By Trisha Mahoney, Editor-in-Chief
Graphic by Klaire Brezinski
My Instagram, which is generally a collection of adorable dogs and cats, has turned into a platform for political statements. Suddenly Instagram is bombarding me with reminders to register to vote and French bulldogs are dressed as Uncle Sam asking for my opinion on the candidates. While this may seem intrusive on my daily dose of stress-free joy, it is not something that I mind knowing — this upcoming election is important. However, the topic of politics seems to be lacking in one specific area of my life: the theatre.
Our media has become so saturated with news of the election and thoughts on politics, it is surprising to me that from the most civically engaged arena I know there has been no comment. Besides the current productions of Hillary: the Musical and the recently cancelled Trump Card, you would be hard-pressed to find any mention of the upcoming election at all.
Even these productions do not appear to be the hearty examination of the current state of our political system that I am looking for. Hillary: The Musical at Prop Thtr is a series of comedic vignettes exploring the Hillary that we don’t get to see. My interest was piqued by the comedy but lost immediately when it seemed to fall flat on easy jokes instead of using the comedy to make a statement about the kind of woman that Hillary has to portray herself to be. Even this musical seems better than the one-man examination of Trump who is described by the show description as a “short-fingered vulgarian who captured the nation’s heart through bullying, charm, one-syllable explosions, and occasionally telling the brutal truth.” But the world will not see this production of Trump Card, even a comedic look at the candidates had to back out from the political tension.
Neither of these plays seems to address the gravity of the upcoming election and when they both start runs a mere month before the election, even a good production may seem like too little and much too late. No matter which candidate you are voting for, it is clear that the election season is quickly becoming vicious between the two candidates, their scandals, and their interactions with each other. This topic demands discussion about the nature of our political system when both candidates have been privy to scandalous activities.
As a dramaturg, I am constantly asked to examine a production and answer, “Why here and why now?” When planning a season, this is an essential question the theatre we create should be relevant to the world around us now. In our current situation, I would like to see and create theatre that examines how politics in our country came to be like this. As there are so many who are currently asking for an “honest” person in the White House, I want to see theatre that explores what it is like to be a politician and why dishonesty goes hand-in-hand with that. This does not necessarily mean that every production I see needs to be written for this exact moment in time, but rather similar themes should be showcased.
For instance, The Theatre School is currently putting on a production of Romeo and Juliet. What does this archaic from Shakespeare’s era have to do with the political climate in 2016 America? In this adaptation, the production team is working to discover how the separation of the two-party system has created divides in our country which leads to unnecessary aggression.
There are other, more modern plays, that have been written which would be incredibly fitting for the current political climate. For example, Mickle Maher’s The Strangerer explores the theatrical nature of the presidential debates. In the play, George W. Bush and John Kerry argue about how and if they should murder the moderator. Though the content is absurd, the message that it sends to an audience is a revelation about the absurdity of the debates since the candidates are extremely aware of the performative aspects of these public spheres. With the venomous nature of the presidential debates, it would benefit all of us to examine to what extent the candidates are playing the audience for attention. Why are shows like these not being shown at a time when they would be most relevant?
As the theatre is a place commonly thought to hold a mirror up to the society that we live in, I am disappointed in the lack of interest that the Chicago theatre has taken in such a world-changing moment as the decision of the leader of our country. Instead of watching a comedic musical or charming one-syllable explosions, I would like my theatre to actually examine the world that I live in and ask me questions that I need to struggle with. I came to college in Chicago because the theatre scene here is known for their ability to grapple with difficult and real topics. In a city where the theatre is gritty, it is a poor time to turn to comedic musicals.