Exploring the idiosyncrasies of elections with Fight Night

Fight Night takes the concept of how voters can be influenced to the stage.

With the US presidential election looming, politics and democracy are on many people’s minds. Fight Night explores the way democracy works and how easy it can be to be influenced by a candidate.

On the phone from Belgium, Angelo Tijssens — the writer and cast member who plays the “ringmaster” role in the show — explained that making a show where the audience could vote was an idea that their artistic director, Alexander Devriendt, had on his bucket list for a while. “It was something he thought he’d like to do one day.”

After Belgium went through a period of having no government, they began talking more about the idea of creating the show. “We had no government for 540 days. No party could form a majority, so we started talking about doing the show.”

The audience is given a device to vote electronically for their choice of the five actors after each segment of the show — similar to a televised debate — and actors are eliminated along the way.

The actors are not representing themselves as politicians, but they use the same strategies to gain audience support such as portraying themselves as the underdog or appealing to emotions. Tijssens said, “We wanted to make a show about what happens when you get to the voting booth; how easy is it to be influenced?”

The actors may be on stage for one segment or for the entire show, and often compete with each other to see who will last the longest. “Some actors are in the dressing room for 75 percent of the show,” explained Tijssens. But they’ve learned how use audience appeal to their advantage. As Tijssens said, “There are subtle little ways to bend the rules we’ve made for ourselves.” They never know how the show will end and have to prepare for any eventuality. For example, one segment is set up as a talk show where they discuss what has happened so far, and this scene has 128 different versions.

“It’s a battle, of course,” said Tijssens about elections. From the way debates are set up as win or lose affairs, to the many war and sports analogies used to describe them, they are seen as a fight among the candidates. “Before we had democracy we had to fight to decide who would rule,” explained Tijssens. “It’s still a battle, but now it’s semantic warfare.”

Another concept they wanted to explore through this show is the tyranny of the majority: the idea that a majority of 50+ percent can have all of the power, and the rest of the public has no say. “History has shown us that there is no better system than democracy,” said Tijssens. He believes there are simple changes we could make to improve it, though, such as reducing the amount of money involved in an election. “Money buys you votes, votes get you power, and power gets you money,” said Tijssens. It’s a vicious cycle.

Tijssens has never been to Canada (“the better half of the continent,” as he described it), and he is looking forward to spending a couple of weeks in Vancouver, with plenty of time to sightsee during the day before taking the stage at night.

Fight Night will be presented at the Cultch from October 18 to 29. http://thecultch.com/events/fight-night-2/