From Congress to city hall, Americans are engaging in heated national discussions, picking apart topics from climate change and the economy to gun control and healthcare. Particularly at town halls, where politicians aim to connect with their constituents, tempers have flared.
Comedy writer Jason Powell has found inspiration in the tension. His new musical, Only We Know Best - At the Town Hall Meeting, uses town hall mayhem as a backdrop for the comedic production. Unlike his previous work, Powell’s newest work aims for more depth beyond the laughs.
"What had really come to preoccupy my mind," notes Powell, "was that there seems to be this taken for granted notion that the only way you could possibly be on the other side of the aisle is if something is wrong with you."
He says that a lot of the content for the show came out of an online friendship he developed with a Facebook user named Jay with similar tastes in pop culture. "I'd already come to respect him [as] very articulate, very smart," he says.
Then another aspect of Jay came to light. "I don't know how long we'd been friends until I realized that he was a pretty staunch Republican," he says. "I realized how quickly I was almost ready to write him off as soon as I realized [that]. 'Oh, I must have been wrong, I guess he's not intelligent or cool.' And I thought, 'Wait, that's not how it should be!'"
"It felt like a perfect thing to happen to me, I'm really glad that it did," he assesses.
Interactions like this inspired Powell to start writing pieces for the show. It's set up with a cast of characters from both sides of the aisle, from coal miners to hippies pushing for marijuana legalization.
"I kind of compare it to A Chorus Line, which for people who aren't familiar is essentially just a line of people auditioning for a show, one of them steps forward and sings a song or gives a monologue," he details.
Powell says that the aim of the show is clear. "To me it comes down to just remembering that the people on the other side of the debate are still human beings. If people have the opposite opinion than me it's not because they want the worst for people. Whatever they think, they think it's the best thing too."
He hopes the format of musical comedy can get this point across. "Laughter is a way to get everybody in a more jovial mood and maybe thinking more warmly about people they disagree with."
Only We Know Best- A Town Hall Meeting is presented by Milwaukee Metro Voices and opens Friday night at Next Act Theater and runs through May 21.