The presidential campaign got me curious about the extent of political activism in Chicago’s theater community, so I put together a 10-question survey and sent it out to about 100 local companies. I got 22 responses, which were collated by crack Reader intern Dave McQuown. I’m not going to reveal the names or affiliations of the respondents because some were worried that their answers might imperil their nonprofit 501(c)3 status–a genuine concern because 501(c)3 requires an organization to stay away from political partisanship–but they offered a good communal sampling, including actors, writers, directors, box officers, a clutch of artistic directors, various types of managers, a techy, a dialect coach, a “casting associate,” a choreographer, a translator, and one executive producer. Their theaters ran heavily–though not entirely–to the small and spunky.
Of the 22, nine had already volunteered and another six planned to do so. The nine had mostly done phone-banking, though one gave a detailed account of her campaign work, ending with the comment that she and her fiance “are a political junkie couple.” Donations ranged from a high of $4,600 down to “No–I’m perpetually broke.” As far as the candidate that attracted their efforts, current or future, it was unanimous: Obama.
The final two questions allowed for opinions, and a little passion here and there:
What issue is most important to you in the current election cycle?
1. Improving Education in this country–fostering all aspects of learning, including the arts. As an example, my pre-teen nephew had no idea who Shakespeare was. . . .
2. Economy and Health Care
3. Selection of Supreme Court Justices
4. Foreign Policy
5. Economy and Health Issues
6. Health Care
7. Health Care!
8. Stop this unjustified war and end America’s policy of preemptive aggression without forfeiting our civil rights. Put someone in the White House who understands and supports women’s issues.
11. War, health care, economy
12. The energy crisis, the economy, the war, and marriage laws.
13. Restoration of checks and balances. Political far-sightedness (seeing beyond the next election, which unfortunately seems impossible in our system.) “Re-regulation” of Wall Street. Alternative energy tax credits. Fixing social security (remove the cap). Withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Get rid of Republicans’ expansion of government (ironic for a Dem to call for smaller gov’t) by eliminating the Department of Homeland Security (return agencies to former departments), all faith-based initiatives, GSEs except FDIC and Federal Reserve (let’s have free markets!), the Task Force on New Americans, and illegal wiretapping (back to FISA!). Increased mass transit funding from federal level. Return to Clinton surplus. Single-payer universal healthcare. No further drilling offshore or in Alaska. Restore line-item veto to deal with pork! Raise capital gains taxes, corporate taxes, and implement a windfall carbon tax. Lower income taxes on middle and lower classes. Make abortion legal in all cases; defend Roe v. Wade. Make buying a weapon more difficult. Make gay marriages legal, not just “civil unions.” Raise minimum wage. Tax increases on corporations for every job they ship overseas. Get rid of public funding for candidates and replace with licensing requirement for TV and radio networks that states they must give a certain amount of air time to candidates. No more special interest influence.
14. World economy, including the war in Iraq, which affects it considerably
15. education and any effort to lead to more discussion and less bipartisanship
16. Right now, the economy, but also climate change and education
18. getting a Democrat in the White House
19. Economy–Iraq War
21. so many, not sure where to start but here’s a few, The Wars, Health Care, Education (including arts in education) economy, our lack of respect in this world, I could go on but top three is War, Health Care, Education
22. poverty and the divide between rich and poor. I support [environmentalist] Van Jones for a new deal to create new jobs in the new green industry
Do you feel your political work relates to your work in the theater? If so, how?
1. No opinion here, as I have yet to volunteer. However I will say that I’d like to see more of same volunteerism/grass roots style of support shown for political campaigns, applied to the support for local independent theatre companies.
2. Yes. I write shows that have an undertone of my political views, and that effects the people who experience the shows, and hopefully changes or strengthens their views.
3. Actually, no.
5. Yes, because I am extremely liberal and free thinking, which reflects the work I like to do in theatre, and how I vote.
6. Political belief relates to my work in the theatre more than political work. The social dynamics of politics informs so much of my worldview, it’s impossible to imagine that I could do work divorced from that belief.
7. I think that in either capacity you are simply asked to make a connection with another person and you passionately hope to succeed in that challenge.
8. I am someone who wants to communicate with my fellow human beings and shape the world we live in. Theater, storytelling and politics do all this.
9. Yes. The economy directly impacts our livelihood, either at the box office or at the donation jar. When it comes to putting food on the table, the arts are very low on people’s priority list. I also think that tolerance and integrity will play a key role in the campaign and both are explored and expressed (anywhere on their respective spectrum) through the dramatic arts.
10. Political beliefs – slightly
11. Everything about what I do and who I am and where I live relates to my work in the theater.
12. I wish it did more but many of the people I encounter in the theatre both actors and audience members tend to believe in the same sorts of things I do. I wish more people would come out into the theatre world in order to experience and [sic] new lifestyle and realize that Change really is possible if you open your mind to art, creativity and a new mindset.
13. Yes. The theater is a remarkable laboratory for liberalism.
14. Yes. Good theater makes people think and feel more intensely than usual, and can put us in touch with our best–and sometimes worst–selves. That creates a certain level of discomfort with the status quo. We can’t just walk off from those experiences as if we’d played a game of racquetball. We have to use that energy to help affect the world for the better.
15. Yes, entirely. My believes about bipartisan discussion fuel my passion for the theatre, and especially for [name of theater]’s work.
16. Not directly, but theater is business, and a down-turning economy is bad for business and also bad for grants.
17. It relates to my happiness as an American, and if I’m unhappy I am not a good actress.
18. Not usually, but it is certainly not unwelcome.
19. Yes, we are all in this together. We all look forward to a peaceful future for ourselves and our children. The Arts is an important part of our lives, especially for the future generation. I will do all I can to keep a focus on the Arts in the political arena.
20. Being in the theatre is about telling the truth. . . in this election truth is on the line. I can’t bear the thought of 4 more years of Republican lies. I can’t even bear McCain’s lying campaign.
21. [Name of theater]’s mission is to create sociopolitical theatre, we created a piece about a [soldier], who came back from a Iraq and killed himself, told from the eyes of his sister. . . , not all our work is about the government but “political” we want to engage people and start conversations. Also, I think being a teaching artist is political in a time were arts in education is not valued, even though according to No Child Left Behind it should be a fully funded program.
22. Everything is political. But I am just trying to create relevant and diverse theater for the community in which I live.