Interview with Rob Armstrong
Rob Armstrong is the Historic Preservation Specialist at the Fairmount Park Commission and is finishing his dissertation work for his PhD in American history at Lehigh University. Rob joined the production team at the beginning of the summer and is leading the historical analysis for the Pilot episode covering the period 1864-1875.
Q: How are you enjoying this work?
Rob: It has been great. There is so much to learn about the city. Plus the resources—people, collections, publications and images—are extraordinary.
Q: How is this different from historical scholarship?
Rob: Well quite different but everything flows from scholarship. We have to get it right. But we want to find and tell great stories and convey the dramatic tension of the day. Life in the 1860s was very complex and there were great conflicts between groups and individuals. It makes the stories fascinating and relevant to today.
Q: Why is the pilot about the period just after the Civil War?
Rob: That decision was made by the producers but I think it was a terrific choice. The aspirations of African Americans to taste the fruits of emancipation were intense. The ethnic and racial conflicts between the Irish and African American’s were palpable. Government was growing and City Hall was envisioned and started. The Fairmount Park expanded tenfold and the Fairmount Park Commission came into being. Transition from a war time to peace time economy gave rise to the city becoming the industrial “workshop of the world”. We not only were building the biggest building in the world and the biggest park but we would soon host the biggest celebration ever-the 1876 Centennial. It was an amazing time for Philadelphia.
Q: How are you managing the process of building the story for the pilot?
Rob: I work with a team of researchers and a team of writers. We’ve identified 10 major story lines but that is too many to cover in one episode. We’re narrowing our focus and examining the main characters for each story. We’re seeking to find out where people intersected with each other. We’ll start writing the script very soon.
Q: Sounds like a load. How do you find time?
Rob: I work at the Park Commission during the day. I do my work with the production company nights and weekends.
Q: What about your dissertation?
Rob: My dissertation is on the history of Fairmount Park in the 20th century. I expect to finish in May 2009.
Q: Then what?
Rob: Researching and producing the film will take another three years. I’d love to be part of something that is so exciting and so important for our community. But, first things first. We have to make sure that this pilot is great and that the funding support needed to complete the project is secured.
Q: Doesn’t sound you have much spare time?
Rob: Not too much right now but what free time I have I’ve been spending at Citizens Bank Park and in front of my TV rooting for the Phils!
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