US Leaders: Keep the drama on the stage

As a working theatre maker and a teacher of theatre, I’m really tired of people trying to do my job.  The Great Debt Debate is just one more moment in recent American political history where our national leaders are working harder to make this situation dramatic than they’re working to solve the problem.

I teach an introductory theatre course for non-majors at NYU, and in one of the first classes, I define theatre as any live event where A performs B for C.  My graduate professor Harley Erdman used this definition, and he attributed it to Eric Bentley.  Theatre plays out on a daily basis right in front of us if we use this definition.  Endless possibilities emerge, and my students and I often discuss how political rallies and speeches can qualify as theatre under this definition.  I blogged a bit about this before when Obama spoke so eloquently and thoughtfully following the tragedy in Tucson earlier this year.

At this point though, using theatre to think through what’s happening with this debt debate feels really irritating.  I love good theatre, but I don’t like theatre when it’s happening in a situation where it doesn’t belong.  The over-the-top performances that are happening around Washington are embarrassing and wasteful.   The energy that politicians expend thinking about how to up end one another in public appearances and statements released to the media could be energy used to actually solve this problem.  A friend of mine said that he thinks that Boehner and Obama had this whole thing solved back when they played golf together, and I wouldn’t be surprised.  Our national leaders seem to be engaged in the same dramatics as the New York State legislature when they finally voted on marriage equality last month.  The urge to draw all of this out and make it dramatic is not working for the American public.

I wonder what it used to be like when leaders could work without the onslaught of 24-hour news outlets constantly asking them for statements and questions.  I think the media complicates all of this.  I’d venture to say that democracy works the best when the public has less information.  I know that sounds crazy, but we don’t trust our elected officials because we know every move they make, personally and professionally.  We judge, we critique, and we contribute to the dramatics.  Maybe if we stopped feeding the media hype beast, the drama off the stage would die down, and these elected officials could fully focus on their jobs rather than the immediate ramifications of their salad choice at the cafeteria to their approval ratings. Not to mention making clear, thoughtful decisions that could save the country’s financial situation now and in the future.

Let the theatre people make the drama, friends.  Stay off the media stage and do your job.