Thursday, January 25, 2007

Party Discipline

"It's very dangerous to pretend to be open-minded when you're the exact opposite."

-Dave Sim

Last night Pete and I went to see Party Discipline: A Political Transformation Seminar by the Subjective Theatre Company, a show the group has been working on since June 2006.

Party Discipline is ultimately set up to resemble a conservative boot-camp seminar for liberals to help convert them. The audience is brought into a room and seated at a long conference table, where we are subjected to speeches, sing-a-longs, PowerPoint presentations and invited to fill out questionnaires and participate in surveys.

Believe it or not, it is quite good and very much worth your while to check out.

This was really surprising for me, to be honest. I've often been quite vocal about my overall disdain for political theatre (or reactionary leftist agitprop): 999 times out of 1,000 it makes very pedantic straw-men arguments (or, as Pete put it, "You have someone running around on-stage wearing a George Bush mask with a giant rocket in his pants eating babies") that preach to the choir; smug, self-righteous, heavy-handed, close-minded, insulting to one's intelligence, depressing and dull. ("Uh, Jesus, James. Don't hold back or anything. Tell us what you really think.")

I knew very little about the show before going in, but what I did know (or had heard) did not make me excited: a piece of overtly political theatre (shudder), that intended to confront your beliefs (ugh) with (Oh...Dear...God) Audience Participation.


Imagine Pete and my surprise when we discovered we were genuinely enjoying ourselves.

What I really admired about the show was that it treated the conservative argument(s) with consideration and respect, and didn't treat the Right as some ridiculous straw-man. The smug, self-righteous, "We're so right and everyone else is a retard even though we've never really argued our viewpoint logically" attitude that's so pervasive with the ideological left was not at all present in Party Discipline.

It was confrontational, but not in a way that invaded personal space or resulted in public ridicule (or attempts of converting you); it was so in the way it forced the audience to acknowledge viewpoints they (most likely) didn't share. The audience participation elements were also not done to single anyone out. They were, dare I say, fun. (I particularly liked a section called "You're the Pundit," where you wrote down a legitimate question you'd like to ask a conservative and then ask the person sitting opposite you the question. That person would have a minute to answer it as objectively and as honestly as possible. Then, that person would ask you their question and you'd have to answer it.)

A show such as Party Discipline is a way, or at least a very big step in the right direction, for making worthwhile political theatre.

The purpose behind the show was not to spout off platitudes or get the audience to change its voting habits in a specific way: it was to make you think, which is very rare - if not nonexistent - in agitprop (which is often designed to make you feel). What are your political beliefs, and to what degree are these beliefs based on reason rather than emotion? Can you defend these beliefs beyond sound-byte sloganeering (i.e., "My Body My Choice!")? Can you listen to a well-reasoned dissenting viewpoint without mentally shutting down or storming off in a huff?

Party Discipline doesn't flatter the audience nor assault them (although it looked as though many people were quite offended with the show). Clearly, the creators of the show had put a lot of thought into the ideas expressed in it.

The show isn't perfect. I wasn't quite sold on the pre-show (as the house opens, company members are engaged in a heated political argument). Some of the arguments made in the piece were not as strong as others (such as the pro-racial profiling argument, since the mug shots shown in the PowerPoint presentation were of all races and all of whom, according to the presenter, were violent criminals) and the "seminar" aspects didn't blend very well with the theatrical and song-and-dance pieces (I preferred the former to latter).

Despite that, I found myself enjoying the evening as a whole and can recommend this not just for audience members but also for those interested in producing political theatre as a good example of how it can be done.

Color me impressed.

Party Discipline is playing until February 2 at the Asian American Writers Center on 16 West 32nd Street, 10th floor (between Broadway and 5th Avenue). There are only four shows left that aren't sold out, so seating is very limited. Tickets are $10. To make a reservation, call (646) 205-1627.

Running for public office,

James "Party-Crasher" Comtois

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Anonymous Steven Gridley said...

Great review. I just saw the show last night and agree with your thoughts. Thought provoking and quite fun! We had a couple of people challenging the seminar during the show. One of them was so vocal he kinda became a central part of the show. It was this old man from Newport. He said keep the oil refineries in New Jersey. Vote Subjective!

8:19 AM  

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