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Theater, Obama-Style: Part I

Theater people are talky people. It’s all words, words, words with us; and unlike my friends in other branches of the lit arts, with us it’s all about the spoken words–many of us seem to have to speak our thoughts into existence, and shove them up against somebody’s else’s to see if they make sense.

For me this is mostly a good thing; it means there are more in the pool to talk with, and I am indeed one who thinks by talking. It gives me a lot to observe– the patterns, the rough choppy searchings, the unraveling swaths of rant, the flutters of the silence angel– which gives me things to play around in invented conversations.
The time when I often fall silent is when we get around to politics– which, with a bunch of playwrights, happens within seconds of ordering the first round. I’m not politically astute. For better or for worse, I mostly live by feel, like a blind mole. Yeah, I read a lot, but don’t have sharp retention for factual detail and in my mouth, rational arguments usually slip into impressionistic, impassioned feel-speak when it comes to policy discussion. I fight it, I do; I have enormous admiration for my colleagues who know all the names of the Supreme Court Justices and the voting records of the past three vice-presidents. But as guilty as I sometimes feel, beyond reading the Times, I just don’t have an adequate enough desire to add a deep, regular study of politics to my daily workload.
So I hang around with people who do, and I listen. Sometimes I get them going just to learn something.

Last week I began soliciting opinions from thirty-two theater artists I respect, based alll over the country, on how they think an Obama administration might change theater. What might shift regarding content? funding? cultural attitude? support? the art form in general? I’ve received a slew of really juicy responses from various kinds of theater artists– mostly playwrights, but also some directors and actors and a couple of designers– and will post them in three installments, this being the first. Please add your comments on how a new administration might affect fiction, poetry, and the arts in general– as if we theater people need more to talk about.

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From Rachael Brogan, Los Angeles-based playwright/ actress:

“I’m not sure how Obama is going to change theater or how he will/can contribute to the arts. I followed the election closely, and it wasn’t exactly a hot topic (hmmm I wonder why?) However, Obama being elected President…and not by a re-count, but a landslide, has influenced my work as a writer. The months leading up to the election I was inspired and filled with hope, something many political factions mocked. Hope, what a terrible thing to have. The night he won, a weight I didn’t realize I was carrying around was lifted off my shoulders. This has no doubt impacted the current projects I’m working on. It’s funny, when talking to many of my peers the last couple of months; we’re all writing plays about the end of the world. Now, without thinking about it, there’s hope in my play.

I think Obama’s tax and healthcare policies will have a direct effect on people in the arts. Being a writer/actress/temp…I haven’t had health insurance in almost six months. It’s not something I’m okay with, but I don’t have a choice. I can’t afford Cobra and can’t get individually insured. Nowadays it’s not just the zany, artistic, black sheep that have to worry about stuff like that…and maybe hitting rock bottom is what this country needs to even itself out, to make life a little more manageable for everyone.

Whatever happens over the next four years I feel this past election illustrated there’s a divide in this country….who exactly represents “main street”? I was real nervous at the idea of Joe the Plumber actually being representative of the country as a whole. I’m relieved and excited and feel now is the time creative endeavors can inspire and help communities move forward.”

From Sam Marks, Providence-based playwright and screenwriter:

“I think it’s a real mistake to think that somehow Obama is going to solve any of our problems regarding the economy, the theater, the environment, the war, whatever. The onus still lies on the citizenry (artists) to affect change. That said, theater certainly was unconsciously affected by the Bush years. Sort of like being in an abusive relationship, the American Theater avoided (i.e. the rise of ‘whimsy’, fantasy, magical realism, coupled with the embrace of the reactionary, living room dramas et al) and then lashed out (all the anti-Bush Pieces we all did over the past few years). So, hopefully, as we have a bit more faith in the world, maybe we can open our eyes and step into reality; that might be interesting. Also, who knows, maybe he’ll create a WPA/Federal Theater Project [NOTE: see previous post on the FTP for FDR’s response to theater in the Great Depression]….”

And from Tory Stewart, a playwright based in Minneapolis— a city known for its financial and cultural support of the arts:

“I think an Obama administration will in no way affect the funding of theater (except that we can expect it to go down because of the horrible economy.) I do think theater might become even less political because I’m assuming we (as fairly left-leaning folks) will be less outraged by an Obama administration. Even though the war with Iraq and Afghanistan will still continue, since Obama didn’t start it, we can’t blame him so we’ll be less likely to try to shed some light on it as artists.

That’s a bleak assessment. Less money and less politics.”

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Less money and less politics–a shared prophecy in lots of the responses I’ve received. More to come…