by Linda Lombardi, Artistic Associate and Literary Manager
Set during the tumultuous battle over the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the subsequent Presidential election, the conversations in Robert Schenkkan's Tony Award winner, All the Way, could easily be ripped from today's headlines. Which made me wonder...what effect did the politics of 1964 have on America? Throughout the rehearsal process the cast has immersed themselves in the research of the period. So I posed my question to them: how has working on All the Way affected the way you see politics? Some of their responses are shared below.
Desmond Bing (Bob Moses and others) I come from a political background. Both my parents are from West Africa so growing up I always had a worldly view. It wasn’t just American-centric, it was all of the world. This play has made me more interested in how the system works. I remember learning about it in school and watching “I’m Just a Bill” on School House Rock. It’s definitely made me more interested in how this city is run; particularly now that I’m a D.C. resident. I pay taxes, but I don’t have a Senator or someone to represent me here. Ok, how exactly does that work? It’s brought more of a consciousness, or awareness, to me as a citizen of the world and of D.C. It could not be more relevant to what is going on right now in our country. Robert Schenkkan is amazing for that. Doing this play has made me more active, just taking in the fact that literally people bled in the streets and gave up so much, including their lives, for this thing that we now look at like “ maybe I’ll vote, maybe I won’t.” That people are so apathetic just boggles my mind. Working on this play, I know more of the reasons why I need to vote as opposed to just voting out of habit.
Shannon Dorsey (Coretta Scott King and others) It connected more dots to the things that are happening now. The timing is impeccable. We’re in a political storm — a mess — right now. A lot of people are panicking. I’m curious to see what the parallels will be as we go further. There are a lot of people who are still very much in 1960-something. It’s scary, but there’s something about Trump and his followers that shows you an honest perspective that makes me say “ah, at least now I know what I’m working with.” In a disgusting way, I know for a fact that racism and sexism and bigotry and all this other ridiculousness is still a real thing that is thriving in our country. But it also introduced me to a way of living that I never really considered. The thing about this play is that maybe it can bring more people to help, or to take a stand. It could be really encouraging. What can I do to help someone else, so we can all live together as human beings? I think that, with the negative energy that surrounds politics, it can also encourage great change, encourage people to stand up, and help each other out so we can live closer to the type of world we want to be in.
David Emerson Toney (Roy Wilkins and others) I've learned you are in involved with the way the United States is governed whether you want to be our not. Because silence results in an affirmation.
Adrienne Nelson (Lurleen Wallace and others) I have always optimistically, albeit naively, thought those with enough integrity, enough brilliance, talents, and diplomatic grace and character, could get something done without compromising their soul and principles. I've always been fascinated by the concept of selective ethics. I've always been fascinated by the paradox of holy wars. I've always wondered at people who wave the flag of Christianity and family values and then act in the most un-Christian ways. Yes, LBJ belittled, dismissed, embarrassed, lied and backstabbed to get things done. But he was so incredibly prolific during such a short time. Working on this play has really made me question if the ends justify the means. Are all the backroom deals worth it if it helps the lives and souls of millions?
Lawrence Redmond (Richard Russell and others) Working on All The Way really brought into relief, for me, the age old tug of war between ancíent regimės, and any new paradigm. The moment when power is confronted, and overturned.
Susan Rome (Lady Bird Johnson and others) As a result of working on this play, I have a deeper awareness and appreciation for the democratic process. I saw this quote yesterday at the Jefferson Memorial: "I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand-in-hand with the progress of the human mind." And it resonated for me in terms of the ONGOING Civil Rights Struggle and the 2nd Amendment. I am aware that we are telling the LBJ story of 1964 while illuminating the electoral story of 2016.
John Scherer (Walter Jenkins and others) I'm not sure working on this play has changed me politically, but it certainly has made me think of LBJ in a more positive way. Seeing more clearly all the good he did in terms of his domestic policies makes his decisions on Vietnam all the more tragic. Of course I knew a lot of this before, but getting to know it more personally makes the impact more profound.
Stephen Schmidt (Cartha “Deke” DeLoach and others) In today's electoral discourse, "politics" and "politician" have acquired a negative connotation. But All The Way powerfully reminds us that in our history it has been politics and politicians (like the masterful LBJ) who have moved this nation forward through artful compromise.
Craig Wallace (Ralph Abernathy and others) I’ve always been attracted to politics. What fascinates me about the piece is all the workings that have to go on for something to get done. Something as simple as making a decision can’t happen unless other decisions are made, and I don’t know that the average American accepts that or knows that it even happens. It’s actually quite thrilling — the steps that have to be taken in order for the bill to be signed. And then once the bill is signed, the steps that have to be taken in order for LBJ to get reelected. It’s fascinating. Also, in that climate, with what was at stake, King and Abernathy were playing the long game, and were trying to work with the government to exact some sort of change. For groups like SNCC and MFDP, it was visceral for them. They were feeling it on the streets, and they wanted it now. What a struggle it must have been for King to weigh that.
Jack Willis (President Lyndon Baines Johnson) Nothing ever changes.
Bowman Wright (Martin Luther King, Jr) I don't know if my thoughts have changed. I would say I am more aware of it. Getting involve in my local politics is something that I have been thinking a lot about. I believe we all have a responsibility to be at least a little active in politics.