At this theatrical carnival, Detroiters can proces...

At this theatrical carnival, Detroiters can process election anxiety with art

Welcome to The Electoral Chaotic, where you can reflect on the role of community leaders -- or, rage-smash a cupcake.

mural at matrix theater, where electoral chaotic event will take place

Mural at Matrix Theatre Company in Detroit by Jen Boyak. Courtesy photo

Think you’ll need to release some pent-up rage in Detroit come Election Day? There’s a cupcake smashing station for that. Looking for a space to chill out? Cue up a track at the socially-distanced silent disco, with calming music and inspiring speeches. Rather work off your nervous energy with neighbors than watch the results? Pedal over to the Election Night bike ride. 

Welcome to The Electoral Chaotic, a “carnivalesque” all-day event on Nov. 3 at Matrix Theatre Company in Southwest Detroit. It’s the culmination of a participatory civic theater project — and an opportunity to process your election emotions, with a little artistic support. 

“It’ll just be filled with different ways for people to come and process the day,” explained Natalie Stringer, one of the event organizers and a theater professional. 

Matrix will also offer gazebo performances from local musicians, a food truck and coffee station and other ways to engage with art. But the main event is live screenings of a film-theater hybrid several months in the making.

“theRACE: Reestablishing Art as Civic Experience” project is part of a nationwide theater festival inspired by a Sojourn Theatre participatory performance first staged in 2008 that used civic inquiry to explore what America wants in a leader.

Stringer pitched the idea of joining the festival to Matrix and is the performance’s co-producer. Locally, “theRACE” tackles a similar issue as the founding script, with the question: ”What do Detroiters have, want and need from their city, state and national leaders?”

To answer it, Stringer and other organizers heard from dozens of Detroiters over the past few months, through a voicemail hotline, community talkbacks and surveys. Assata Haki, Chris Jakob, Andrew Morton and Justino Solis also took on the question with their own communities, each producing a piece inspired by the prompt as performance directors for “theRACE.”

Still from the recording of a staged performance at Matrix Theatre of “The Johnsons,” a play by Assata Haki that’s included in “theRACE” film. Credit: Kennikki Jones-Jones

As COVID-19 upended live entertainment, Matrix reconfigured the planned run of performances for our new-Zoom-normal, bringing on Kennikki Jones-Jones to produce a movie that incorporated all four directors’ pieces. The film will be screened virtually on Oct. 29-Nov. 1 and Nov. 6-8, with artist discussions after each show. The film will also be screened (and free) during the Electoral Chaotic event. 

The directors’ work spans disciplines, from writing to acting to movement. Jakob’s piece is “a moving postcard to Detroit,” with poetry and house music. In “The Johnsons,” Haki’s play, a grandfather “grumbles” about the “haves” and “nots” in Detroit, as his wife and granddaughter offer opposing views. 

A moment in “from Detroit with love,” the piece created and performed by Chris Kacob as part of “theRACE” film. Credit: Kennikki Jones-Jones
A moment in “from Detroit with love,” the piece created and performed by Chris Jakob as part of “theRACE” film. Credit: Kennikki Jones-Jones

Election Day and a theatrical extravaganza might not seem like an obvious pairing — but Stringer said art can allow viewers and participants to tackle tough topics in a way that feels constructive. Theater is “a useful tool to inject some humanity into conversations,” she said.

“What theater can do, and that we’re striving to do, is make personal and the human connections through the magic of character study and scripts and a little bit of aesthetic distance,” Stringer said, “to infuse the conversation with something new, that’s not what people have heard over and over.

“Watching other characters wrestle with themes of leadership or with civic responsibility provides a little bit of a buffer between yourself and the world outside, and you get a chance to let your mind settle for a second…. It’s a little bit more of an invitation to perhaps think about things in a different way.”

The Electoral Chaotic is a free, nonpartisan event. PPE will be available, masks are required, social distancing will be enforced and certain stations where people need to interact with equipment will require timed registration. 

“Maybe it will be a fantastic, wonderful day, and maybe it won’t be,” said Stringer. “But people will at least have an opportunity to be together in Southwest, celebrating and engaging with art in a way that is safe in this pandemic.”

You can see “theRACE” film with artist talkbacks at timed virtual screenings on Oct. 29-Nov. 1 and Nov. 6-8. Tickets are $5-$25 — more details here. Register to attend or volunteer at the free Electoral Chaotic Nov. 3 event here.

Organizers also launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the artists and Election Day event. They’re seeking to raise $3,500 before Nov. 3

Kate Abbey-Lambertz is the co-founder and editorial director for Detour Media. She leads editorial strategy for the signature Detour Detroit newsletter, The Blend and special projects, while shaping Detour’s membership program, audience development initiatives and design. Kate was previously a national reporter at HuffPost, where she covered equitable cities and urban issues. She launched HuffPost’s Detroit vertical, serving as reporter and editor, and has reported on Detroit for a decade. Follow her on Twitter: @kabbeyl