In the weirdest, most uncanny experiment, two, “liberal (as they call themselves)” professors tackled a mock debate mirroring the 2016 showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Their project fueled by the gender issues surrounding the presidential campaigns. While the academics’ actors studied and successfully mastered both candidates’ body movements and intonations to a T, one thing was changed—their genders. A woman portrayed Trump and vice versa. From rehearsals throughout both performances, the educators found themselves experiencing the unexpected—so did their audiences.
The two professors “began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression (his tendency to interrupt and attack) would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man,” they stated in a report. But the outcome wasn’t anything they anticipated.
Audiences were “shocked” and struggled to like Hillary’s male counterpart as opposed to Clinton herself. Amazingly, Trump’s female version “shine[d]” at the times people recalled Trump himself to be “flailing or lashing out.” For a lot of pro-Hillary folks, the show(s) was/were “bewildering and instructive.”
INSEAD Economics & Political Science Ass. Professor Maria Guadalupe conceptualized the mock debate upon seeing the Trump-Clinton Debate’s second round. Knowing this had to be a collaborative effort, she contacted an expert—NYU Steinhardt Clinical Ass.Educational Theatre Professor Joe Salvatore to pull off the ultimate experience in “ethnodramas (theatrical adaptations of real life taken from a plethora of media formats; e.g., interviews and journal entries).”
New York University released an interview with Salvatore elaborating on he and his colleagues’ reaction(s) to the project’s entirety. Trump was renamed “Brenda King (actor: Rachel Whorton)” and Hillary was changed to “Jonathan Gordon (actor: Daryl Embry).”
“We both thought that the inversion would confirm our liberal assumption—that no one would have accepted Trump’s behavior from a woman, and that the male Clinton would seem like the much stronger candidate,” Salvatore said in the interview. “But we kept checking in with each other and realized that this disruption (a major change in perception) was happening. I had an unsettled feeling the whole way through.” Salvatore recalled himself noting to Guadalupe that he “kind of wanted to have a beer with [the female Trump].”
Here’s a quick clip of the rehearsal:
[Video: courtesy of The Guardian]
Both performances were featured on a Saturday night in late January—they sold out! New York Times reporter Alexis Soloski picks up the story:
“The atmosphere among the standing-room-only crowd, which appeared mostly drawn from academic circles, was convivial, but also a little anxious. Most of the people there had watched the debates assuming that Ms. Clinton couldn’t lose. This time they watched trying to figure out how Mr. Trump could have won.”
Soloski added the mood to be “anxious.”
“People across the board were surprised that their expectations about what they were going to experience were upended,” Salvatore added.
Even NYU weighed in with their assessment of the primarily academic, liberal, theatre goers:
“Many were shocked to find that they couldn’t seem to find in Jonathan Gordon what they had admired in Hillary Clinton—or that Brenda King’s clever tactics seemed to shine in moments where they’d remembered Donald Trump flailing or lashing out. For those Clinton voters trying to make sense of the loss, it was by turns bewildering and instructive, raising as many questions about gender performance and effects of sexism as it answered.”
Salvatore offered his and his colleagues’ observations of their audiences:
“We heard a lot of ‘now I understand how this happened’—meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman—that was a theme. One person said, ‘I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.’ Another (a musical-theater composer, actually) said that Trump created ‘hummable lyrics,’ while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no ‘hook’ to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate—you know, ‘I wouldn’t vote for either one.’ Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was ‘really punchable’ because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience. There was someone who described Brenda King [the female Donald Trump] as his Jewish aunt who would take care of him, even though he might not like his aunt. Someone else described her as the middle-school principal who you don’t like but you know is doing good things for you.”