Members Don Capes for Benefit

Posted April 6, 2005 at 6:12pm

Seven Senators and seven House Members will get a chance to save Washington, D.C., on Monday night, and these Congressional superheros even get capes.

An evening of political parody for a worthy cause is in store for Members of Congress and other Beltway dignitaries Monday, as Arena Stage will hold its 13th annual benefit for community engagement.

The show, “It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Congress!” will be held at 8:30 p.m. at Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater.

“It just hit me with this spate of superhero movies coming out that it would be a great theme,” playwright and director Nick Olcott said. “Let’s face it — every politician thinks he’s a superhero.”

“They strive every year to get a bipartisan cast,” said Arena Stage spokeswoman Sarah Scott, noting that 13 members of the cast had previously participated in the benefit.

This year’s Congressional participants include Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). House Members participating include Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), John Spratt (D-S.C.), John Tanner (D-Tenn.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

The proceeds will go to Arena Stage’s community engagement program, which strives to bring the arts into the community. The educational programs include playwriting workshops for students, discounted student tickets, after-school drama workshops and other programs.

Organizers expect the proceeds to top last season’s gross — around $200,000.

Each year, Olcott uses current events and personal anecdotes to develop the benefit show. Past themes have included the Wild West and James Bond.

Olcott tries to find a fun topic that will give him a “broad canvas for doing parody” using “big, larger-than-life characters.”

In this year’s production, every Member gets to be a hero. Olcott studied their biographies, committee assignments and pet projects to determine each Member’s “superhero identity,” and they get to save D.C. from such catastrophes as villains filling the Metrorail system with ping pong balls and putting Jello in the streets.

“I looked for a fanciful plot with lots of latitude for parody, without offending anyone or stepping on political sensibilities,” Olcott said.

The busy Members will get their script on the day of the show and will have only one dress rehearsal before their debut. Olcott pens the show in “modular fashion” to allow scenes to be rehearsed out of sequence depending on the cast’s schedule. The lawmakers-turned-thespians will be “on book,” or have a script available during the performance.

Yet, Olcott says working with politicians is not much different from directing actors.

“I have discovered over the years that [Members of Congress] are remarkably amenable to being told ‘stand here, face that way,’ because that’s the kind of thing their staff tells them all the time,” he said. Though he adds he often has to remind the Members to project their voices, as they are used to microphones and cameras.

Arena Stage will also present the American Voice Award to Stevens and posthumously honor Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.) for their support of arts and culture.

They were chosen as the first honorees “to acknowledge their collective years of public service to America as well as their leadership in Congress as consensus builders and public policymakers,” according to Scott.

For more information, visit https://www.arenastage.org.