|View more photos from Art Interactive's "Participatory Democracy" installation|
The Democratic National Convention taking place in Boston from July 26-30, 2004 means a lot to local businesses, including show business. A number of cultural events with a political spin will run during the week of the convention, from visual art exhibitions to plays and stand-up comedy festivals. Here's a short guide to entertainment during the DNC:
Most people think of political theater as shows that preach to the converted. And there will be some of those didactic exercises taking place in the streets around the Democratic National Convention. But there will be at least three other varieties of socially engaged theater available around town as well.
First, there's theater that is not overtly political, but resonates with contemporary issues. Once the DNC announced its Boston dates, the Publick Theatre rearranged its schedule so that during the convention it would present William Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida," a sharply sardonic look at the siege of Troy. The production's director, Steven Barkhimer, says the Bard's play about a war that has worn down the spirits of its combatants has much to say about Iraq. But he quickly adds that Shakespeare's complex drama will supply neither Republicans nor Democrats much cheer. Barkhimer points to speeches that question whether the possession of Helen was worth all the death and epic destruction.
Aside from political theater by default, there is also political theater that goes Right or Left, for the jugular. For some performers, issues are fodder for laughs. Stand-up comic Jimmy Tingle is throwing what he calls "The Un-conventional Comedy Convention" through July, including comedians Lewis Black, Barry Crimmins, and Will Durst. For Tingle, the DNC puts politics on the front burner, so it is a perfect time for satirists to stoke the flames even higher. Tingle also thinks the purpose of the jokes is not only to laugh at the political scene, but to go places where the timid mainstream media fears to tread.
Finally, political art can make its point by lampooning all things political. Art Interactive in Cambridge, MA is presenting an interactive exhibition called "Participatory Democracy." The work of five local artists, the installation treats the process of voting, from marking a ballot to media exit polls, as a form of circus entertainment. A canned video presentation instructs voters on what they are going to experience, which includes tossing darts at paper ballots hung on the wall, taking part in surreal exit polls, and voting by Skee-Ball game. Candidates include the bearded lady, the contortionist, two-headed Ed, and the Great Incombo.
According to artist Natalie Loveless, the tongue-in-cheek setup wants to make people think about the absurdities of the current voting system and its manipulation by politicians and the media. Loveless admits that not everyone is pleased with the installation's vision of democracy as a carnival.
For the DNC, the arts community is taking no chances: conventioneers can take in cultural events that treat politics seriously or dismiss them as a joke. At the Boston Center for the Arts, a stage production of "A Clockwork Orange" raises the specter of social engineering. At the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA, The Flying Karamazov Brothers will perform "Life: A Guide for the Perplexed (Convention Edition)." Given the troupe's earlier shows, this will be chockablock with ingenious puns amid some impressive juggling. Whatever the delegates choose to attend, the arts are determined to be part of the DNC party.