Theater troupe takes on Democratic presidential debates

Theater in Asylum will perform a performance based on the Democratic Presidential debates in April. Pictured is their performance from 2015-16. (Courtesy Theater in Asylum)

Unbeknownst to the Democratic presidential candidates, their words and actions are fodder for theater in New York City.

The company Theater in Asylum has been hosting debate watch parties since July and taking note of every mannerism, supported policy and heated exchange to produce what they call “The Debates 2020.” 

“It’s between ‘SNL’ and ‘School House Rock,” the group’s Co-Artistic Director Paul Bedard said on Wednesday.

The show launches in April ahead of the New York Democratic Primary (April 28) with a series of scenes taken directly from and inspired by moments in the previous debates, including the sheer number of candidates in a “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” -inspired song, the number of healthcare stances in a “clown show” and a verbatim impersonation sketch.

Bedard and his co-artistic director Katie Palmer say while it can be humorous, the show’s main purpose is to make the what is said in them and the various issues debates accessible to all so that audience members can go make educated choices when they vote.

The clown show, for instance, is pulled from a previous scene they crafted for the 2016 election, where four pneumonia patients with exaggerated symptoms go through candidates’ supported healthcare plans and the results are both educational and amusing. When one patient goes through Bernie Sanders’ plan, he is magically cured and the bill goes to a Cookie Monster-like government entity that eats the bill.

“We’re not ‘SNL’ — we’re not interested in satire, we’re interested in what theater does, which is to deepen and add empathy and illuminate and complicate,” Palmer said. “I get beaten down often [hearing how bad the world can be], but doing our process doesn’t beat me down. I feel like I have a little bit of power and control in the show. There’s still so much hope.”

Theater in Asylum put on a cabaret before and after the Democratic presidential debates this year. (Courtesy Theater in Asylum)

Theater in Asylum hosts public watch parties and political analysis events, which are open to the public, in order to get their material. Then, the scripting and rehearsal process begins.

When “The Debates 2020” debuts across the city (and in other states on a tour) next year, the performance will wrap up with a follow-up, where the group will help clarify things. In fact, the script will be published on its website with footnotes that call out whether something was said verbatim, summed up, or not factually correct.

Both Palmer, 32, and Bedard, 31, said they hope everyone, no matter what political party they side with, feels welcome to take part.

“Anyone is welcome to get involved and you don’t need political or theatrical experience,” Bedard said. “The show will be better if someone who doesn’t think like us comes to our watch parties and political analysis events.”

The next watch party is set for Nov. 20. For more information, visit thedebates2020.com.

Shaye Weaver