the new role. "That's what the creative process is," he said. "I really appreciate the opportunity to say, 'Let's see how we're going to create this.' "
During a recent program at the St. George Tucker House, Barker broke character to publicly introduce Smith.
"It's a pleasure to have this voice, to be given this opportunity to speak as Thomas," Smith told the gathering.
Meanwhile Barker reassured his devoted fans that he is here to stay. "Retirement is not in my vocabulary," Barker said. "And you can never have too many Jeffersons."
As with fellow actor-interpreter Katharine Pittman's young Martha Washington, also portrayed as the elder Nation Builder by veteran colleague Lee Ann Rose, Smith's Jefferson provides a valuable perspective, said Ted Maris-Wolf, Colonial Williamsburg vice president of education, research and historical interpretation.
"We have two deeply talented individuals bringing to life one of the most extraordinary and complicated figures of the Founding era and even allowing us to put an elder statesman in conversation with his younger, Revolutionary self," Maris-Wolf said. "What questions would these men have wanted to ask each other? What sort of counsel would the elder have offered the rebel?"
Smith, who turns 33 this year, grew up in Arkansas with a math teacher mom and a chemist dad. At the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, he studied biology in the hope of becoming a teacher himself. One day during his junior year, however, he spotted a poster on campus that read "Auditions Tonight," and biology was history.