As the theater industry recovers from COVID-19 and considers a social justice reckoning, the 2020 presidential election is high stakes, resulting in “Act Out: Vote 2020,” an online performance livestreamed on Oct. 29 at 9 p.m.
According to Chiara Klein (she), the director of artistic producing at Baltimore Center Stage (BCS) who invited theaters to get involved through a Theatre Communications Group blog , it will be a “mosaic event” with artists with varying perspectives and career levels, from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights to early-career artists.
“There’s no shortage of get out the vote things happening right now, obviously,” Klein said. “But there wasn’t something that felt like a non-partisan ‘Get Out The Vote’ effort that was on behalf of the national theatre community … We didn’t want this to be only for an echo chamber audience of New York, or the East Coast or the West Coast.”
Spearheaded by Danai Gurira, Stephen Daldry and Lynn Nottage, the team has partner theaters from almost all 50 states who pledged to amplify. Although many are strapped for programming or marketing dollars due to COVID-19 losses, the team provided all marketing materials theaters needed to participate.
D.M.V. partner theaters include Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Baltimore Center Stage and Arena Stage. Woolly Mammoth is mainly focused on amplifying the event. According to Director of Marketing Timmy Metzner (he), it aligns with Woolly’s mission.
“Amplifying ‘Act Now: Vote 2020’ aligns with our goals to encourage everyone to utilize their rights as a citizen and make their voices heard in this important election,” Metzner said. “Woolly believes that voting is an essential part of the equitable, creative and participatory democracy we want to see in our world.”
Artists will perform original monologues, songs, dances or pre-existing material, all of which promotes civic engagement.
Ryan J. Haddad (he), who is based in New York, wrote and rehearsed a new original monologue for the event while simultaneously working with Woolly Mammoth to produce his play, Hi, Are You Single, which will be released in 2021. He said he felt an obligation to be part of this event when he was asked to do it.
“My work, generally, as an autobiographical playwright, is not explicitly political; it is implicitly political because I’m a gay man, a disabled man, I’m Lebanese American and all those things intersect, right?” Haddad said. “So there’s no way that I can be on a stage or delivering a story that is about my life, and not have there be political undertones or implications. But I rarely speak directly about politics.”
Haddad calls his monologue an impassioned call for empathy, as he zooms in on two important aspects of his identity as it relates to what is on the line politically, but also expresses the experiences of his loved ones.
“For me, there are a dozen other issues that don’t affect me directly, but affect other people who are my friends and loved ones and people I don’t know,” he said. “I care just as much about those individuals retaining their rights and being safe and protected in a country that is supposed to do that.”
D.C. playwright/performer Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi (she) was invited to perform by Stephanie Ybarra at BCS. This is the third election-based event that Figueroa Edidi has been asked to provide her perspective for. Among them, the recently released National Black Theatre series Unbought & Unbossed from the National Black Theatre.
“To be quite honest, the reason why I did it is because many of the writers who are involved with it are amazing writers, some of them are people who I know and love and believe are doing the work,” Figueroa Edidi said. “But I felt that none of the writers would talk to some of the issues that I have been having around the election, and specifically around the lives of trans people. I thought that I may not have experienced those conversations reflected back to me if I were not part of the event.”
Figueroa Edidi will give audiences a “healthy dose of reality” with a monologue called “Tired” and/or “What Are We Gonna Do About White Supremacy,” from the point of view of a Black trans woman disillusioned about the idea of voting because it falls short and is the least you can do. But she builds a case for why people should vote anyway. The character is not Figueroa Edidi, but has a similar perspective.
“It felt very much to me that the conversations that we were having earlier this summer around racial justice, economic justice and justice for trans folks were so prominent in the news, media and spaces where folks worked,” Figueroa Edidi said. “And it felt like as soon as we came down to the early wire … a lot of people shifted their conversations to wanting to mobilize people to vote, but not saying ‘What are we gonna do after the vote?’ There is something fundamentally wrong about the way the system engages folks, specifically Black, Indigenous, brown folks, and my vote is about buying my community of artists of color time.”
Klein believes that it’s special that there is an entry point for everybody to access ideas like those of Figueroa Edidi and Haddad.
“Yes, we’ve seen that kind of thing and yes, it is appearing in lots of different people’s pieces,” she said. “I’m excited for an audience … to engage with those ideas through the lens of their own lived experience or through the lens of an empathetic experience for somebody else.”
Klein and BCS were brought into the process and planning team due to BCS’ reputation for having civic dialogues. Prior to “Act Out: Vote 2020,” Klein said BCS had been planning to do a watch party and performances for election night since fall 2019. Due to COVID-19, they can’t do that in person, but this event allows them to stay engaged with emergent programming.
“We were looking for various ways in which we could pivot to feel responsible and doable, and [it] appeared as an opportunity which we were able to take,” Klein said. “I think that being open and available to those kinds of moments is key.”
Haddad believes that Americans can’t afford to be nostalgic for the past human beings’ rights, well-beings and freedoms are at stake.
“Healthcare, economic stability, especially for disabled folks, is at stake and has been at stake for a long time,” he said. “Whether you’re Democrat or Republican, those issues are not new, but we are in such a dire place. We are in danger.”
Klein acknowledges that this is not going to magically get everyone to vote.
“No one is delusional to think that any one piece or a bunch of artists are gonna have a seismic impact on the election, or this is going to be the thing that brings everybody to the polls,” she said. “But every little bit helps. Every message, reminder, inspiration, conversation starter [or] catalyst, pushes people towards that activity, which we know so much of the country, election to election, still doesn’t engage with.”
As Figueroa Edidi’s character says in her monologue, the work does not end after the election. She questions what the country is going to do differently afterwards — especially when it comes to supporting Black, Indigenous, brown and trans communities.
“I want the people who are saying to us, ‘Go out and vote,’ to also have conversations with us about what to do about white supremacy,” she said. “How do we invest in a world where everyone is free from oppression? How can we invest in communities now that does not center the white gaze and white people’s priorities? That’s what I want to know, that’s the work that needs to happen. It might start at the booth, but it can’t end at the booth. It means a lifetime commitment.”
ACT OUT: VOTE 2020
Thursday, Oct 29 at 9pm
View it here