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Confessions of a Former Republican

UPDATE – March 9, 2016: This post has been getting a lot attention in the last two days since “Confessions of a Republican” has come into new awareness. Please check out our new post on this matter. Our production of Daisy, a new play about the 1964 U.S. Presidential election and its parallels to what’s happening in 2016, will be produced at Seattle’s ACT Theatre this July. Now here’s the original post.

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“Thanks for agreeing to meet with me,” I said, as I met the actor who I’d only ever seen as he looked 50 years ago.

“I should thank you. It’s not often I get to talk about a gig from 50 years ago.”

So begins my conversation with Bill Bogert, a born-and-bred NYC actor who brilliantly captured the frustration of the majority of Republican voters at the time, in a commercial called “Confessions of a Republican”, made 50 years ago in 1964.  Mr. Bogert himself was a 28 year-old Republican just as fearful of the man his Party put forth to lead the nation as was his semi-fictional character. “No, I certainly did not vote for Barry Goldwater. I voted for Lyndon Johnson. Ask me how long it’s been since I voted for a Republican.” I did. It’s been a long time.

Bill Bogert, as the young Republican in 1964.

Bill Bogert, as the young Republican in 1964.

Bill Bogert today, still a Republican, but with no one worthy of his vote.

Bill Bogert today, still a Republican, but with no one worthy of his vote.

I’ve always loved this commercial “Confessions of a Republican”, which ran alongside the far more famous “Daisy Girl” commercial that helped elect President Lyndon Johnson over his Republican rival Barry Goldwater. If you watch the commercial you’ll see that it’s a marvelous combination of a powerful script fused with a killer performance. But just as the agency behind this commercial (Doyle Dane Bernbach) made sure that all of the staff who made this campaign were ardent Democrats, I’d always presumed that the actor in the “Confessions of a Republican” commercial was also a Democrat. Why would a Republican actor sign on to do a commercial at the expense of his own Party?

“No, I’m a Republican. I just couldn’t stand Barry Goldwater. I was terrified of him.” It sounds almost like dialogue from my play itself. “My father was disappointed that I did this commercial. He thought my performance was good, but he disagreed with the entire thesis.”

I learned that when Bill Bogert interviewed to get the gig, the first question that the ad agency asked the young actor was whether or not he was a Republican. It was a pre-requisite for the gig.

I also found out that the lighter used in the commercial, where the concerned young man lights a cigarette in a moment of consternation, was in fact his own. “I used my own lighter. It had the theatre masks on it. Tragedy and comedy. I lost it after that.”

He certainly hasn’t lost his sense of political perspective. “The way that Barry Goldwater changed the Republican Party then, it’s the way that the Tea Party has changed the Party now.”

He knows how good the commercial was. He knows that his strong performance part of what made it so good. He’s proud of the work. “It’s not selling toothpaste.” They didn’t rehearse it too much. He came to the studio that day off-book for his single-shot, five-minute monologue. They let him ad-lib a little. When I asked Bill when was the last time he’s watched his now famous commercial, he didn’t know when. The look in his eyes suggested that it’s been several decades. I asked him if he wanted to watch it then and there. His eyes lit up.

Here he is reacquainting himself with some turbulent times.

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RUN-ning between opposites

This post was written by HHG Theatre co-artistic director Mindy Parfitt, discussing a new project called RUN that she’s developing with Amber Funk Barton.

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Amber and I had our first week intensive, starting to uncover our new piece RUN. The focus of the week was really about sharing our practices with each other. Seeing how we will work together and what may be possible. RUN builds upon a collaboration which started during This Stays in the Room. Amber built a choreography that she and I danced in unison. It was added too and finessed each day. Part way through the week we began to play with text and ways of incorporating it into movement. Although this isn’t a new idea, it’s a source or intrigue and exploration that we both are interested in pursuing. We had asked Antoine Bedard (our sound designer) to supply us with a couple minutes of sound that we could use as inspiration. It was wonderful to have him in the room in this kind of way. And it was also great to have our frequent collaborator Heidi Taylor from PTC in the room, both to lend her critical eye and to take some great photos.

RUN-3

Photo by PTC Artistic Executive Director Heidi Taylor.

