Plano — Children writing about adults being childish. Such is the state of politics today and the premise of Babes in Electionland, a sketch comedy show written by the young actors of Fun House Theatre and Film and performed this weekend by members of The Victims, a long-standing improv ensemble from the Alternative Comedy Theater.
Babes in Electionland is part of Fun House’s gutsy year of political-themed theater. “For the past several months,” says Bren Rapp, Fun House producer, “we’ve been showing the kids the different styles they can do to get across a point. Whether it’s a drama, comedy, satire, sketch—it can be an instrument of social change. It can hold the mirror up to society, and when kids hold the mirror up I think the image is sharper. It’s hard for adults not to look.”
All but the youngest Babes writer have performed with the Fun House improv troupe, Unicorn Clearance, so they're facile with dreaming up plots and characters. Most have been in a sketch-writing class or directed by playwright Matt Lyle, who orbits in the Fun House universe. And as part of the house stable of actors, all are well versed in Jeff Swearingen’s precepts of comedy.
A petite female power trio infuses the writing. Piper Cunningham, Natalie Nobel, and Zoe Smithey brought witty sparkle to the chorus in Woody Allen's God at Fun House. “Little did they know they would be writing their own show just a few months later,” says Rapp. Unicorn Clearance stalwarts Alex Duva and Christos Kaiafas kick in skits, even the very young Lijah Barrera. Rounding it out is Joseph Nativi, who Swearingen describes as” definitely a writer” and Rapp calls “uncannily good."
The young writers prepped by watching the debates (horrors!) and paying attention to political rhetoric. “One of the most interesting things is what catches their attention,” says Swearingen, director of Babes. “The kids find the idea of building a wall between Mexico and us hilarious. That should tell you something.”
“They thought the Bushes were funny,” says Rapp. “I don’t think they knew why, just that they were, especially Jeb. They automatically wanted to make fun of Trump.” Cruz’s disappearing “booger” on live television will doubtless make it into a skit. But Hillary and Bernie didn’t inspire as much wit, only a preoccupation with Bernie’s perceived potential to be a Casanova.
“Most of these sketches are based on the candidates in every day situations, not the debates,” says Rapp. “Take them out of that and put them in something the kids know.” A skit by Nobel, who’s interested in clothes, sees politics through a fashion lens. Another writer conflated the Hungry Hungry Hippos board game with elections, silly but so right on target. Donald Trump confusing On the Border with the actual border also factors in.
Joining Kyle Eric Bradford, John Rawley and Swearingen of The Victims are senior Fun House actors Taylor Donnelson, Tex Patrello, Doak Campbell Rapp, and Kennedy Waterman, along with Jake Allen and Jaxon Beeson.
“The kids are in the weird situation of having to be funnier than what’s actually happening,” says Rapp. The younger ones had paid scant attention to politics, seeing Cruz and Trump, Hillary and Bernie, as just another aspect of American celebrity culture. But presenting David Rabe’s black comedy on American ‘70s WASP culture and Vietnam, Sticks and Bones, earlier this year provoked a significant shift in some of the older Fun House actors.
“I don’t know if it’s been so much disillusioning as humanizing,” says Rapp. “It became a mission. They realize that they’re some of the rare people who get to stand on stage and have a voice.” Noting that in times of revolution it’s the artists and intellectuals targeted first, Swearingen adds, “it’s also a lesson that you don’t often get in kids’ programs a lot, the idea of why artists are important.”
» In the interest of disclosure, Bren Rapp is also the director of sales and marketing at TheaterJones
» The Fun House kids will also perform Theatre of Politics at the inaugural Fort Worth Fringe Festival, March 18-19 at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.