Art Trumps Politics

A couple of weeks before November’s election, Pulitzer-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan sent Ari Edelson a copy of his new work: “Building the Wall.”

Set in 2019, the 2-person dystopian tragedy imagines that President Trump has carried out his campaign promise to round up millions of immigrants. It’s harrowing.

But Edelson — a 1994 Staples High School graduate who’s earned fame as a director and producer here and abroad — could not imagine anyone staging the show. Hillary Clinton was headed to the White House, Trump to the dustbin of history.

“I was painfully wrong,” Edelson admits.

Attending a reading 3 weeks after the election, he realized “this was a very dramatic, nimble play of the moment. It gives voice to people’s real fears.”

Schenkkan’s agent sent it around. But, Edelson notes, “theater culture moves slowly.” Some houses were booked through 2018. Others worried they’d lose donors if they staged it.

However, Edelson says, “this election upended all the rules. It’s no longer business as usual.”

A few years ago — already a rising star — Ari Edelson was honored with a Westport Arts Center Horizon Award. (Photo/Emily Hamilton Laux)

He helped Schenkkan get the play in the hands of a few theaters that did realize its significance. It’s been booked for stages in Los Angeles, Denver, Washington, Santa Fe, Tucson and Miami. Three productions are already underway; 3 more open between June and September.

But New York is the holy grail of American theater. Now “Building the Wall” is set for off-Broadway, at New World Stages.

With Edelson as director.

It could be one of the quickest roll-outs in New York theater history. The cast and design team were assembled with blazing speed. Rehearsals started last Monday. Previews begin May 12. The premiere is May 21.

“We’re not the pioneers,” Edelson emphasizes. “The Fountain Theatre in LA and Curious Theatre in Denver have done extraordinary work. The script evolves with each production.”

He is excited about his role. “‘Building the Wall’ is a cautionary tale about free will. People can get swept up in what’s happening, and not always act in the best ways,” he says.

The New York Times agrees. Yesterday it called the show one of 5 “must-sees” this month.

Edelson is not the only member of his family motivated to act by the November election.

Like many Americans, Julia Levy — Edelson’s wife — watched with alarm during the presidential campaign, as rhetoric heated up.

Though her son Eliot is not yet 3, he could point at the TV and identify Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. From the tones of voices, he knew when people were not being nice to each other.

“All parents try to set examples for their kids,” Levy says. “We try to model being nice to each other.”

Ari Edelson, Julia Levy and their son Eliot.

As public discourse turned nasty, she searched for a way to help Eliot — and other children — digest what was going on. And, she hoped, to make something good come out of it.

Levy is an educational consultant — and a very creative person. She’d always wanted to write a children’s book. Now she had a chance.

Using bright colors and approachable animals, she wrote and illustrated “Donny the Bully.” With cut paper and catchy rhymes, it tells the story of a bullying bull, and a group of classmates who stand up for a friend.

She got feedback from a child psychologist and teacher. Edelson did the layout and design work, and shot a video.

Levy also created a website, stickers and t-shirts.

Funding came through an Indiegogo pitch. Last week, the books were shipped. “I hope they get through customs,” Levy said.

She was only half kidding.

(Hat tip: Danya Pincavage)

30 responses to “Art Trumps Politics

  1. Lisa Marie Alter

    FINALLY – a book about bullying for his grade-level of reading ability, with lots of easy words and colorful pictures… I’m ordering a copy sent to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Maybe Ivanka can read it to him.

    Lisa Marie Alter

  2. I hope this culture of “gotcha” against President Trump and his family is not going to go on for the next 8 years.

    • Nancy Hunter

      It is childish. As is Hillary’s blame game.

      • Lisa Alter

        You mean, “childish,” as in Trump’s insistence for more than 8 years about his false “birther” claims about Obama… sadly, “childish” and “Trump” are inextricably entwined.

    • Bruce Kent

      Not at all likely Rosemary……..”They” are a nasty, smarmy, slimy bunch of perpetually outraged and offended little weasels. One need only read some of the comments on this blog to confirm that.

  3. There are more important things to talk about than the “birther” issue – N. Korea, ISIS, health care. The sad truth is that there are people (and you know who you are) who are still so angry that Hillary lost that they can’t see straight. Eight more years of Trump bashing? I hope not.

