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“Chatting with the Tea Party”

I got an email last month offering two free tickets to the preview of a new play, Chatting with the Tea Party, described as “a documentary-style play about a New York playwright’s year attending Tea Party meetings around the country and interviewing local leaders. Nothing the Tea Party people in the play say has been made up.”

I asked if they could give me 3 tickets and they did, and I went with two family members.

I won’t be spoiling much if I share the plot: self-described liberal playwright talks with liberal friends during the rise of the conservative Tea Party movements, realizes he doesn’t know any Tea Party activists himself, so during his random travels around the country (as a playwright, he’s always going to some performance or workshop or another), he arranges meetings with Tea Party activists in different places. Some of these people say reasonable things, some of them say rude things, many have interesting personal stories. No issue attitudes get changed, but issues get explored.

The play, directed by Lynnette Barkley, had four actors; one played the role of the playwright, the others did the voices of the people he met. They did the different voices pretty well: each time it seemed like a new person. If Anna Deavere Smith or Mel Blanc had been there to do all the voices, it would’ve been amazing, but these actors did the job. And the playwright, Rich Orloff, did a good job compressing so many hours of interviews to yield some intense conversations.

There were two things that struck me during the watching of the play.

First, it would’ve been also interesting to see the converse: a conservative counterpart of the reasonable, pragmatic Orloff interviewing liberal activists. I could imagine a play that cut back and forth between the two sets of scenes. The play did have some scenes with Orloff’s know-nothing liberal NYC friends, but I think it would’ve worked better for them to be confronting an actual conservative, rather than just standing there expressing their biases.

Second, I was struck by how different the concerns of 2009-2010 were, compared to the live political issues now. Back then, it was all about the national debt, there were 3 trillion dollars being released into the economy, everything was gonna crash. Now the concerns seem more to do with national security and various long-term economic issues, but nothing like this spending-is-out-of-control thing. I guess this makes sense: with a Republican-controlled congress, there’s less concern that spending will get out of control. In any case, the central issues have changed. There’s still polarization, though, and still space for literary explorations of the topic. As a person who has great difficulty remembering exact dialogue myself, I’m impressed with a play that can capture all these different voices.

23 Comments

  1. zbicyclist says:

    “…interesting to see the converse: a conservative counterpart of the reasonable, pragmatic Orloff interviewing liberal activists”

    Yes, that would be interesting.

    There’s a recent BPS blog post
    http://www.bps.org.uk/content/some-issues-liberals-are-more-dogmatic-conservatives
    that notes

    “In the liberal worldview, conservatives are notoriously narrow-minded – and for years we’ve had the science to prove it. Meta-analyses published in 2003 and 2010 …revealed a consensus on “the rigidity of the right” – that is, people who hold more right-wing views tend to be more close-minded. Case closed? Or should we be open to other perspectives… Produced by a research team lead by Lucian Conway …, it shows how classic measures of close-mindedness may be bedevilled by topic bias. When the subject matter is switched out, it’s the left who’re locked-in.”

    No real surprise there. It’s just harder to see close-mindedness in people who agree with us.

  2. Paul Alper says:

    Before considering the converse, climate change, the age of the earth, gay marriage or evolution take a gander at what the foremost voice of the Tea Party said the other day:

    http://www.breakingisraelnews.com/60289/glenn-beck-instructs-staff-to-prepare-for-end-of-days-move-to-jerusalem-jerusalem/

    “[Glenn Beck] said that, due to a conviction that the end-of-days is imminent, his show would need to find a place outside the United States from which to broadcast when its current location, Texas, inevitably became inhospitable.

    “He related how he had recently instructed his staff, ‘We have to pick up our pace on finding another place to broadcast’ Beck told them, ‘I need to know if I can get to Jerusalem, where they won’t shut this down and we can be able to broadcast into the United States. This could end quickly.’”

    “Beck’s announcement comes as a result of his conviction that we are nearing the [Biblical] end of days, and many of his listeners have taken his warnings seriously and relocated. He maintains his claims, saying he has been advised by several experts that social and economic conditions are on the verge of failing.”

    I am not privy to whether Andrew plans on relocating to Jerusalem as things get tough at Columbia but I doubt that chatting with Tea Party people will be the decisive factor.

    • zbicyclist says:

      Yeah, he’s a nutcase.

      But a few minutes ago, I got sent an article with this:

      “when you ask me to vote for her [Hillary] in the primaries over Bernie Sanders …
      You are asking me to consciously give up on any hope I may have of living a sane life in our country.”

      https://medium.com/@Lookingforrobyn/when-you-ask-me-to-vote-for-hillary-174becdb5ccc#.7gczgheih

      I’ll concede this is not at the same nutcase level as your Beck example, but not quite realistic either.

    • Andrew says:

      Paul:

      I know global warming’s an issue but can’t Beck just move to a city in Texas with higher elevation? He doesn’t have to broadcast from Galveston, for Chrissake. OK, maybe Austin won’t work out, but there must be a conservative-leaning city in Texas that’s high enough above sea level that Beck’s operations can continue unabated. No need to go all the way to Jerusalem!

