Thursday, October 22, 2020

"Flip the Script: The Great Divide IV" an audio play series by Pillsbury House Theatre

"During the 2016 presidential election, the American political landscape ruptured into one of the most heated divides in recent history. In response, Pillsbury House Theatre began The Great Divide project, commissioning five new ten-minute plays each year tackling the rising political tensions in America. As we head towards the 2020 election, on the heels of a pandemic and a global uprising, that divide has grown even larger. For the fourth and final installment of The Great Divide, Pillsbury House Theatre has invited five former Great Divide playwrights to write a companion piece to their earlier work that imagines a way to move forward, beyond the divide. By pairing playwrights' earlier work with pieces written in this election year, Flip the Script is a powerful examination of the past, present, and future of our political divide."

So begins each episode of Pillsbury House Theatre's series of audio plays (available as a podcast) entitled Flip the Script: The Great Divide IV. I am fortunate to have attended the first three years of this series in person, and look forward to it every year as a way to explore and help make sense of this very strange and specific time in history. All of the playwrights involved in the project approach the overall issue of division, as well as the specific issues of each season, with great humanity. It's not about abstract ideas, it's about the very real ways that politics affects our personal lives.

With all live performances currently suspended due to the pandemic, and a historic election approaching, we need these plays more than ever. I'm so glad they found a way to do it, and it works very well in the audio play format. Many of the past cast and creative team have returned to work on this project (including director by Noël Raymond, DJ Queen Drea who wrote and performed original music for the intros and exits of each play, sound designer and editor Katharine Horowitz, and actors Darius Dotch, Ashawnti Sakina Ford, Tracey Maloney, Nora Montañez, and Audrey Park). It was really interesting to listen to these plays that I saw performed live, and then hear the companion piece, some of which are direct sequels to the earlier work, and some of which are different plotwise but thematically tied. Flip the Script is a great way to look back at the last four years, make connections, see what's changed and what hasn't, and maybe also envision a way forward. Because whatever happens in November, we all have a lot of work to do to heal this divide. The plays will be available to listen to through the end of November, at this link, or anywhere you get your podcasts

First, a few quotes from what I wrote about the previous years' live on-stage Great Divides:

2017: Plays for a Broken Nation - "Tension. Authentic. Provocative. Humorous. Hope. Uncomfortable. Despair. Familiar. These were some one-word audience reactions to the performance of Pillsbury House Theatre's collection of new short plays."

2018: Plays on the Politics of Truth - "I hope that Pillsbury House continues this series until this great divide is healed, because responding immediately to what is happening right now is one of the most valuable services theaters can offer to the world."

2019: She Persists - "The series has been a really wonderful way to examine what divides us in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way, while offering a path towards hope and greater connection and conversation with each other."

Here's a brief description of each of the plays (previous years taken from my previous posts). Each episode is roughly 30 minutes long, so they're very easy to listen to as individual pieces. Each is impactful on its own, and put together they tell a larger story.

Episode 1: written by Alan Berks

Swallow (2017)

A dinner party between two couples turns hilariously dark as issues of privilege and food preferences are discussed, in a play that could be subtitled, "Siri, was Hitler a vegetarian?" These awkward dinner conversations are all too familiar in the last few months; we're not sure what to say to whom, and things can escalate quickly. But at least we're talking, right?

Chew On It (new)

A reimagining of this same dinner party, as happening in 2020. This time it's a covid-safe dinner party, in which everyone brings their own food and dishes. The same awkward conversations happen, in different variations, including an exploration of the closing line of the first play: "I voted for him!" Yeesh.

Episode 2: written by Cristina Florencia Castro

May Yamoe... (2019)

In this biting social commentary disguised as a comedy, three wealthy and privileged women take a Spanish class just for the fun of it, seemingly with no respect for the language, culture, or the harried teacher. It's funny because it's true!

¿CoemoeSayDee-say…? (new)

Another "biting social commentary disguised as a comedy," this play is set in a city council meeting, in which the members find it important to write dates in the European style, but don't think it's worthwhile to provide safety information in Spanish for their Spanish-speaking residents.

Episode 3: written Christina M. Ham

Mt. Rushmore (2018)

Two couples travel to Mt. Rushmore, some reluctantly, some enthusiastically, and some hard truths come out, both personal and political.

Monuments (new)

Another vacation to visit unspecified monuments to the unspecified dead. Again the travelers are there for different reasons, and the question is asked: who will remember us, and how will they remember us?

Episode 4: written Andrew Rosendorf

Breathe (2018)

A woman who is out hiking (and maybe hunting) in the woods in Minnesota discovers a dying polar bear, with whom she has a conversation about life, love, and loss.

In a Breath (new) 

In this direct sequel that takes place a few years later, the woman visits the site of this pivotal moment in her life. She brings a date, during a pandemic, adding issues of finding connection during this distanced time to the previous topics of grieving and loss.

Episode 5: written Aamera Siddiqui

I Voted (2019)

On election day in a not too distant future which may or may not come to pass, a very pregnant woman is trying to vote. The well-meaning rule-following volunteer is giving her a hard time because her ID no longer matches her registration due to her recent divorce, and recent Voter ID laws and other restrictions have created so many hoops for citizens to jump through. A scary thought indeed.

The Busload Uprising of 2025 (new)

The election of the first play ended in a tie (between an Obama/Cortez and a Pence/Miller ticket), and this play sees our characters join together to ferry busloads of senior citizens to the polls. It's a scary (and hopefully not prescient) scenario in which Election Day is a dangerous, revolutionary event.

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