At one point during Election, the students who are running for class president are asked a simple question: “Why are you running?” Their answers are as diverse as you’d expect, and more honest than you’d think. Ask that question to actual candidates, and you’ll get the same answer repackaged:
“I want to serve my country.”
“I have the best ideas about how to fix things.”
“I will work on behalf of you.”
That, in a nutshell, is why Election is such a critical and timely play. The last century has seen the rise of the “career politican” as a political entity. So already this is a change from the times of our Founding Fathers, where being elected to public office was seen as a duty, and not a career aspiration. A strong example of this is James K. Polk, who campaigned on such promises as building an independent treasury and acquiring the Oregon territories. He accomplished just about everything in his first term, and did not run fort a second term. Not because he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) win, but because he had done what he set out to do.
Today, particularly with the rise of social media, we’re seeing more and more of each candidate’s life. Have an affair? You’re out! Send naked photos of yourself to someone? You’re out! Spend public monies to visit your mistress in Argentina? You’re out! For a little while, at least.
Regardless of what that individual would actually do in office, we, as Americans, tend to focus on those “problem areas.” John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, Foot tapping Larry: we want our elected officials to show good judgment, of course, but we also hold them all to an impossibly high standard.
Recently, Eric Cantor lost his primary bid for re-election in Virginia to the U.S. House of Representatives. His challenger, an Economics professor named David Brat, had significantly less money, far less name recognition and was considered a long-shot to win, at best. Despite Cantor’s overwhelming dominance in funding and ad time, he lost, partially because voters in his district were tired of the “same old, same old” in Washington. Cantor was the more experienced “career politician,” as well as the third highest ranking member of the Republican side of the House. But voters decided none of that mattered, preferring to nominate a relative unknown.
Election was written to help give modern audiences some perspective on local and national elections. As cast member Stefanie Garcia (Louise) explained, “The play gives a glimpse into the familiar world of politics and elections, but does so with humor and wit. The audience sees a familiar cast of characters in a new light, and by the end of the show you’re reminded of what an election really stands for.”
Writer/Director Kevin Finkelstein explains why it was important to write this show. “No audience wants to be lectured, and that’s especially true of DC audiences. By setting this play in a sixth grade classroom, we allow the audience to draw relevant conclusions without preaching to them. With adults on the stage, you run the risk of the audience shaking their collective head and saying, ‘Yeah, it’s politics. What can you do?’ The answer to that question is: lots. There’s lots you can do.”
Election also has a strong participatory nature to the show. The audience is encouraged to feel like “a part of the class,” to the point where they will be allowed to ask questions of the candidates during the debate, as well as vote for the ultimate winner. Ultimately, we want audiences to walk out of this show recognizing the powers they hold as citizens and voters.
The show stars Luke Cieslewicz, Katrina Clark, Lewis Freeman, Stefanie Garcia, Genevieve James, Matthew Marcus, Momo Nakamura, Carol Randolph and Lily Kerrigan (July 19 performance only). The production and design team includes Peter Caress, Chelsea Cranshaw, Mehdi Raoufi, Heather Whitpan and Angela Pirko.
Election has been 16 months in the making. Some of our cast have been with us since the beginning, others were added within the last two weeks. All of them bring their “A games” to this production, and we hope you will join us. And when you do, as actress Genevieve James (Jenny) says, “Make sure to vote, OK?”
The Inaugural Election for President of Mrs. Jacobson’s Sixth Grade Class
is onstage at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE,Washington, DC
Performances are: July 12 at 2:45pm, July 15 at 6pm, July 19 at 8:30pm,
July 20 at 4:45pm and July 26 at 1:45pm
Details and tickets or call 866-811-4111.
— Guest writer Kevin Finkelstein is Founding Artistic Director of Federal Theatre Project.