Is theater too liberal? That is a question Cara Blouin asked herself as she watched a production of Christopher Durang’s “Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them.” Durang’s play is a satire on the Bush administration and its war on terror. How would moderates or conservatives feel watching the play, or others like it in American theater?
“The assumption that the audience is liberal and that they will find any satirization of conservatives and their ideals hilarious was so firm, was assumed so strongly, that I began to wonder what would happen if we opened up another viewpoint in the theater.”
So she put the call out for fiscal or socially conservative plays, or plays that dealt with people of faith. It was an odd request coming from the creator of “Dan Rottenberg is Thinking About R@ping You.” In that 2011 production, she took a feminist stand against blaming rape victims. The show benefited SlutWalk and even received notice from Ms. Magazine.
But reaction to the Republican Theater Festival has not been so friendly. Conservatives thought she was making fun of them. Many liberals didn’t think a Republican festival should exist. Blouin didn’t think she would get even three plays.
Two months later, she had over 100 submissions. The Republican Theater Festival, originally a three-play production, expanded to showcase ten new plays.
Are all of those playwrights truly conservative? “Most of our playwrights are conservative, although some of them bristle at being called conservative writers. They see themselves as writers who happen to be conservative because they don’t like the idea of their work being agit prop. One or two of our playwrights are definitely liberal,” she says.
Blouin says that the biggest issue playwrights tackled was the feeling of being marginalized because of their beliefs. Fiscal conservatism was the second most popular topic.
Do any Republican groups support the event? What is the definition of a conservative play?
Listen to an excerpt of the interview.
A bipartisan committee chose ten plays. “We worked really, really hard to pick stories that were about people. A great example is The Abortion Bomb, which is a play by Basil Considine in Massachusetts. It’s a really complicated story about a family facing a daughter’s choice to have her baby or to abort it… We hear all sides, very complex. It’s more the story of the family than the story of the issue. And almost everything… Definitely all the plays in the festival we picked because they were that. They were stories about people and not about ideas.”
She’s quick to add, “Unfortunately I can’t for the life of me find anyone to play the mother in that play… The actresses of Philadelphia straight up refuse to be in this play… We’ve been through everyone. No one wants to be in it.”
Is it because the mother is particularly hateful? “No, not at all,” Blouin says. “She’s a caring mother who is devoted to her daughter but who doesn’t want her daughter to have an abortion. ”
The reluctance to embody an opposing viewpoint on stage seems strange. Actors are often called upon to play murderers, rapists, pedophiles, and even cannibals. So why are they afraid of playing Republicans?
“Within the community, actors are feeling more backlash than anybody else,” Blouin says. “Actors are constantly coming to me and saying, you know, I was at a party or I was at a rehearsal and everyone asked me why I was doing this.” Some actors are hesitant to put the festival on their resume.
Could diversity of opinion be another aspect of American theater’s ongoing discussion about inclusion? Or should theater be a safe haven from other, more conservative outlets? Would you have the courage to speak out if your opinion was unpopular? Could there be more conservatives in theater than people realize.
“Theater is really insular in a way that makes me really sad. ‘Cause I think it’s a grand, universal, participatory medium. But it’s sort of anemically shrunken down to this echo chamber where we tell each other the same three stories over and over again. And one of those stories is the suburbs are hell, and Christianity is fascism… And I can understand why, you know, for someone who holds that, or has a lot of value in that way of life wouldn’t want to come anywhere near a theater.”
“My hope with the festival was that those conservative writers would have to be in the room with the people who disagreed with them. And liberals would have to be in the room with the people they were criticizing. It’s not the Internet where you can just sort of hurl vitriol back and forth. And because we have a pub in the theater, which is what makes it the perfect location. After the shows are over, we’re all going to, you know, take three steps into the bar and hopefully some real conversation will happen there.”
“It started a really interesting conversation about how hard it is for writers who have conservative viewpoints to get their work produced. ”
Blouin hopes the Republican Theater Festival will become an annual event, but she would rather not lead it. “I’m not a conservative and I don’t think it’s fair for me to be the standard-bearer for conservative theater. ” She hopes the conservative playwrights who have come together might pick up the project next year.
The Republican Theater Festival will be held on November 12-14, 2012 at Plays and Players Theater in Philadelphia. For more information, visit their website.