The Festival that dare not speak its name

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October 19, 2012
by C.J. Ehrlich

If you’d told me that a month before the presidential election I’d have two plays chosen for production in the Republican Theatre Festival, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet here we are.

The Republican Theatre Festival, possibly the first of its kind, has no affiliation with the Republican party. It’s the brainchild of Forearmed Productions of Philadelphia, and part of the Plays and Players Theatre’s upcoming American Presidency series (Philadelphia, November 12-18).

Over one hundred plays were submitted in a national call inviting writers to share stories of lives impacted by Republican ideals. I was surprised when my short comedies, “Occupy This” and “Spare Some Change” were chosen for the line-up, along with plays by a former speechwriter for George Bush, a political activist, and an exchange-trade fund analyst.

(More about the playwrights: http://www.forearmedproductions.com/Meet-the-Playwrights.html.)

The festival was controversial before the first play was submitted. Open to writers of any political persuasion, the call for plays “related to social or fiscal conservatism, issues considered part of the Republican Party, Libertarian or Tea Party platforms, or concerns of people of faith”—no satire!—raised hackles in the in the playwriting community.

My friend, Atlanta-based playwright Dan Guyton, mused, tongue firmly in cheek, “You know, it’s funny. I’ve written about murderers, rapists and all sorts of different criminals, and I can usually get in their heads and figure out what makes them tick. But I can’t do it with Republicans. It’s so weird.”

I too found the subject daunting. At first all that came to mind was two people shouting at each other about politics—neither dramatic nor entertaining.

Inspiration for “Occupy This” appeared in a New York Times article by Jonathan Mahler, “Oakland, the Last Refuge of Radical America” (Aug. 1, 2012), about the oldest continuous Occupy movement in the country. Mahler suggested that tolerance for the occupation is hobbling economic development in this struggling California city. Mahler wrote, “[The mayor’s] first instinct when the tents rose on Oct. 10 was to let the protesters stay. There were just a few issues that needed addressing: the illegal open fires, the unauthorized and possibly dangerous use of City Hall’s power outlets, the 911 calls reporting incidents of violence and sexual harassment inside the camp.”

My other play, “Spare Some Change” is about a panhandler who tries to convince a businesswoman to invest in his lunch. Many of us struggle with the choice of whether to give money to panhandlers or to help them indirectly. As a volunteer at Project Ore, a New York kosher soup kitchen which provides clients with counseling and social services, I lean toward the latter.

“Spare Some Change” was also informed by a conversation with a friend, who detailed for me some of the hardships “Obama Care” could put on his small business. 

And that’s the point of the Republican Theatre Festival. Let’s dialogue. Let’s talk face to face. And let’s stop the shouting. 

* Like many theatre companies, Forearmed Productions can use an infusion of cash to get their festival off the ground. Their Kickstarter campaign can be visited (or supported) at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1841997701/the-republican-theater-festival.

More about the festival: www.forearmedproductions.com/default.html

Chappaqua resident C.J. Ehrlich is currently working on a romantic comedy about the great Red-Blue divide.


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