Election Takes Center Stage in ‘The Race'
October 21, 2008– As Election Day nears for the 2008 presidential race, Georgetown’s theater and performing arts program will mirror reactions from the contest with the world premiere of “The Race.”
Michael Rohd, visiting professor, conceived and directed the theater project -- which is part class, part performance piece and part political forum. The project endeavors to break down the traditional walls of a theatrical production by incorporating a cross section of voices into an onstage conversation about some of the most important issues that have been raised by the upcoming presidential election. Issues include what demographic will vote for each candidate and why, and the question of what leadership really means. And since the production will update with the latest headlines, each performance may vary on any given day.
“On a college campus in the nation’s capital, public discourse about this election cycle is in no short supply,” says Rohd. “Our body of work, and the theater traditions that have influenced us, led to a lot of strategies for dialogue while here at Georgetown.”
The visiting professor, who is also founding artistic director of the Sojourn Theatre in Portland, Ore., has long focused on devising performance pieces dealing with issues of civic engagement and community dialogue; so much so that he received the 2005 Americans for the Arts’ Animating Democracy Exemplar Award for his work.
“What I value most about Michael and Sojourn’s work is their capacity to use the theatricality of live performance in innovative ways to engender substantive community engagement and dialogue,” says Derek Goldman, director of Georgetown’s theater and performance studies program. “This cross-disciplinary, media-savvy work takes us beyond the familiar discourses we traffic in by giving all participants agency in experimenting with new ways of thinking about and expressing themselves in relation to the most pressing issues in our lives.”
Both Rohd and Goldman felt that given the upcoming election and the university’s expertise in politics and policy a real opportunity existed to create a socially relevant work exploring the 2008 presidential election.
Breaking from tradition, “The Race” didn’t begin with a script. The students in Rohd’s ensemble theater practicum – Performance of Political Identity -- have been working with him and collaborators from Sojourn to create and shape a potent political three-act narrative through research, public interactions and studio-based improvisation and physical work.
Act I sets up the rules and questions for the performance, while Act II asks the questions. And Act III mines completely different territory by marrying elements of a town hall meeting and a karaoke bar.
“Karaoke is a really rare public space these days,” says Rohd. “Strangers who don’t all self-define as experts come together to perform for each other – to be seen and heard. It’s playful, it’s risky, and it’s a wonderful space or event to mimic if we’re trying to accomplish a similar goal. Public interactions that move beyond the realm of discussions and into the realm of exchange.”
Since election season brings up so many issues of civic engagement, Rohd says the last year or so has been a theatrical goldmine for the production.
“Candidates have to tell the story they think we want to hear. We have to decide what role in the story we play, if any, beyond audience,” he says. “Are we participants in the messiness of democracy, or are we merely observers?”