Vice President Joe Biden will visit campus Nov. 9 through Nov. 12, giving the same speech 34 times at various locations across campus.
Er, kind of.
Here’s the catch: The speech will be a 10-minute monologue, Joe Biden will be played by Communication senior Becca Ehlers and the 34-speech blitz will be orchestrated by Communication senior Zach Barr – the writer, director and producer of the play “My Name Is Joe Biden and I Love Ice Cream.” “The title of the play comes from an actual speech that Joe Biden gave back in May that opened with that line,” Barr said. “When I saw it, I thought that there was something tragic about the fact that this is somebody who had been considered as somebody who could run for president. He seemed like a really nice, genuine person, and then having to give this speech that was so vapid, I wanted to know what was going on in his head.”
Barr wrote the play in July, after watching the eponymous speech. He decided to do a low-budget production – the set is just a lectern, and he and Ehlers are the only people on the team – to get the play produced fairly quickly.
“I realized if it’s not produced in this election cycle, then it’s not going to get produced because the subject matter requires the audience walking in with the knowledge that Joe Biden almost ran for president,” Barr said.
The play begins performances the day after Election Day. Because of this, Barr and Ehlers will have a final dress rehearsal right after the race is called Tuesday night, to anticipate how audiences will react given the results of the election.
After an election that most people perceived as negative, Barr hopes his play will lighten spirits on campus.
“The election is going to be so vitriolic, and it has been,” Barr said. “And so to have the election happen and what will probably be an explosive and negative Election Day, there is this production going up for the next few days that can kind of calm people down again and say, there is at least one good person in politics who could’ve ran for president, but there’s a reason why he didn’t.”
In casting Biden, Barr took a Hamilton-esque approach – he didn’t want Biden to be played by a white man. Instead of holding auditions, he reached out to Ehlers, who agreed to join the production after reading the script.
“The sincerity in it I thought was really lovely, but it still had that quirkiness that – it seemed like something where, if I didn’t do it, I would regret it,” Ehlers said.
While Biden may be played by a young woman instead of an older man in this production, Ehlers won’t be wearing age makeup or changing the way her voice sounds.
“It’s always kind of been like, I’m playing Joe Biden, but I’m not Joe Biden,” Ehlers said.
What sets the play apart the most, though, is that it’s site-specific – throughout its four-day run, it will move across campus to over 20 locations. Barr made this decision to make the show more accessible to students.
“I wanted to do a piece of theater that could travel to different locations and easily set itself up and just perform as street theater for whoever happened to be coming by,” Barr said. “If you get out of class at 3:50 and the show starts at 4, you’ll be out by 4:15. And there’s a chance that it’s like a five-minute walk from class because it’ll be all over campus.”
Between the show being a monologue and featuring so many performances, this provides a challenge for Ehlers as an actor.
“It’s a lot more internal, and I can’t get lazy like I might be able to in another play,” Ehlers said. “My mindset for it is different in approaching it in a way where I won’t get burned out...”
Both Ehlers and Barr said they share a similar goal for the production – showing people who Biden is and making them consider what happened in the election.
“I wrote the play and I’m producing the play so that people can see it and think about the Joe Biden in the election in whatever way the play inspires them to think about it,” Barr said. “Maybe that’s just light entertainment and people see the show and walk away, but maybe it’ll hit them a little harder.”