Faculty Focus: Volansky’s Campaign Tale

September 30, 2016
From the flair of a packed arena, to the low-key intimacy of a historic town hall, Michele Volansky spent her sabbatical on the campaign trail, researching the theater of politics.

The chair and associate professor of the Department of Theatre and Dance attended political campaign rallies and events for six presidential candidates: John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton. She spent most of her time attending staged events, from town halls and public conversations to rallies, large-scale arena events and both national conventions, studying how the candidates interacted with their audiences.

Volansky evaluated everything from the staging of candidates’ events to the music selected to rouse the crowds, as well as each candidate’s performance. The dramaturgical differences among the candidates were significant. “There is something to be said about Donald Trump’s insistence on going to 10,000-seat arenas as opposed to a 500-seat town hall meeting,” says Volansky. “There is something really powerful about looking at one guy on a stage commanding 10,000 people. The power dynamic is very, very clear, versus Marco Rubio sitting on a stool. It’s a very different setup. Which is more theatrical, which is more robust, which is a more engaging or tantalizing picture? It depends on who the audience member is.”

One of Volansky’s biggest conclusions from her research was the importance of interacting with the candidates if possible, as opposed to using media resources to get to know them. “I’ve long said to my students that the thing about live theater is that we’re sitting in a room together and we’re all breathing the same air, and we share in each other’s humanity,” she says. “That was what I was in pursuit of - who are we as a people, where are we going, and what are the things that we respond to live and in person.”

Volansky wrote an article titled “All the World’s a Campaign” for American Theatre magazine, examining the finer points of her findings, looking deeply into the value of face-to-face interactions, and delving into the changing role of social media for presidential candidates. Read that story here.

Last modified on Jul. 17th, 2017 at 10:56am by Meghan Livie.