    • Nancy Hunter

      North Korea? Focus on infrastructure, and that foreign idea of universal healthcare.

  4. Lisa Alter

    Oh – don’t forget stuff like Frederick Douglass & Andrew Jackson, and that “Snake poem”… yeah, that kind of stuff. Oh: “beautiful chocolate cake” — and crowd size — always crowd size – with colored-in “maps”…

    FYI: It’s not “that Hillary lost” – it’s that a mentally ill, immoral, incompetent, xenophobic, Tweeting-obsessed, misogynist, with ties to white supremacists and Russia) is sitting in the White House…

    But that is an entirely different story that what Dan was promoting here: a children’s book about “Don The Bully.”

    • Nancy Hunter

      But aren’t your words and adjectives considered bullying, also?

      • Lisa Alter

        You mean what Bruce said ? Perhaps.

        Mine: No. How is that bullying ? Trump’s words.

      • Jamie Walsh

        Thanks Nancy for calling it what it is. Lisa need to buy an extra copy of the book…for herself.

  5. Lisa Alter

    Oh – forgot to include Trump’s also anti-LGBTQ:

    (WH says he will sign the “Religious Freedom Act” on “National Prayer Day” Thursday — how very *Christian* of him (!)

    Oh and he’s also Anti-Senior and Low-Income:

    (his budget cuts LIHEAP program for heating/energy assistance to the needy)

    “The Official Designated Snowflake Bully of 06880”

  6. How does this “art” trump politics? The art is overtly political and partisan, and as such follows a longstanding tradition. Artists have participated in the political process for centuries as well they should. However, to claim that ,in this case, the art trumps politics is to miss the point.

    • Nancy Hunter

      It is called “political art”, or “protest art”. The title of this post is just that.

  7. Lisa – I think by now everyone understands that you don’t like our President but if you really believe he has ties to white supremacists I have a bridge to sell you. I wonder where you get your information. Do you really think that posting all your garbage is helping anything? You make yourself look foolish and are so mad you “can’t see straight,”

    • Nancy Hunter


    • Bruce Kent

      Leave them alone Rosemary….they make a better case for our point of view than we could ever accomplish. As WFB once so sagely observed: ‘I wont insult your intelligence by suggesting you actually believe what you just said.’ That nicely covers the angry nasty “Lisa’s” of this world. They make a far better case against themselves than we ever could – simply by opening their mouths. Or keyboards.

      • Lisa Alter

        Bruce Kent:
        Tomorrow is National Prayer Day- I will say a very special prayer just for you. 😇

    • Lisa Alter

      No Rosemary,

      I am not “mad” — none of “us” are. In fact, the ONLY one who is likely “mad” is #45; however, psychologists are coming out of the “woodwork” to warn about his possible disorders…
      If you is not aware of this, perhaps — oh, never mind !

      P.S. Do as you please, but suggest you Google “White Supremacists Trump.”

      PPS. I care not about your opinion of “how I look” – as you should not care about opinion of “how you look”… we are all just expressing opinions here on 06880. That is our American right (so far).

      Lisa Alter

      • Jamie Walsh

        Somebody needs to remind the students at Berkeley. Seems freedom of expression is under siege on most college campuses these days. Freedom of speech, expression and tolerance seem to be but a distant memory. Sad.

  8. Sharon Paulsen

    Hmmm, interesting approach for a children’s book.

    Seems like a timely idea, given that young children are way more likely to be exposed to some very adult “news and views” these days.

    Media is all pervasive, and people in general are also way more outspoken in public as well.

    The kids pick it all up like little sponges, and it can be confusing and way too advanced for young developing minds. (Even when they appear to “understand” it, when recognizing a familiar voice or repetitive statement heard on the TeeVee).

    The divisive “climate” affects everyone, and kids are not immune to those “vibes”.

    Good luck with the book/video.

    • Nancy Hunter

      Great points, Sharon, although I hope children still learn injustice and cruelty from fables and fairytales (which were not really written for children),
      lessons presented in such a crafty way that kids can accept before they fully understand. Bring on the brothers Grimm, bring on Aesop and La Fontaine!

      • Sharon Paulsen

        It is amazing to think about how downright awful (or just plain scary) some of the children’s books themes are about.

        Yup, I think those lessons are “understood”, once they/we all get older.