A Plea to the American Theatre in a Time of Trump: Please Smash the Social Media Echo Chamber

echochamber
Social media echo chambers led to Trump, can theatre help destroy them?

After an ecstatic early morning casting a vote for the first woman presidential candidate from a major party, I probably spent the late hours of Election Night 2016 like many others in the Bay Area: stunned, with a sense of dread gathering in the stomach and fielding a steady stream of woeful text messages.

Although I wanted to be close to people I love, I was stuck working. I’m the City News Editor at a small paper in the East Bay and we were wearily waiting to hear about City Council and School Board results as Donald Trump, the president-elect of these United States, gave his victory speech in New York City.

The number of think-pieces published today will probably be able to fill an encyclopedia set (that’s a freebie business idea for anyone looking to profit off liberal misery). The dirge of Facebook posts today is like the digital version of wearing a sackcloth and sitting in ashes.

Thinking, of course, is important. Mourning is important.

But I have the day off to wallow, and several questions have been buzzing around my head for the past 12 hours. I’m not much of a blogger, but I thought I would process these questions here, now.

What? How? Huh?

We were so sure! Some big deal media outlets said Trump had a 2% chance of winning! Sure, white people came out in droves yesterday for Trump, but he also made impressive gains among African-Americans and Hispanics! Clearly, nearly half the country thinks astoundingly differently than we do in America’s sapphire coastal metropolises and azure Midwest cultural capitals. We can wave away a lot of Trump’s support as based in racism and misogyny, sure, but I think it would be logically impertinent and artistically irresponsible to blame the whole phenomenon on this.

Why is the divide so surprising?

Trump’s breathtaking victory makes me think the Progressive Left saw the election completely differently than the rest of the country. The former includes many members of the media (as well as us theatre artists!), and it seemed we were astonishingly unable to really reach half of the electorate.

This could probably be called the first real social media election, especially with the rise of alt-right and itchy Twitter fingers of Trump himself. And this, evidently, is a catastrophic problem.

The algorithms powering Twitter and Facebook place us all in walled gardens of information, whether we like it or not. Many of us get a lot, if not all, of our news from our friends – think about how that could be a problem.

By creating these tailored-made echo chambers, social media presents a fundamentally different experience from cracking open the newspaper and pouring over its breadth of information. We can hem and haw about the importance of citizen journalists and the danger of information gate-keepers, but it doesn’t remove the fact that social media keeps us isolated in many, many ways.

To me, the echo chamber of social media has failed us in a few ways over the past year – it prevented those of us on the Left from understanding how much support Trump was truly gathering and it also prevented us from communicating with this surprising tide of Trump supporters who popped up yesterday seemingly out of nowhere.

I truly believe Progressive principles would resonate deeply with many Trump voters if communicated well. I have to believe this, as an artist, so I’m not here to argue this concept (although I’m sure there will be at least 110 to 200 articles about this very subject in that November 9, 2016 think-piece collection, if any willing entrepreneurs want to take that on).

What can playwrights and other theatre artists do about this?

Hey, what’s that 6,000 year artistic medium that requires everyone to get together in one area and be introduced to diverse stories and ideas? The one that is supposedly always on the verge of death? The one that by its very funding and granting nature is often far more diverse than blockbuster Hollywood cinema and dives deep into storylines the Big 3 networks would never touch?

The thing with Hamilton?

As you probably guess after just one of four rhetorical questions, I’m talking about The Theatre!!

I think theatre artists have a tremendous opportunity to break through the echo chambers that played a large part in the brazen and frightening election of Donald Trump.

Ok, bub, how could this chronically underfunded and under-attended art form possibly have an impact on the rise of Apprentice star, steak salesman and worryingly neofascist Donald Trump?

I’ll lay out my cards – I think the arts can defeat Trumpism. I think the arts can defeat ISIS. I think the arts can stem the receding tide of democracy seen around the world, from the Philippines to Kenya to Egypt to Singapore to Russia.

Maybe this makes me an idiot, but I already have a B.A. in theatre and I only have like four years of student loans left.

Here are some specific ways “Theatre in a Time of Trump” (now that’s a season announcement) could smash the echo chamber and, hopefully, actually impart a well-presented Progressive message that sticks, I think. And maybe we can actually play a part in ensuring Trump only (*yikes!*) leads the country for four years.

