She came. She saw. She conquered. On Thursday, July 28, 2016, less than a mile from where I was watching at a friend's house in Philadelphia, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first female presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party. Whether you love her or hate her, plan to vote for her or not, you have to admit this is a watershed moment for women in America.
I was lucky enough to see Secretary Clinton speak today at her kick-off rally at Temple University, and she offered perhaps one of the most profound commentaries on the significance of this moment. Speaking about Philadelphia's role as the birthplace of America, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed, she said, "Two hundred and forty years ago, the Founding Fathers couldn't imagine that someone who looked like me could be president. They couldn't imagine that someone who looked like Barack Obama could be president either."
And yet here we are, facing the very real possibility that the first Black president of the United States could be succeeded by the first female president of the United States. In the words of Angelica Schuyler via Lin-Manuel Miranda, "Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now."
But I'm not one to be overly optimistic. Just because we've made great strides in the last eight years doesn't mean we still don't have an uphill battle before us. Obviously we do, if these tweets instructing Hillary on the proper facial expressions to have when accepting a presidential nomination are any indication. (Seriously, when was the last time anyone tweeted to a man that he should smile more during a speech? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) That's why, as important as it is to stop and savor this moment as a victory of progress for women and men, it's equally important to continue the conversation about what gender equality really means, and keep on fighting against harmful gender stereotypes that would stop girls like Hillary Clinton from being the leaders they were born to be, if we want to keep this progressive momentum going. After all, like HRC said in her nomination acceptance speech, "When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit."
- Kristen Scatton
Want to understand how on Earth Donald Trump has made it this far in the 2016 presidential race? Malcolm Kenyatta, a North Philadelphia community activist and delegate to the 2016 Democratic primary, has some insight.
"One thing he's able to do really well is take complicated concepts and boil them down to their essence. What he says might not be true, but he breaks it down in a way people can understand."
So said Kenyatta earlier this evening at the "Pop Politics" Symposium, part of PlayPenn's 2016 Annual Conference. The symposium, which also featured local favorite Jen Childs, Co-Founder and Producing Artistic Director of 1812 Productions, and Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer and frequent Chris Christie foil Amy S. Rosenberg, and was moderated by Philadelphia playwright and PlayPenn Director of Education Jackie Goldfinger, was a free-wheeling discussion about the 24-hour news cycle, social media, journalistic responsibility and lack of objectivity, theater, comedy, and what it all means to political discourse in the 21st century.
While Kenyatta may have praised The Donald's ability to condense complex issues into extremely distilled (sometimes to the point where they lack any substance at all) soundbites, he made it clear he's no Trump supporter, and, like so many of us, expressed alarm at his runaway success in the GOP race.
"This election is a battle for the soul of our country," he said. "This is where we decide what type of country are we going to be?"
The panelists agreed that a big contributing factor in the seemingly intractable divisions in our country currently is the "echo chamber" of ideas and discourse that we all live in.
"We only have to listen to people who agree with us," said Kenyatta. "There's no more Walter Cronkite saying 'This is fact. This is not'."
This divisiveness and unwillingness to listen can be found even in the theater, as Goldfinger described conversations with audience members from this year's PlayPenn readings challenging writers because their plays don't tell the narratives they want to hear.
Still, as Childs asserted, just because an audience member disagrees with what they saw doesn't mean all is lost.
"When people go into a theater and they lights are off, they are forced to listen and take in a perspective that may be different than their own," she said, adding that the theater can use other tactics, like comedy, to break down barriers to discuss uncomfortable issues.
As a writer and theater artist, these ideas are intriguing and make a lot of sense to me. Sometimes it feels like traditional straight plays, staged on a proscenium stage with the audience several feet away from the action, can feel too passive, like the play is just happening but not directly engaging the audience. However, as Childs points out, even if the audience isn't directly participating in the play, they should still be receiving a perspective, and perhaps one that wouldn't naturally occur to them, or makes them slightly uncomfortable. You run the risk that they mentally check out, and don't receive your message, but they can only make that determination if they have the space to process the information they're receiving. Like anything else in creating theater (or any kind of art, for that matter) it's a balancing act. Alienating your audience is bad, but having them feel absolutely nothing is even worse.
If anything, hearing Childs, Rosenberg and Kenyatta share their experiences and perspectives has inspired me to continue working ever harder to engage with people from all walks of life through my chosen platform of theater, and add something meaningful of my own to the conversation.
WOW! It's hard to believe that it's already been a month since we returned from the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. We are so thrilled that we had the opportunity to bring Shit Men Have Said, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Patriarchy to the beautiful Queen City, and stoked by the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received on the show. After weeks of planning, writing, and rehearsing, it was so gratifying to see our creation come to life, and add to the ongoing dialogue about gender stereotypes and systematic sexism, and what we as ordinary people can do to combat these damaging practices in our culture.
I also want to give a shout-out to the wonderful folks at the Cincy Fringe Festival and Know Theatre for putting together a fantastic festival, and making us out-of-towners feel like part of the family. From the outstanding performances like We Did It, Girl; Post-Traumatic Super-Delightful, and Cosmic Nomad to the nightly fun and games at the Fringe Bar, the Cincy Fringe experience was eye-opening and exciting, and we can't wait to come back!
But before we head back to Ohio, we have a lot of exciting things happening right here in our hometown of Philadelphia. This Thursday, ReVamp will be representing at Philadelphia Style magazine's "Best of Style" party at the Kimmel Center, where we'll be rubbing elbows with Philly's movers and shakers, and raffling off some great prizes. And we're putting the final touches on our first full season of productions, which will include shows in November and March. Stay tuned for the full season announcement soon!
- Kristen Scatton