      • Jake says:

        Andrew, there’s a difference between “global warming” (which Beck 100% denies) and “the lamb with seven horns and seven eyes breaks the seven seals, and the sun becomes black and the moon becomes red”.

      • Paul Alper says:

        For the record:

        City Altitude (feet)
        Galveston 7
        Austin 780
        Jerusalem 2582
        Columbia University 62
        Glenn Beck broadcasts from Dallas whose altitude is 430 feet. Of course, the 2152 feet of elevation gain is immaterial to his Tea Party followers. The “inhospitable” aspect of life in the U.S. refers to the coming takeover via Sharia Law by progressives who have set up detention camps for people like him. A fact-free interesting chat to be sure.

      • John Mashey says:

        Did he say anything about global warming or sea level rise?

        In any case, I’m told by some Austin friends that it is not really *in* TX, just surrounded by it.
        However, one part of Austin (and a part of San Antonio) lies within Lamar Smith’s district, whose shape is instructive.

        However, besides SLR, TX will get hotter, and parts likely to have more or worse droughts.

        Lamar, of course knows there must be serious problems at NOAA and is determined to find them. no matter what.

  3. Steve Sailer says:

    The Tea Party was an incipient white American ethnic movement. But white Americans don’t really like ethnocentrism anymore, so it needed at that early stage libertarian issues, which are tied to Old American ethnic history, like the Revolutionary War.

  4. You mention that the voices were changed between parts. To what extent were costumes changed? Usually, plays with limited numbers of actors do a lot of work with costume design to establish a new character played by a previous actor.

    • Andrew says:

      Cody:

      There was one actor playing the playwright and three actors (two men and a woman) playing the people he interviewed. There were some costume changes but not much, but it worked because it was just one person at a time.

      • John Mashey says:

        Since this was actually about a play…
        Back in 2001, we attended a fascinating production at the new Globe of a rarely-done Shakespeare play, Cymbeline, one of those filled with confusion and disguises.
        As per Wikipedia:

        “At the new Globe Theatre in 2001, a cast of six (including Abigail Thaw, Mark Rylance, and Richard Hope) used extensive doubling for the play. The cast wore identical costumes even when in disguise, allowing for particular comic effects related to doubling (as when Cloten attempts to disguise himself as Posthumus.)[26]”

        To be more precise, every cast member wore a plain white costume, like these.

        Then each actor played several characters, which meant the acting alone had to carry recognition, nontrivial when one was jetlagged.

        In the last scene, almost all the main characters were on stage at once, so that an actor playing A and B faced one way when A, and the other when B.

        Although generally considered a lesser play, I thought the staging and acting were terrific.

  5. JHein says:

    “…interesting to see the converse: a conservative counterpart of the reasonable, pragmatic Orloff interviewing liberal activists”

    No, not interesting at all nor necessary.

    The Liberal-Progressive viewpoint is not a mystery to the American public or conservatives — it is trumpeted 24/7 by the dominant news media, public schools, universities, Hollywood, and all levels of government.
    One cannot escape it in the U.S.

    This overwhelming political bias is, of course, largely invisible to Liberal-Progressives … who naturally consider their worldview to be absolutely correct and well deserving of thorough dissemination.

    However those with other points of view see a major problem with this information imbalance.

    • Andrew says:

      Jhein:

      To the extent that what you are saying is true, this would be even more of a reason that it could be interesting to see the conservative argue with the liberal activists. In the play, the Orloff character didn’t just passively sit there and record the conservative activists; in many cases he (politely) argued with them. It would be good to see the counterpart of a conservative who is listening to the liberal activists, taking them seriously, but politely disagreeing. The essence of the play was not the presentation of liberal or conservative viewpoints but having them confront each other, in the context of real people’s lives, people who cared enough about these issues to have become political activists.

    • Rahul says:

      If you take the Tea party to represent the conservative Point of view the counter-point play will have to interview the members of something like the American Anarchist Society.

      • Andrew says:

        Rahul:

        No, the Tea Party has been very powerful, or at least it’s claimed many success. You can’t say the same thing of anarchists. Nor is there an anarchist wing of the Democratic Party that’s anything like the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. I don’t think anarchists are even Democrats!

  6. numeric says:

    First, it would’ve been also interesting to see the converse: a conservative counterpart of the reasonable, pragmatic Orloff interviewing liberal activists. I could imagine a play that cut back and forth between the two sets of scenes. The play did have some scenes with Orloff’s know-nothing liberal NYC friends, but I think it would’ve worked better for them to be confronting an actual conservative, rather than just standing there expressing their biases.

    I’d like to see a play where a Bayesian statistician visits frequentists across the country interviewing them, cut back and forth with a frequentist interviewing Bayesians. Come on, I know you have it in you to write such–or you could get Mayo to write one side and you the other (and we’ll have Pearl to put a pox on both your houses in a grand finale).

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