My relationship to 44 Plays about 44 Presidents began years ago, back in Atlanta in 2002, when there were still only 43 presidents. President #39 Jimmy Carter came and he laughed all thru the Ronald Reagan piece. I got to revisit it during the 2008 election while I was in Louisville. We had a great time and let the audiences vote for the 44th president. Every night an almost fight and a true conversation broke out. What I loved about it, was that it was a brief moment where there was a piece of political theater that wasn’t so on the nose with it’s politics, so that we could talk about our differences and our similarities in the long view. Both productions had stunning honest post-show conversations outside the knee-jerk reactions of every day political conversation.
Another thing to know about me is that I’m from Washington, DC, and still have several coffee mugs that play “Hail To The Redskins” when you pick them up. I grew up in a political family – really – Wikipedia (which is never wrong – sorry Sinbad) calls mine a “US political family”:
My uncle Gordy was the Deputy Whip of the Republican Party for a while, and my Uncle Milan is a George W. Bush appointed federal judge. Meanwhile, my personal politics land a little left of the ‘s word’ (socialist) – which adds for lovely or perhaps quiet family reunion dinner conversation. Following the re-election of George Bush, I gave up watching The West Wing, as it felt like liberal porn, and was just too painful to watch(though I was later able to return to it and am glad that Zoey Bartlet grew up into Peggy Olson – not everyone recovers from a terrorist kidnapping that quickly.) What has always fascinated me being descendant from Republicans and then coming over to the other side is the lack of conversation that happens between the two ideologies. The lack of looking to see where the other is right, or at least not wrong. There’s the great Simpsons episode where they stumble upon the Republican convention with a banner “We’re Evil” and the Democratic convention with a banner “We Can’t Govern”. Right?
We all have baggage with George W. Bush or Obama – but could we put that aside and go back 40, 50, 250 years? We’d see that every political hero had shortcomings, and that every leader we disagreed with wasn’t really all bad. Humans left and right. Can we talk about Democrat Wilson deregulating the banks, setting into motion a financial collapse that culminated a few years ago? What about Republican Eisenhower? Can you be against war and pro-interstate high way system at the same time? Remember when Republican Nixon started the National Endowment for the Arts? I truly think this play is a chance to take the long view – to not talk with blood in our throats about politics, but to at least listen to the other side about issues, and often to see that there is no side at all – just a continually changing playing field and the choices that we collectively make as a nation.
Which brings us to the Geva production. We are partnering with Rock The Vote and all the local colleges in an attempt to use this piece to let younger artists talk to younger voters – and create dialogue and conversation before our young friends get so settled into their ideology that anyone who disagrees must be unfriended stat.
I am a gambling man, so I can tell you that the odds that each of us is a 100% right is pretty low….so what then might the other side be right about?
Sean Daniels (Festival Co-Chair; Two-time director of 43 Plays for 43 Presidents) is Director of Artistic Engagement at the Geva Theatre. He spent five years at Tony Award-winning Actors Theatre of Louisville as its Associate Artistic Director. He is the former Associate Artistic Director/Resident Director of California Shakespeare Theater and previously spent a decade as Artistic Director/Co-Founder of Dad’s Garage Theater Company in Atlanta. Upcoming projects include partnering with the Center of Puppetry Arts in Atlanta to create a new adaptation of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA funded by the Jim Henson Foundation.