Get Out the Vote with Fight Night at Chicago Shakes

Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed (“Good Moving”) has a distinct outside vantage point to dissect the fraught American electoral system. Their limited run of Fight Night at Chicago Shakespeare is required viewing for armchair sociologists as well as activists and canvassers hoping to influence the electorate.

As the title suggests, the action takes place on the squared canvas of a boxing ring. Five competitors and the host, looking like Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, lead the audience and their lanyard voting devices through a series of decisions, curated by two statisticians off to the side.

It’s a mixture of The Bachelor and Survivor, where candidates make their pleas and are judged by their meager platforms and whether or not they are telegenic, sometimes by the content of their characters and sometimes by the color of their skin (or somewhat resemblance to Barack Obama).

The 90-minute show starts with demographic questions for the audience, freely given in this age of reckless data sharing (Facebook algorithms would gobble this up). We find our group made of predominantly single women of moderate means, aged 25-44.  The first candidate vote is a choice among two white men, two white women, and one black man.

One notes that some aren’t entering their votes, saying “your apathy contributed to my victory.” An exquisitely painful reminder.

Folks are polled to see what pairs of adjectives they ascribe to their preferred leaders. They’re asked if they’re religious or spiritual or neither; which epithet is the most offensive, or not; whether they’re a little bit racist, sexist or violent. The aggregate answers are projected above the dwindling candidate pool, in what seems to be a mix of scripted and improvisational repartee.

The show is emotional. When a candidate asks audience members to eschew the process altogether and give up their voting devices, I wanted to scream “NO” – we must work within the system, even as we begin to wonder if any polls are accurate or somewhat fake news – as a few Gen Z-ers willfully gave up their proxy voices, then face the consequences.

How brilliant to have built-in focus group in the house, a dream for theater marketers. How savvy to create an entertaining, interactive, terrifying way to look at groupthink in 2018. See the show; then, for the cry-eye, vote for real.

Fight Night runs through November 4. Tickets are $36-56. #OGFightNight

Karin McKie
Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.