My second day at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ annual Page-to-Stage Festival may have been shorter than my first, but no less impressive. The idea that new playwrights all gather in one place to share original ideas for curious audiences still leaves me in awe. The Kennedy Center creates a safe environment in which artists can take risks, and based on what I have seen this year, the writers and performers rise to the challenge.
The Federal Theatre Project aims to bring accessible theater to the Washington DC area, while at the same time teaching their audiences about the American political system. I knew this information walking into their staged reading of The Inaugural Election for President of Mrs. Jacobson’s Sixth Grade Class, but I do not think any amount of research could have prepared me for what I was about to witness. The family-friendly piece uncovered the basics of the American government in a subtle but effective manner.
Written and directed by Kevin Finkelstein and featuring Vince Eisenson, Stefanie Garcia, Genevieve James, Joseph Michael Jones, KyoSin Kang, Chelsea Mayo, Carol Randolph, and David Dubov, the story follows a group of eight sixth graders who recently lost their pet hamster due to irresponsibility and poor care on the children’s part. In an effort to ensure proper care of the hamster, their teacher Mrs. Jacobson decides to hold an election for the president of the sixth grade class, who would also act as primary care taker of the hamster.
The plot masterfully connected to the goals of The Federal Theatre Project. The play taught audience members about the process of the Democratic political system. The class election not only taught us about the steps to electing a president, but the children also learned about the meaning behind putting the interest of the people first, the thoughts behind budgeting, and when a government can become corrupt. When it came time to choose the class president, cast members even passed out ballots to the audience, and had them vote on the student who they felt would be the best choice.
Throughout my schooling, I have encountered so many students who had surprisingly little knowledge about their own country’s political system. Through the craziness of presidential elections, we often forget the original goals on which our government was built. Finkelstein succeeded in what so many of my own teachers have failed to do. Through his family-friendly play, he created a method in which younger audiences can learn the basics of their Democratic political system. He creates an amusing and accessible story that even provides a chance for them to participate in the voting process, an action that most audience members will be expected to do at some point in their lives.
As an individual with an interest in education, I would be curious to see where this play could go as a teaching tool. I learned so much from an 80-minute staged reading, but I am sure the finished product could make even more of an impact.