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The guns come out in Moore's 'Waiting for Obama'

by John Moore | Jul 29, 2016

Waiting for Obama. Photo by John Moore
From 'Waiting for Obama.' Photo by John Moore

DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore, former longtime theatre critic at The Denver Post, has written a play called Waiting for Obama that is an official selection for the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival. After two weeks of “open rehearsal run-throughs” at Buntport Theatre in Denver through Aug. 7 (and one-night only at the Bas Bleu Theatre in Fort Collins on Aug. 1), Waiting for Obama will be presented five times at the Fringe Festival between Aug. 12-15 at New York’s 14th Street Y Theatre.

The following is a Q&A with the playwright conducted by New York theatre journalist David Kennerley:

David Kennerley: The Fringe has a tradition of tackling prickly, topical subjects well ahead of mainstream theater. In the past, plays have addressed terrorism, marriage equality, transgender issues, and this year it’s blacks and whites and cops and guns. What is it about the Fringe that makes this possible?

John Moore: I often wrote about this very subject while I was the theatre critic at The Denver Post. In the mainstream theatre, it typically takes even a sure-fire new play at least two years to get read, liked, scheduled, developed and finally staged. As a result, live theatre can often seem, well ... two years behind the times. The Fringe encourages a different kind of creative process where artists can explore what is happening in the moment, go with it, and have it seen much more quickly. With the Fringe, there are only six months between submission and staging. And in that short time, repulsively, the issue of gun violence in America has grown only more numbingly timely and topical. I keep hoping I’m done keeping my script up-to-date, but the daily headlines keep sending me back to the keyboard. 

Waitig for Obama David Kennerley: Can you briefly summarize Waiting for Obama?

John Moore: Waiting for Obama is the story of one Colorado family that is convinced the President is coming for their guns. And in the world of this play, they just might be right. But while the story is propelled by one of the most divisive issues of our time, it focuses on a recognizable family that, like so many others, is deeply divided by polarizing political beliefs.

David Kennerley: What inspired you to write the piece?

John Moore: Brian Freeland, the leading maker of avant-garde theatre in Denver for the past 20 years, initially challenged me to write a piece exploring the gun culture in America. I come from a large Catholic family of eight kids, and I wanted to better understand one of my five brothers' deeply held beliefs. He is a Christian conservative and steadfast proponent of the Second Amendment - a viewpoint not often taken seriously in the theatre. He's also my longest, closest friend. We just don't agree on much of anything anymore. As a journalist by trade, I was not interested in writing a one-sided screed. I wanted a fair fight. So I made him my protagonist. He’s the one who is “Waiting for Obama.” The title came to me pretty easily. It is inspired both by Waiting for Godot, naturally, as well as the NRA’s battlecry since the day he first took office that “Obama is coming for your guns.” I hear that over and over. And so I just thought, “Well then … what if he did?”

David Kennerley: What are the central themes of the piece?

Waiting for Obama quoteJohn Moore: The easy answer to that question is: “What are the themes of Thornton Wilder?” We have a simple framing device that acknowledges that everyone who enters the 14th Street Y Theatre to see this show, or perform in it, is part of a community of humans who recognize that gun violence is a seriously troubling issue in this country, and we have to start somewhere. And so for 90 minutes, we are all of us just people getting together in a room trying to come to a better understanding about it all.  Because that’s just not happening anywhere else right now. Not on the radio. Not in bars. Not in our living rooms. 

We have never been more evenly ideologically divided over such an extended period of time as we have over these past 30 years. Just look at the closeness of every presidential election since 1988. Neither party has earned a mandate, and so no losing party has fallen far enough to even consider capitulation or compromise. And we are seeing the consequences of obstinance play out in millions of fractured families every day. We aren’t talking to each other about the important issues that divide us anymore. We’re either shouting at each other - or, worse, not talking to each other at all. Not about abortion. Not about the death penalty. Not about guns. We are turning away from our blood families and cocooning ourselves instead around our “chosen families” – those who adhere to our same moral, social and political beliefs. That's consequential. And that makes for some seriously tense holiday dinners.
 

David Kennerley: The tragic loss of lives at the hands of gunmen has been covered extensively in the media. What does your piece add to the conversation?

John Moore: None of these ongoing gun sprees appears to be changing minds on the gun issue. Not a one. Instead, it is making both sides dig in. And if Sandy Hook didn’t change people’s minds on little issues like background checks, then why even bother to talk about the big stuff, like limiting semi-automatic gun sales? You have your beliefs, and I have mine. You have your facts, and I have mine. I believe if we can’t talk about these polarizing issues in our own living rooms for fear of a fight breaking out, then we have to be able to talk about them in a theatre. That’s why theatre exists. There’s this very meta moment in the play when the sweet grandma says: “It’s easier to make an audience think about a political issue when you let them develop a human connection with the characters.” I am a lifelong journalist, and I love stats. But one thing is for sure: No one gives a damn about statistics in a theatre.

David Kennerley: What message do you hope others will take away after seeing the piece?

John Moore: My hopes are very modest – otherwise I would be a hypocrite. None of us expects to change a single mind about gun ownership through the course of our little play. Instead, I’ll settle for starting a dialogue. If audiences go for a pint afterward and just talk about the play for 10 minutes – even if only to say they hated it, and that it was a waste of time, I’ll be totally OK with that.

David Kennerley is a New York-based journalist specializing in theater for more than a decade. His work has been seen in outlets such as Metro New York, BravoTV.com, AfterElton.com, Genre Magazine and Gay City News.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Waiting for Obama Cast

From left: Brett Aune, Amelia Corrada, Laurence Curry, Chris Kendall, Jessical Robblee, Leslie O'Carroll and Luke Sorge.

Waiting for Obama: "Open Rehearsal" runthroughs

Presented by Wild Blindness Productions in partnership with the Bas Bleu Theatre

  • July 29-30 (Friday through Saturday), 7:30 p.m. start, Buntport Theatre, 717 Lipan St., Denver
  • July 31 (Sunday), 2 p.m. start, Buntport Theatre, 717 Lipan St., Denver
  • Aug. 1 (Monday), 7:30 p.m. start, Bas Bleu Theatre, 401 Pine St., Fort Collins
  • Aug. 4-6 (Thursday through Saturday), 7:30 p.m. start, Buntport Theatre, 717 Lipan St., Denver
  • Aug. 7 (Sunday), 2 p.m. start, Buntport Theatre, 717 Lipan St., Denver

Free. No reservation necessary ... but seating is limited.

What are "Open Rehearsals"?

Waiting for Obama is being developed in Denver for its opening at the New York Fringe on Aug. 12. In the meantime, the work is ongoing. But Denver audiences are welcome to drop in for free, scheduled runthroughs of the play. You should not expect polished, completed performances. Depending on which night you attend, actors may call for lines. Lights, sound and other technical elements may not yet be added. If necessary, the director may call for a stop to fix a problematic moment. Think of this as being let in on a window to the creative process.

Waiting for Obama: New York Fringe Festival performances 

  • Friday, Aug. 12, 5 p.m.
  • Saturday, Aug. 13, 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, Aug. 13, 9:15 p.m.
  • Sunday, Aug. 14, 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, Aug. 15, 6:45 p.m.

All New York performances at the 14th Street Y Theatre.  TICKETS

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ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has created a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Email him at jmoore@dcpa.org. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.