Michael Rohd is fascinated by Iowa. Or at least by the idea of it.
"Every four years, Iowa rises up and stakes a claim on the soul of American democracy," he said.
Due to Iowa's status as the first in the nation caucus, this farm state rises from relative obscurity to the center of the American consciousness every four years. The national spotlight shines brightly on its residents as politicians court their support and the media probes the thoughts and opinions of the people who help guide the nation in selecting a president.
Answer the director's question: What does it mean to be someone from Iowa? What does it mean when every four years you’re under such a close media spotlight? Tell us in the comments.
This is what brought the member of Portland, Oregon's Sojourn Theatre to Cedar Falls earlier this month. Sojourn is collaborating with New York City’s The TEAM (Theatre of the Emerging American Moment) to produce a theater production that looks at civic disclosure and the process of democracy in the United States.
The thespian groups are collaborating to create “Town Hall.” The production "will be centered in a mythic world that comes to life when the caucus comes around," said Rebecca Martinez, a company member at Sojourn Theatre.
"The show we’re doing is about seven characters who live in Kansas City, Missouri,” Rohd said. “They all are participants in a virtual world or dream landscape they all meet in. The other world they meet in is a place called Iowa. Iowa is a virtual world.”
To the rest of the country, Iowa suddenly appears on the national scene in a media spotlit frenzy, only to quickly fade again once the politicians move on, he explains.
“(Iowa) comes to the forefront every four years because of the caucus. We want to see what the world is like during that time, and additionally, what the world is like here for the rest of the year,” he said. “What does it mean to be someone from Iowa? What does it mean when every four years you’re under such a close media spotlight?”
During their residency in Iowa, Martinez and Rohd spoke with a variety of people around Cedar Falls, including community members from both the Democratic and Republican parties. All of the research and information they gathered, Rohd said, “will go through a lot of metamorphosis,” that will become the inspiration for the events in the play.
“The culture of civility thing came up an awful lot. People talked about the bonds that exist in communities throughout Iowa,” he said when asked what he'd learned during the research. “People were super generous with us in terms of time and energy. You know people seem really proud of and excited about the caucus as a very unique process.”
The actors will share some of their research as a work-in-progress performance on Jan. 5 at Interpreter's Theatre in Lang Hall on the campus. They want the night to be a conversation, with feedback given from the audience, Rohd said. The time for the event is not yet set.
The full production will take place in Kansas City in February 2013.