Diversify your characters

Like Van Jones powerfully said on CNN last night, Trump’s election seems like a “white-lash” —  a mandate from white voters who have are uncomfortable with idea of an African-American or woman in charge (as well as from dyed-in-the-wool KKK-style racists). Theatre has a great opportunity to combat this notion by normalizing a wide variety of races and genders in a myriad of roles. This has been trumpeted by many artists more elegantly spoken than I, but it bears repeating now.

-Diversify your storylines

Again, this concept has been pushed many times before in the past decade. But I think now we could use some stories that honestly explore what would attract someone to Trump’s worldview (or, at least, whatever is coherent about it) and how that interplays with the wider world. As always, we need more stories that detail the current issues faced by minorities and women in engaging ways.

-Stop preaching to the Progressive choir

Theatre sorely needs a diversity of viewpoints if it’s going to succeed in breaking the echo chambers. I’m not suggesting that we embrace Trumpism, but I think we can all agree there can be a lot more thematic diversity in the American theatre. I want ideas that articulately challenge the typical liberal point of view just as much as I want theatre that attacks the now extremely conservative status quo (well, maybe not just as much). Audiences crave more than just a living UpWorthy post.

These artistic goals are nothing new, but I think Trump’s election puts them in a new light, at least for me. I think theatre could provide a weighty counterpoint to Trumpism, and could push past the social media echo chambers we’ve undoubtedly become mired in.

October Update: Happy Halloween!

Flesh
Remember, hand-washing is very important — a promo shot from my play FLESH, a piece in the 2012 Santa Cruz Fringe Festival

Happy Halloween from everyone here at BarryEitel.com! This October has been pretty busy so far, with lots of pumpkin picking and writing and oh yea fall TV is back, BABY!

Right at the start of this autumnal era, I found out I was selected for the SF Olympians Festival — the long-running festival of staged readings of myth-inspired plays. This year, the plays, there’s like 40 of them, are moving beyond Mt. Olympus and focus on the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Latium (which I figured out is like pre-Roman Empire Italy).

I was selected to write one of the four full-length plays of the festival for the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. The piece will be an allegory of the Syrian Civil War, allowing me to finally get a chance to defeat ISIS via the very relevant medium of theatre.

Mark your calendars now: ISHTAR IN SYRIA opens at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 13, 2017 at the Exit Theater here in San Francisco.

Also, keep your eyes glued here for info on the upcoming production of THE COOL, a play featuring live jazz and a vibrant, engrossing cross-section of 1950s Americana. This piece, which features actor Phil Watt playing the timeless jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, is set to open in February.

And in more pressing big news — dark is a different beast by Andrea Hart is going up on November 4 here in San Francisco. It’s the second play produced by 6NewPlays, the new play collective that I co-founded alongside five other Bay Area playwrights. Our inaugural piece, Chris Chen’s Home Invasion, went up in March and sold out every performance, so buy your tickets now.

Alright, see you nerds at Thanksgiving.

September Update: The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident melts away

ice-cream-crew
The crew of Cosmos 1 bids adieu

Wow! What a summer. FaultLine Theatre produced my play The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident, which ran from August 5 to August 27 in San Francisco.

Reactions from audiences and the press were fantastic. Some of my favorite thoughts include this one and this (long) one and this one! We even got a blurb in the SF Chronicle!

For a limited time, you can even watch a full recording of the play on YouTube. There’s even an intermission so you can pour yourself some box wine and/or go to the rest room and get the real experience!

Right now, I’m hunkering down as City Editor of the Piedmont Post and working on The Next Thing….stay tuned.

And keep screaming….for ice cream.

June Update: New City, New Position, Same Old Snark

IMG_1903
My first day involved profiling the florist behind this masterpiece.

There has been a lot of switcharoos the past few months. In March, I accepted a new position at the Piedmont Post, a print-only newspaper – yes, they still exist – covering the city of Piedmont, California. I started as a features editor but I’ll be the City Editor starting this week. I’m very excited about the job; Piedmont only has some 11,000 residents, but that population has a crazy percentage of influential people, including Oscar winners, members of the pop-punk band Green Day, tech industry luminaries and other thought leaders.

A few months after accepting the job in the East Bay, I moved west to the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco. It’s a great neighborhood, great apartment and I’m extremely happy to be closer to so much of the theatre world.