Our initial thematic jumping off point was gender fluidity. Looking at what lay between our society’s binary approach to gender. Before the intensive I was doing some research which forced me to encounter my own discomfort at discussing this issue. I felt that it wasn’t my story to tell and that I would get lost in all the intricacies and subtleties of people’s gender identification. What I became more interested in was the people surrounding those who are grappling with gender fluidity, specifically how they deal with challenges placed upon. The idea of accepting (or not) something that feels completely unacceptable. I’m interested in those places, not only as they relate to gender fluidity, but in many other facets of our life.

RUN-2

Photo by PTC Artistic Executive Director Heidi Taylor.

So we played with some text, which was predominantly direct address, that dealt with this idea. I’m interested in gathering found text, personal stories, plays, poems or academic writing that looks at this idea of confronting something that feels unsurmountable. If you have anything that you thnk may be of interest, please send my way to mindy@horseshoesandhandgrenades.ca

Amber and I can’t wait to get back in the room in February.

RUN-1

Photo by PTC Artistic Executive Director Heidi Taylor.

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Cracking open history…carefully

Don’t you just love when exploration leads to unexpected pleasures?

During the creation and development process for DAISY, one of HHG Theatre’s works-in-development, I’ve been very fortunate to have gained ridiculous access to historical archives, documents and recordings that center around the infamous ‘Daisy Girl’ ad that was the ground-breaking centerpiece of the 1964 U.S. Presidential election. I’ve sat in the board room of the world’s most prominent advertising firm DDB and met with ad executives who helped create the ad. I’ve been to the Library of Congress Tony Schwartz Collection (Tony Schwartz is a central character in the play, and one of the principal creators of the ‘Daisy Girl’ ad.) I’ve had long talks with friends and family members of Tony Schwartz. I’ve got audio tapes that should be in a museum. It goes on and on.

John Carey, a professor of Communications & Media at NYC’s Fordham University, and a long-time colleague of Tony Schwartz, has been extremely generous in providing me with many of these materials. One time I came home to find a parcel had been mailed to me from NYC which contained an authentic Nagra audio recorder (seen below).

Schwartz Original Tape Recorder

The crazy thing is that this tape recorder was the very same machine owned and operated  by Tony Schwartz, who is known as one of the most influential political media consultants of all time, as well as being a revolutionary media theorist, admired by Marshall McLuhan, and creator one of the largest collection of sound recordings and folk music in the world. It’s quite likely that this machine recorded the ‘Daisy Girl’ audio, for the most infamous political ad of all time. Here’s a photo of Tony Schwartz below using this very same machine as he recorded a political commercial for Senator Ted Kennedy inside the famous Manhattan studio that I visited in 2008.

Tony Schwartz with Ted Kennedy, one of the many hundreds of political figures who graced Tony's Manhattan studio.

Tony Schwartz with Ted Kennedy, one of the many hundreds of political figures who graced Tony’s Manhattan studio.

Tony Schwartz revolutionized the concept of mobile recording, with this custom-designed portable recorder.

Tony Schwartz revolutionized the concept of mobile recording, with this custom-designed portable recorder.

Last night at my home in Ottawa, HHG Theatre frequent associate and DAISY sound designer Noah Drew stopped over for a vist. Since I hadn’t yet been able to show off any of these incredible archive materials to anyone on the creative team, I eagerly showed Noah the various audio tapes, microphones and the famous Tony Schwartz Nagra recorder that I have in my possession.

As we inspected the machine and tried to figure out if we could ever get it to operate, we decided to take a look inside to see if there was a place for batteries. After very carefully opening it up, what we discovered inside was so much more dazzling and complex, and so much more vibrant and colorful, than we could have possibly imagine.

Sound designer Noah Drew, after carefully opening up the Nagra recorder.

Sound designer Noah Drew, after carefully opening up the Nagra recorder.

Inside the Nagra: beautifully complex and colorful.

Inside the Nagra: beautifully complex and colorful.

As the 1964 election campaign waged on in the dark shadow of the threat of nuclear war, itself the most inhumane manifestation of the unstoppable advance of technology that practically defines what it is to be human, a group of advertising men and women set their sights on using the new technological medium of television – and exploring the full scientific potential of its impact on human behavior – to help elect a man who would keep the country from slipping forever into the dark. We all know what happened when Lyndon Johnson won the election after campaigning on a platform of peace.

