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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Glass Curtain: The First Rule of Political Theatre

In my younger years, I did a lot of backstage work in theatre; props, sound, lights, set design, stage management, etc.
Theatre is all about creating the illusion that what an audience sees is happening in real time, organically.  Keeping the illusion alive involves all kinds of clever devices - obscured backstage staff, slights of hand, distractions on one part of the stage to give time for a set-change somewhere else.
Politics tends to work this way, with backroom operators standing in for stage crews. 
While people still love theatre, movies are presently the preferred medium.  Movies differ from theatre primarily in that the product doesn't unfold in real-time; as such, more effort can be invested in expanding and sustaining the illusion of a moment audiences will only see once it's been completed and vetted.
Political theatre has transitioned into a similar, pre-packaged format; the words that come out of our political actors are increasingly rehearsed, the entire context planned in advance by those behind the curtain.  We're getting a boxed product that's harder to invest in as organic.
As film has grown more and more complex in its ability to create otherworldly illusions, audiences have become curious about how the magic happens; we watch interviews with actors explaining how they created a role, relish behind-the-scenes looks with the innovators who build the worlds we experience and seek a clarity of intent.
We want to know filmmakers are playing to us, not trying to manipulate us.
This, too, is the trend in politics - as the tools of the trade become more sophisticated and scripted, we're less enraptured with what we see and more curious about how the illusion is created.  We want to know political players are creating an honest experience for us political consumers, not playing for votes.
There's a basic rule I learned in my theatre days that is as relevant in the age of political and theatrical mass production as it was on the small community stage:
If you can see your audience, they can see you back. 

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