Speaking of which, The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident, which will be produced at FaultLine Theatre at PianoFight in August, is getting sweeter everyday. We had our first read with the cast last month and it was a cosmic treat. James Nelson, the director, and I are very excited to start rehearsals in the coming weeks.

Also, 6NewPlays closed its inaugural production, Home Invasion by Christopher Chen, in March after a sold-out run. Four years in the making, the collective is finally on it’s feet and charging ahead. It’s been a fantastic journey with the other five playwrights, and I’m extremely honored to be working with such high-wattage talents.

Did some updating around the site, going to Las Vegas on Wednesday, so check back in next month to see if I’ve gambled away the deed to BarryEitel.com

February Update: It’s A Leap Day!

ice cream chalkboard

ok so I didn’t really do anything to celebrate Leap Day, but the extra time was appreciated, universe. Some cool things cooked up over February — we had our first table read for The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident, which was really, really funny, if I can toot my own horn. Also, very revealing. This is my first full-length play to be part of a professional theatre company’s season, so it’s going to be a fun ride. I’ve been told that you learn something through the development process of a full-length that can’t be taught any other way.

Also, I found out that my short play “Banter” will receive a reading at the Playwrights Cabaret, part of the Theatre Bay Area Annual Conference in April.

Look, I know this hasn’t been that exciting. But I’m keeping up with my promise to keep you updated. There is some cool stuff on the horizon–some of which involves a revival of The Cool, a jazz play featuring the music of Chet Baker.

To keep you satisfied, here’s a little music from Metric. In 2012, I drove across the country in a Honda Civic (the first car I ever purchased) and I had 3 CDs, one of which was Metric’s Synthetica. Though I totaled that car 6 months later (don’t ask), earlier this month I got to see these guys in my adopted city, and it was epic. Enjoy.

 

January Update: The Smiths, Ice Cream and Award Season!

The Morrissey Plays Chronicle
This Charming Man at SF Theatre Pub’s The Morrissey Plays, San Francisco. 2016. Photo credit: Gabrielle Lurie, San Francisco Chronicle

2016 is getting off to a rollicking start — I’ve even kept my commitment to posting monthly updates so far!! But dumb self-deprecating jokes aside, there are some really cool announcements! So grab your “fam” and get “lit” on this update.

AWARD SEASON: This time of year is always a nail-biter for us show biz-types with the Oscars and Kids Choice Awards just around the corner, but I’ve already had one victory, the Titan Award for Playwriting from Theatre Bay Area. Last fall, I was accepted into TBA’s ATLAS career development training for playwrights, which in turn made me eligible for the Titan. I would like to thank TBA, my awesome new mentor Peter Sinn Nachtrieb and everyone who helped me on way my way to this award. You know who are.

THE ICE CREAM SANDWICH INCIDENT: On the same day I found out I won the Titan, I also found out that the great FaultLine Theatre would produce my play THE ICE CREAM SANDWICH INCIDENT, about a group of wannabe astronauts testing out group dynamics in a fake space station. It goes up for four weeks in August at San Francisco’s PianoFight theatre complex, and you better believe I’ll let you know when you can get tickets (get subscriptions to FaultLine’s season here).

This show will be the first full production (full budget, four week, full-length play) of my career, so I’m extremely excited to see it come to fruition and break on through to the other side.

I WOULD GO OUT TONIGHT BUT I HAVEN’T GOT A STITCH TO WEAR: My short play THIS CHARMING MAN, based off The Smiths’ tune of the same name, was featured in SF Theatre Pub‘s Morrissey Plays this January, where all of the plays were based off the lyrics of Britain’s saddest vegan. And it was covered in the Chronicle!

IN MEMORIAM: One last thing — a few days ago Nan Withers-Wilson, a dialog coach around Chicago and one of my former theatre professors at Loyola, passed away. She helped me and many others find our voices.

The New-ish BarryEitel.com

Lay Off at ShotzSF, San Francisco. 2015.
Lay Off at ShotzSF, San Francisco. 2015.

Hey! How was your Thanksgiving? What do you want for Christmas?

Cool. Cool.

Anyway, this website has seen a huge update, including several sexy new sections about Interactive Storytelling and the “The Next Frontier” (i.e. some cool stuff with technology and narrative).

Also, here are some links to plays you can read!

A DECOHERENCE, which got a reading at the Theatre Bay Area conference in April

LAY OFF, which was produced last month by ShotzSF (pic above)

Fun stuff. Happy New Year. Talk to y’all then.

