I’ve been trying to be more in touch with political goings on lately. In high school and freshman year of college I was good at keeping up to date but it is one of many many things that has fallen by the wayside due the time commitments of this program. As I get ready to graduate though I’ve been trying to start to follow things again, as I want that to be a part of my life beyond school and there is such an important election approaching. The idea of examining political process through theatre also really interests me. If I could be Jon Stewart as a career I would in a heartbeat, I think his work and stuff like Weekend Update on SNL is brilliant. The reason it’s so effective is because of how up to date and relevant to the moment it is, a relevance that I think is often lacking clarity in theatre. That’s why I think there’s tremendous potential in political commentary in theatre, and a chance to open up a fresh vein of dialogue regarding the political process. Portlands’ Sojourn Theatre is doing exactly that. Artistic Director Michael Rohd, who I have blogged about in the past, spent a semester teaching theatre at Georgetown University. There he and his class, as well as members of the Sojourns’ ensemble, conceived a piece called The Race. In it, actors field spontaneous questions from the audience as if they were contemporary politicians, all the questions strained out of the real political proceedings. Questions also come in from all around the world via social media, so as if it was a real political event the goings on can be followed and responded to live. Even more exciting is the “karaoke” played with political speeches. Audience members are brought up onstage and can through a vast collection of speeches, everyone from Obama to W to Palin, that they then read off a teleprompter. It differs from the likes of Stewart, Colbert, and SNL in an essential way:
It’s designed to inflame one’s desire to improve the political process rather than provoke a laugh at its expense.
And I think this is where the potential lies in politically driven theatre. That it can be fuel for change, not just a place to let out frustration at the ineptitude of the process. And I believe the creation of more of this kind of work can have a reciprocal effect on theatre; that the relevance would bring freshness to the field, the form would be immersive and participatory, and the subject matter would attract new audiences, politically minded folks looking for a forum for their ideas.