By Frank Moher
Two drama nerds have recently moved into high profile positions. Before I name them (or perhaps you’ve already guessed who they are; or perhaps you’d like to scroll down and look at the pictures on this page), let me hasten to add that I have been proudly a drama nerd nearly all my life, from the time I played Santa Claus in a grade three Christmas skit, with a beard made of shaving foam, through to the acting class I took the other night. Which is to say, I use the term approvingly.
I’m not sure how seriously to take the new PM’s drama credentials. As far as I know, they don’t extend much beyond having once taught the subject, along with a lot of other ones, when he was “Mr. Trudeau” at West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver. On the other hand, that stage fall down some basement stairs that John Oliver showed him executing recently . . .
. . . was really good. So maybe he’s got other stage cred happening that I don’t know about.
In any event, both the election campaign and his swearing-in as PM on Wednesday demonstrated a lot of theatrical savvy. Some people say the election turned around for him when he announced the Liberals would run minor deficits in order to goose the economy. How prosaic. I say it turned around at the end of the first debate, when he looked into the camera and gave this slightly weird final statement:
Part of its weirdness stemmed from its plaintiveness. Trudeau tapped into the vein of feeling that first drew attention to him when he delivered the eulogy at his father’s funeral. It might have backfired; instead, it distinguished him from his bespoke, suddenly spinsterish-looking male competitors. (Elizabeth May, meanwhile, continued to make all three of them look a bit stodgy.)
Trudeau employed the same sort of soulful appeal throughout the campaign because, good theatrician that he is, he understands the power of emotional transparency (or at least the appearance of transparency; we’re talking about theatre here) to both connect with an audience and, not incidentally, manipulate it. He didn’t always do it well; he’s not the world’s greatest actor. But he was good enough.
Then came Wednesday’s swearing-in. From the star-turn entrance down Rideau Hall’s driveway, past a giddy crowd and maple trees in shades of Canadian Fall, to the presentation of a cabinet that was multifarious in its own way, the day was calculated to signal the most vehement changing-of-the-guard possible. It was an object lesson in the use of theatre for public messaging. The message? Your old Canada is back, and he’s brought a new Canada with him.
Like his stage fall, it was skillfully executed.
The other member of the drama club who has lately risen to power is Stephen Colbert, the now settled-in host of David Letterman’s old haunt, “The Late Show.” Colbert has a theatre degree from Northwestern University, and, while most of his performing post-grad was in the sort of fast-food theatre served up by Second City, his show has big, blowsy musical written all over it. High-kicks with his bandleader after he enters (can you imagine Letterman doing that?), a set that uses colour the way drag queens use highlighter (and with levels; when’s the last time you saw a talk show host do a bit from the stage left balcony?), duets with the guests . . .
. . . the show might as well be called Colbert!.
This mainstreaming of theatre is okay by me. It’s about time we drama nerds ascended to our proper positions of power, wearing our shaving foam beards if we want to. Canadians might want to be aware that they are in for four years of politics as stagecraft, and that it won’t always be used benignly, and those of you who hate theatrical excess might want to stick with the two Jimmys at 11:30. Meanwhile, remember when the geeks from the AV club took over the world about 20 years ago? This time it’s our turn.