2016 should be a fun ride.

The Better-Late-Than-Never 2014 Roundup

Bon Voyage!
Bon Voyage!

Remember (verb): when there’s this thing that’s not real because it like already happened but you make it real again but only in your mind as a picture.

Here I am in the middle of my first full week back of cracking away at it in 2015. I’m extremely late in whipping up a “wow 2014 what a trip” post (which it seems you need to put out in mid-December to get any traction), but it needed to happen. So this is it.

Last year there were several milestones, professionally and personally, and it took me to places I’d never been before.

The two tentpoles of the year were The Speakeasy and The Explorers: A Shipwrecked Play. Both were interactive and required rethinking what the theatrical experience could be.

Where the fun doesn't stop till the police shut it down.
Where the fun doesn’t stop till the police shut it down.

The Speakeasy, of course, was a massive accomplishment built on sheer force of will. Watching it all run like a train schedule (albeit a drunken one) night after night was humbling. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity (which I started working on back in March, 2012) and the dedication of so many that constructed and maintained such a seemingly impossible balancing act. There was nothing like watching the seeds of my imagination and hard work sprout into that thick forest of character and idea. It was an unparalleled feeling.

Hard at work workshopping "The Explorers."
Hard at work workshopping “The Explorers.”

After Speakeasy, I was selected to dive headfirst into a whole different thicket–creating a site-specific, interactive piece…aimed at young audiences 2-10 years old. As Artist-in-Residence at the Bay Area Discovery Museum right on the edge of the San Francisco Bay, I discovered new abilities in myself, and The Explorers: A Shipwrecked Play was a terrifically fun blend of collaboration and ingenuity.

57 Degrees (or the average temperature of San Francisco)
57 Degrees (or the average temperature of San Francisco)

This past year was also the year I came into my own as a reporter.

I also had my first piece published in a magazine, a profile of researcher Dr. Kelly Reddy-Best. The magazine is here, but here is a handy copy of the article alone.

I also became the Silicon Valley Correspondent for the English language version of Anadolu Agency, the Turkish press agency. It was a pretty lucky break, but its a fantastic outlet to work for, and so 2014 is really the year I became a bona-fide journalist.

There were several other triumphs, but I don’t wanna waste too much of 2015 reminiscing.

What’s in store? Well, revivals of both The Speakeasy and The Explorers are in the pipeline, as well as some other real cool shiz–so don’t touch that remote!

Happy New Year!

-Barry Eitel

Shipwrecked No More

The scruvy crew
The scurvy crew

Thanksgiving always comes at a naturally reflective time. With almost 11 months torn off the calendar, the “what are you thankful for” prompt serves as a spyglass to consider the entire preceding year.

This year, the holiday coincided with the end of my residency at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where I created an interactive theatrical experience aimed at young audiences.

The “crew” in The Explorers: A Shipwrecked Play crafted binoculars, built a boat and went on an adventure rife with venomous octopi, mysterious island wanderers and enormous redwoods.

It was a terrifically fun time, and–spoiler alert–I’ll probably be bringing the show back in the early months of 2015 again.

The Speakeasy, a two-year process, was the biggest accomplishment of my life (maybe tied with graduating college). After that closed in June, I decided to go straight into another complex challenge by creating an immersive piece with children.

I’ve never worked with children before, so I’m incredibly grateful for all those who helped me.

This Thanksgiving, which I spent with my girlfriend and friends at an Egyptian-themed retreat center complete with talking parrots and live ocelots, I had much to be thankful for.

As always–keep coming back for updates…there will be some soon.

Examples include the obligatory bullet-point examination of the year and stuff to boast about for next year that new Januaries always seem to bring around.

Happy Holidays/think of the children,
Barry Eitel

“The Explorers: A Shipwrecked Play” Opens Sunday

Still looking for a crew to join?
Still looking for a crew to join?

Ahoy-

My project as Artist-in-Residence at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, CA opens bright and early Sunday morning, with plenty of boat-building and telescope-peering guaranteed.

If the waking up for an 8 AM show thing isn’t for you, there are two shows the weekend following Thanksgiving (or look at the invite above for a more rustic take on the same information I just wrote).

And yes, I’ll be at each show, captaining half the audience through treacherous seas.

Avast,

Barry Eitel