At the entrance of the intimate Fountain Theatre for Robert Schenkkan’s play “Building the Wall,” an usher hands out programs. At first glance, it’s stuffed like any other theater program: marketing, solicitations and last minute announcements.. However, tucked in the pages is an eye catching postcard.
It’s terribly simple. A white 4″x6″ card that’s completely blank on one side. On the other, it’s addressed “President Donald J. Trump, The White House, 1600 . . . ” While it’s a bit shocking to see it there in black and white, it’s the stamp that stands out. There’s nothing special about it – just your standard issue first class postage stamp. This isn’t an empty offer. One can scribble anything, and send it through the US mail to the commander in chief.
The postcard prompts questions about politics, theater, and what to write. It’s a reflective experience. And a political one.
And that’s the genius of this little program stuffer, it gets the audience thinking. More than a hollow gimmick, this empty postcard frames “Building the Wall” and begins the audience’s journey.
For context, this isn’t just a random play. It’s a protest play, a wake up call, a terrified warning of potential. Robert Schenkkan has written a play that imagines what might happen if Trump’s rhetoric and promise to “Build a Wall!” were carried through to a horrifying conclusion.
The play is set in an interrogation room of a supermax prison. On stage is a black, female historian trying to understand exactly what happened and why; and a white convict who was responsible for carrying the president’s vision out.
Without revealing too much about the play, the dramatic engine is uncovering just exactly what atrocity happened.
Once the play’s over, an announcement draws the audience’s attention back to the card. “Please take a moment to fill out and send the postcard in your program, it reminds the audience. There are pens in the lobby. Importantly, The Fountain Theater doesn’t tell anyone what to write, but it’s a call to action, a plea to engage and to do something with what played out on stage.
Theater is still trying to figure out how to respond to the particular politics of our particular day (should it be a protest or a respite from the chaos?), but the Fountain’s postcard feels like a hint, a good first step: get the audience to engage!