 

 

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Meeting with the “Prince of Darkness”

Just two days after a shocking attack on the nation’s capital, I’m sitting in a train station in a state of equal parts sleepiness mixed with the newly required “constant vigilance”, preparing to board a train amidst heightened security on my way to Toronto.

I’m headed down to the centre of the universe to meet with Warren Kinsella, political consultant, commentator, and the self-proclaimed “Prince of Darkness” of Canadian politics. As someone with an experienced and unique perspective on political advertising, who better to talk to about DAISY, my new play about the most infamous political ad of all time! We’ll be discussing the strategies and psychological manoeuvres behind “negative ads”. As an election campaign “war room” strategist, Warren Kinsella has slung the mud, and had it slung back in his own general direction. In the halls of Canadian political campaign history, Mr. Kinsella is a noted player.

Does Warren Kinsella have his own interest and fascination with the famous ‘Daisy’ ad? Well, consider what he named his consulting firm The Daisy Group after.

kinsella

Warren Kinsella

Big thanks to my funding support from Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, as well as to the City of Vancouver.

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History repeats itself in copycat fashion

For those of you in the know, HHG Theatre is developing a new play called DAISY, which is the story of the creation of the most infamous (and effective) political television commercial ever produced. The ‘Daisy’ ad was created by Tony Schwartz and staff from the historic firm of Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1964, as part of the campaign to elect President Lyndon Johnson.

Some might ask: why write a play about this today? What’s the relevance?

Well, as both Canada and the US are set to launch into our own election campaigns for our next round of leadership squabbles (2015 and 2016, respectively) the plague of negative advertising has never been more pervasive. To say that ethics and wisdom have been drained from our democratic processes is a gross understatement.

But enough of that.

How famous is the ‘Daisy’ ad, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary this past September 7th? Enough so that it was just played homage to in a copycat ad being used by Republican nominee Rob Astorino in his fight against Democrat Andrew Cuomo in the race to be Governor of New York.

Here's the original 'Daisy' girl from 1964.

Here’s the original ‘Daisy’ girl from 1964.

And here's the new 'Daisy', from the recent copycat.

And here’s the new ‘Daisy’, from the recent copycat.

Of course, it’s one thing to use the imagery of the ‘Daisy’ ad when the question was over the use of nuclear weapons. It’s another thing to use it in the more street-level squabble of political corruption.

But the ad itself, and the tactics it employed of appealing to voters emotional triggers over their rational considerations, is far from obsolete.

Stay tuned for more, including some big news about a commission of DAISY from a New York City off-Broadway company.

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Grant Writing = Looking in the Mirror

Here at HHG Theatre, we love writing grants. (WHAAAAATTTTT????!!!!!) It is not, as some might consider, akin to eating your spinach or brussel sprouts, i.e. a painful chore that you know is good for you. I’ll never forget what Vancouver dance / theatre artist said about the subject: “Grant writing is cultural activism.”

As we’ve mentioned here earlier, HHG Theatre has a big announcement to make, which will describe a significant transition for our little company. Times of transition, as well all know, are times for reflection. And here at HHG Theatre, the founders Alexa Devine, Mindy Parfitt and myself (Sean Devine) have spent considerable time recently reflecting on who we are as a company and what we’re committed to. It’s a humbling and inspiring process.

As I sit and write a grant this very moment (yes, this is procrastination), I notice that I always leave the section about “Tell us about your company and what you stand for” until the very end. After the budget. After the project description. After confirming the artists. After the third, fourth, fifth and twentieth attempt at encapsulating just what it is that we want your money for!

Because it’s in this process of fine-tuning the articulation of an idea that I am re-affirmed of what it is that our company stands for…..

HHG Theatre’s work is about promoting societal change. We’re drawn to the overtly political and the intensely personal. We explore stories of violence, idealism, compassion, love, corruption and redemption, both within the individual and within community. And we do this through a collaborative process that supports boldly imaginative concepts, process-supported risk-taking, arduously-developed texts, and a unique collaborative process that brings out the best of our artists. Our vision moving forward is to create and share these brief and startling theatrical moments, in order that we might contribute to the vital dialogue at the root of society: “What is becoming of our world? What is my role in it? What can I do about it?”

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