24 March 2017

Now It's an Off Broadway Play

Remember passing mentioned I made that someone reenacted the Trump Clinton debates, and found that Hillary did ever worse when gender roles were reversed?

Well, it's going to play the Jerry Orbach Theater in Manhattan:
After watching the second televised debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in October 2016—a battle between the first female candidate nominated by a major party and an opponent who’d just been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women—Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science at INSEAD, had an idea. Millions had tuned in to watch a man face off against a woman for the first set of co-ed presidential debates in American history. But how would their perceptions change, she wondered, if the genders of the candidates were switched? She pictured an actress playing Trump, replicating his words, gestures, body language, and tone verbatim, while an actor took on Clinton’s role in the same way. What would the experiment reveal about male and female communication styles, and the differing standards by which we unconsciously judge them?

Guadalupe reached out to Joe Salvatore, a Steinhardt clinical associate professor of educational theatre who specializes in ethnodrama—a method of adapting interviews, field notes, journal entries, and other print and media artifacts into a script to be performed as a play. Together, they developed Her Opponent, a production featuring actors performing excerpts from each of the three debates exactly as they happened—but with the genders switched. Salvatore cast fellow educational theatre faculty Rachel Whorton to play “Brenda King,” a female version of Trump, and Daryl Embry to play “Jonathan Gordon,” a male version of Hillary Clinton, and coached them as they learned the candidates’ words and gestures. A third actor, Andy Wagner, would play the moderator in all three debates, with the performances livestreamed. Andrew Freiband, a professor in the Department of Film/Animation/Video at the Rhode Island School of Design, provided the video design. (Watch footage from a Her Opponent rehearsal below.)

The two sold-out performances of Her Opponent took place on the night of Saturday, January 28, just a week after President Trump’s inauguration and the ensuing Women’s March on Washington. “The atmosphere among the standing-room-only crowd, which appeared mostly drawn from academic circles, was convivial, but also a little anxious,” Alexis Soloski, a New York Times reporter who attended the first performance, observed. “Most of the people there had watched the debates assuming that Ms. Clinton couldn’t lose. This time they watched trying to figure out how Mr. Trump could have won.”


And this was just the first phase of the project: Her Opponent has been adapted as an off-Broadway play opening at the Jerry Orbach Theater, and its creators envision adapting a recording of the experiment as a classroom teaching tool to explore the complex ways our personal biases influence how we receive messages. The gender-swapping technique, Salvatore suggests, could also be used to explore the communication styles of different political figures in other charged confrontations.
This has gone from an interesting factoid to something profoundly weird.


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