As anyone who's paid attention to the news lately knows, there is no longer a question the United States' standing as a democracy is threatened.
Given the weight of this moment and the significance of the outcome Nov. 3, it's worth taking a step back to examine and appreciate democracy itself—from the abstract ideals to the resulting policies when in practice. That's just some of what Lindsey Mantoan hopes you'll glean from two upcoming performances of Democratically Speaking.
"It's all things that have been written or said before about democracy," says the assistant professor of theater at Linfield University in McMinnville, "and how great it is and how problematic it is and how people have used it for good and for bad."
Mantoan is familiar with the found-text production, which includes speeches and writings from figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Howard Zinn. She directed the premiere at Stanford University during the last election cycle, though that's not to say this version will replicate the original. Every presentation since sees voices added to reflect the changing political climate.
Of course, the major difference will be pulling off the production during a pandemic. Democratically Speaking will be the department's first fully online performance following an earlier show this year in which masked actors played to an empty house. The students will now deliver lines via Zoom before stage managers process that footage with a software program and incorporate slides as well as other video. Mantoan says the format fits the material.
"It lends itself to this medium," says Mantoan, "because while there are some things that feel like scenes, for the most part these speeches talk to each other in their juxtaposition."
And, in the true spirit of Democratically Speaking, she asks the audience to engage with the production rather than passively watch.
"We really encourage people to respond to the performance in the YouTube comments," Mantoan says, "in that democracy is a participatory system, right?"
As Mantoan led the final online rehearsals, WW caught up with her to discuss what has helped her find balance when not teaching during a highly unusual year.
1. Family walks
My wife and kids and I go for family walks or hikes a few times a week, and it keeps all of us from bouncing off the walls. We really enjoy Oxbow Regional Park, although I hesitate to say that, because the reason we enjoy it is because no one else is going there. And mostly just different neighborhood walks that we've now labeled the "Duck Pond Loop" or the "Tree and the Rocks Loop"—things that have different points of interest or opportunities for climbing.
After my kids were born, I kind of stopped reading because who has time for that with twins? But shelter-in-place helped me rediscover reading, and I think I've read 30 books since the stay-at-home order first came down. I've been jumping around a lot, but I think that reading Black science fiction right now feels very important. Afro-futurism feels very important. We need to be able to imagine better futures, and there are really smart, innovative people doing that through literature. Living in those worlds feels good and inspiring.
3. Reconnecting with friends
Zoom fatigue is real, and yet some of my favorite moments in the last seven months have been video calls with friends—especially friends I've not been great at keeping in touch with. I have standing weekly FaceTimes with some of my favorite people, and I've even written a few "pub" trivia games that we've played on Zoom. The theater trivia was really fun. There was a musicals round and a quotations round. I also did "Trivia Is So Gay," and it was all queer trivia for an eclectic group of people who didn't know each other but were all gay.
4. Backyard/driveway hangs
While virtual connections with friends bring me tons of joy, physically distanced driveway or backyard hangouts with local friends is also rejuvenating and necessary. Relaxing outdoors in the company of good people reminds me that we don't need complicated or large-scale events to find happiness.
5. Dance breaks
Let's just admit that this moment is too much. It's too much fascism and racism and pandemic and fire. I'm grateful to live with people who take turns remembering to turn on music and dance it out. Family favorites include Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," Lady Gaga's "Stupid Love," Jonas Brothers' "What a Man Gotta Do," and, of course, anything from Frozen or Frozen II.
6. Working out
I've never been so glad I have an elliptical and weights at home. I work out in my basement every day, and it's essential to my physical and mental health.
7. Dates at home
We miss restaurants so, so much, but my wife and I have had some really lovely dates at home. After the kids are asleep, we pour some wine, throw together some fancy cheese plates, and play board games or talk about our day or dream up trips we want to take.
SEE IT: Democratically Speaking streams on the Linfield Theatre YouTube channel Friday and Saturday, Oct. 9-10. 7:30 pm. Free.