It’s kind of amazing. The Democratic Party has at its disposal pretty much all of the talent in Hollywood and yet their boring infomercial of a national convention makes watching tomatoes turn red look like the Super Bowl. Calling it boring is an insult to boring people who can at least be calm and soothing. The DNC is just flat out unwatchable. I’ve been wondering why, and I think I figured it out.
Among the myriad jobs I had in my 20 years doing theater, one of my favorites was being a stage manager. It’s a great job. I wrote a joke about it once. How many stage managers does it take to screw in a light bulb? One. Said with deadly seriousness. It is the stage manager who makes everything happen when it is supposed to happen. A live event is fraught with potential mishaps. The stage manager gives everyone five and makes sure the lights come up. The problem with the DNC? They made it a movie when a convention needs to be a theater production.
So here is a little free advice for the Republicans. First of all, in the name of all that is good and holy, there needs to be some kind of audience. I don’t care if it’s 10 people sitting in a Dairy Queen parking lot, we need to see actual people reacting to speeches and nominations in real time. I get it, Democrats are dedicated to the idea that we all have to live in hermetically sealed households with masks on until Trump is defeated. The GOP must send the opposite message.
Feature the fan base. Elections are about the American people more than they are about candidates. Speeches shot two weeks ago in some Falls Church, Virginia studio won’t cut it. It feels old, it feels prepackaged, it feels like turning the channel. Part of what people love about a live performance is that things can go wrong. An actor can go up on their lines, a gun (that’s what we call lights) can flash out, an audience member’s cell phone can go off at some critical moment. That is the titillating nature of live entertainment.
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Just because there can’t be big crowds and balloon drops, although frankly at this point there probably should be, doesn’t mean the Republican convention can’t pop. Do live Q and A’s with voters, feature socially distanced watch parties, bring us in. We are a body politic, not a nation of pod people who order from Amazon and are careful not to touch our faces. We need a little action, man.
We also need some joy. The Democrats’ convention message thus far has pretty much been America sucks, but it will suck slightly less if Joe Biden is elected president. That should not be hard to top. Let us be proud of our country, show us a way forward that gives a glimpse of all of us in each other’s arms again. Give us music, dancing, empty champagne bottles, and black bow ties undone hanging from bright white collars.
The Democrats’ convention, I’d call it a sad spectacle except it isn’t a spectacle at all, it is a bet they are making. The bet is that we are all terrified to go outside, so we are meant to take comfort in sleepy old Joe Biden telling us everything will be OK someday. Not only should Republicans take this bet, they should double down on the courage of the American people and their desire to let down their hair down, pandemic or not. Donald Trump is a showman, he’s proved that time and again, and if he is to serve a second term in the White House he needs to put on a show.
More than anything else, the Republicans must make this election that feels like no other feel more like all the others. We need fun surprises; we need smiles and people all dressed up with silly hats. What we don’t need is John Kasich standing in an empty field lecturing us about how pure he is. Have Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham compete in a drinking contest, have Nikki Haley lead the country in a giant game of Pictionary. Something. Anything.
Woody Allen once said of audiences, “these people’s lives are straight lines, they’re waiting for a punch line.” And that’s right. The Democrats’ convention has been the bat mitzvah of the niece you don’t like with a cash bar and a bland chicken dinner. The GOP can do better; it would actually be hard not to better. So let’s do this. The country is ready for some fun.