Mural at Matrix Theatre Company in Detroit by Jen Boyak. Courtesy photo
Think youâ€™ll need to release some pent-up rage in Detroit come Election Day? Thereâ€™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.Â
Welcome to The Electoral Chaotic, a â€œcarnivalesqueâ€ all-day event on Nov. 3 at Matrix Theatre Company in Southwest Detroit. Itâ€™s the culmination of a participatory civic theater project — and an opportunity to process your election emotions, with a little artistic support.
â€œItâ€™ll just be filled with different ways for people to come and process the day,â€ 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.
â€œtheRACE: Reestablishing Art as Civic Experienceâ€ 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 performanceâ€™s co-producer. Locally, â€œtheRACEâ€ tackles a similar issue as the founding script, with the question: â€What do Detroiters have, want and need from their city, state and national leaders?â€
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 â€œtheRACE.â€
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 directorsâ€™ 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.Â
The directorsâ€™ work spans disciplines, from writing to acting to movement. Jakobâ€™s piece is â€œa moving postcard to Detroit,â€ with poetry and house music. In â€œThe Johnsons,â€ Hakiâ€™s play, a grandfather â€œgrumblesâ€ about the â€œhavesâ€ and â€œnotsâ€ in Detroit, as his wife and granddaughter offer opposing views.Â
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 â€œa useful tool to inject some humanity into conversations,â€ she said.
â€œWhat theater can do, and that weâ€™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,â€ Stringer said, â€œto infuse the conversation with something new, thatâ€™s not what people have heard over and over.
â€œWatching 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…. Itâ€™s a little bit more of an invitation to perhaps think about things in a different way.â€
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.
â€œMaybe it will be a fantastic, wonderful day, and maybe it wonâ€™t be,â€ said Stringer. â€œBut 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.â€
You can see â€œtheRACEâ€ 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.