Informed by the books How to Win an Election by the famous Roman orator Marcus Cicero and The Life and Death of Democracy by John Keane, and inspired by the popularity contests of modern political races, director Alexander Devriendt and the innovative Belgian theatre collective Ontroerend Goed created Fight Night.
The playful and interactive show (Nov. 4 to 20, at the Panasonic Theatre) involves five candidates and five rounds of electioneering, with audience members casting the votes. The Globe and Mail spoke with Angelo Tijssens, the show’s moderator, about Fight Night and the politics of voting.
Fight Night made its Canadian premiere recently in Vancouver. How were the audiences there, compared with other cities around the world?
Sorry to disappoint you, but the Vancouver audience was not that different from the others. Audiences differ from day to day. In London, for example, we often did school shows, with an entire auditorium filled with 17-year-olds. You think, ‘Alright, they’re going to start a riot here.’ And then they’re just dull and boring. So, you never know.
The creator of Fight Night, Alexander Devriendt, said he wanted to take the politics out of a political show. Can you explain that?
It’s always been a political show. When it started, I think we read half a library on politics, democracy and voting. If you read the ancient Greeks, they’re already talking about tricks you can still see today. If you’re a loser, don’t call yourself a loser. Call yourself an underdog and say that everyone else is against you. And that will work.
Bernie Sanders, running for the Democratic nomination in the United States, went far with that.
Indeed. It’s a trick that’s as old as time, and we see it all the time. But what I think what Alexander means when he says we take the politics out of the political show is that we talk about the politics of voting, not about social justice or climate change or women’s rights or LGBT rights. We’ve already done other shows on those specific topics. So, what we’re talking about is the personal journey you make as an audience member. Why do you vote for someone? Is it the face? Is it the voice? It’s personal. You follow your intuition. It’s about that very deep personal connection you try to make with the person who will represent you.
In the current U.S. presidential election, it doesn’t seem to be about deep personal connections at all. Instead of “I like Ike,” it’s “Lock her up.” It’s an anti thing, isn’t it?
We’re all making comparisons to what’s happening in the United States now. But when we began creating the show, there was a well-known quiz show in Belgium called The Smartest Person in the World. They have actors and TV hosts but they also have politicians. A politician named Bart De Wever was in particular very nationalist, conservative and not so well known. He won night after night. And then he won the entire season. And then he ran in an actual election and won that. People voted for that guy because they thought he was smart and he’s funny and he has a way with words. But if you look at the policies, that’s something completely different.
Voting for someone’s appearance and likability instead of policies. Is Fight Night cynical?
It’s a dangerous thing when people drift off into a sort of cynicism towards the topic of elections and democracy. That kind of thinking pisses me off. That’s not what we’re trying to say. We’ve performed the show in Hong Kong, for example, where people are craving to be able to vote. It would be too easy for us, as rich, so-called ‘civilized’ Western countries to be cynical about democracy. It’s a serious thing, and it’s a privilege. It’s not ideal. Maybe some day someone will come up with a better system, but we haven’t got a better one for now.
Fight Night runs through Nov. 20 at the Panasonic Theatre. $39 to $92. 651 Yonge St., 416-872-1212 or mirvish.com.
This interview has been edited and condensed.Report Typo/Error