The Journey from THE JUNGLE to "The Swamp"

NICK: Hi, everybody! Welcome to TimeLine Theatre I’m Associate Artistic Director Nick Bowling and tonight you’re getting a taste of what would have been the first play of our 24th Season Welcome to CAMPAIGNS, INC Four years ago, Will Allan and I met at a little Thai restaurant near TimeLine so he could share an idea he had for his first play He very excitedly showed me this very book an original publication of I, GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA AND HOW I ENDED POVERTY by Upton Sinclair This short pamphlet predicted his own win in the California gubernatorial race of 1934 As you can see, I’ve now stolen this book from Will and am adding it to my own personal collection Thank you, Will William explained to me the story of how the extremely popular Sinclair almost won the election Which could have very well changed the landscape of American politics were it not for a woman and man named Leone Baxter and Clem Whitaker who had just created a company called Campaigns, Inc whose first big job was to defeat Sinclair Will was so excited and by the time the dumplings were gone, so was I For four years, Will has been creating and shaping his political comedy through a number of workshops and readings and he aimed it all at an opening meant to coordinate with the upcoming election As we worked on it this week, I’ve been reminded how greatly this comedy is needed right now It speaks to many of the players and the situations we find ourselves in today I can’t wait until we get to do this for real But until then, tonight’s taste will have to suffice Now I’d like to introduce you to our moderator, my fellow Company Member and friend, the man who was supposed to star as Upton Sinclair, Anish Jethmalani ANISH: Hi, everybody! Thanks, Nick Welcome to TimeLine Theatre Company My name is Anish Jethmalani I’m a Company Member here at TimeLine and I’m going to be your host for this evening’s reading of Campaigns, Inc.. by Will Allan Tonight we’re going to bring you a special event which is called “The Journey from the Jungle to the Swamp.” We plan to share a few moments from Will’s comedy which would have been playing at this time were it not for the pandemic Very shortly you will hear from Will about why he wrote this play and the surprising ways it connects to the events of the world today You will get some insight into the plot and see a few scenes starring the original cast Next we will have a short Q&A section with Will, Dramaturg Maren Robinson, and our special guest panelist from Snopes.com Jessica Lee And finally, we will end with some questions from you, the audience So if you find yourself with something you’d like to ask or say, please write it into the comment section and we will try to get it answered The play tells the story of a real company called Campaigns, Inc which was started by Leone Baxter and Clem Whitaker in the early 1930s and focuses on one of their first clients, an ultra conservative incumbent Governor in the 1934 California election who was taking on the hugely popular muckraker Upton Sinclair So, I’m happy to say that I will be playing the role of Upton Sinclair Will’s play mixes history with screwball comedies of the 1930s telling a story so absurd, it will seem like it’s a fable But we assure you, it all really happened Now, imagine if you will, political characters that seem larger than life and who do things like create fake news stories about their opponents Unfathomable So, just a moment to let you know that we want to let you know that the scenes from tonight’s play do contain some profane language So just to give you a fair warning about that Now, here to tell us all the dirty details

about his play which he wrote as part of Timeline’s Playwrights Collective, is my friend and fellow TimeLine Company Member Will Allan [laughs] Thank you, Anish! Hi, I’m Will Allan. I’m the playwright of Campagins, Inc and a Company Member at TimeLine Theatre You may remember me as the most handsome of all of the History Boys or more realistically the History Boy with the hideous “butt cut” hair-do First, I just wanna say thank you for joining us for this distanced sneak peek of my new play At this point we actually would have been wrapping up our run at TimeLine, but we were all dealt some new cards, and I’m honored to have you here with me to try to put on a little theatre Campaigns, Inc. is a play I’ve been working on since November of 2016 ––which was purely coincidental, I’m sure–– after I was selected to take part in TimeLine’s amazing Playwright’s Collective Same program that brought you Tyla Abercrumbie’s amazing new play Relentless which hopefully you got to see a little bit of last month Now my dark political comedy takes us to sunny California, my current home, and the gubernatorial election of 1934 Play picks up shortly after acclaimed author and the founding father of muck-raking, Upton Sinclair, has won the Democratic primary by the largest margin in California history This set off a brutal race between Sinclair and Republic incumbent Frank Merriam Voice off camera: Duncan–– DUNCAN: Yes OFF CAM: ––would you mind telling us how you intend to vote for governor next month? DUNCAN: Aye, sure I’m going to vote for Upton Sinclair DUNCAN: And I will tell it to the housetops MAN: I’m going to vote for Frank Merriam for governor for the reason that he is for Democracy rather than Socialism And he won’t involve us in any dangerous experiments WILL: And with the threat of Sinclair’s socialist agenda looming, Lieutenant Governor candidate George Hatfield needed to seek some outside help Hatfield stumbled upon the likes of Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter, virtually unknown 31 year-old man and 28 year-old woman who would create the first ever political consulting firm in the US, and in doing so, create and conceive nearly every mass media smear campaign tactic that is still used today It became a star-studded heated, passionate, downright dirty campaign that in many ways was the birthplace of what we now call “fake news.” So, let’s get started Thank you so much to my amazing cast That was so fun, it was so great to hear those words again It almost felt like it might never happen–– so thank you so much for allowing us to see your great work today Now moving on–– In 1934, the state of California was in dire shape Unemployment had reached nearly 25% and people were suffering The conservative and at times cruel agenda of Governor Merriam led to a rise of a different kind of West Coast politician Enter: Upton Sinclair, the world-famous author who believed that helping the poor should be our number 1 priority SINCLAIR: I have been asked to stand as a candidate at the Democratic primary And to put before the people a program to end poverty in California WILL: Makes sense, right? But as you know, this is still a battle we are fighting today Sinclair was one of the earliest icons for socialism in the United States His plans were designed to level the playing field between the rich and the poor by creating jobs, developing a social safety net for those who fell on hard times, and, of course, altering the unbalanced distribution of wealth in our society And much like modern times, his efforts were met with major political backlash from those who wanted to keep the rich rich and the poor forgotten Now here is Company Member Anish Jethmalani performing an excerpt from one of Sinclair’s passionate speeches during the famous 1934 campaign [Upbeat jazz music plays] SINCLAIR: Our opponents have told you that

all of this is socialism and communism We are not the least worried because we note that Mr. Hearst has been cabling from Europe that President Roosevelt’s policies are also communism Our enemies’ efforts to crush this movement by lies and intimidation are not merely an attack upon me in California, they are a preparation for the scrapping of the New Deal at the presidential election of 1936 Make no mistake about the meaning of the decision you are about to make in November The news has gone out to the whole country, and if the Democratic party of California adopts the E.P.I.C. plan, it will mean hope, courage, and guidance to all the unemployed of all our forty-eight states All my life I have believed in people All my life I have insisted that democracy could be made to work The years since the world war have been years of cynicism and heartsickness But all through these years I have stood by my faith, in spite of all the ridicule I have believed in people, and the one thing that the people of California have done for me is to vindicate that faith, out of which my life and books have been made Our opponents have told you that we cannot put this plan through Let me just answer this: If you should give me a chance to end poverty in California, and if I should fail to do it, life would mean nothing to me thereafter All that I have taught all through the years would be without meaning Believe me And stick by me And together we shall not fail [Upbeat jazz music plays] WILL: Thank you, Anish I knew when I was writing this play, there was a good chance it would be relevant, but I didn’t realize it would be painfully relevant But thank you for your wonderful work on that Moving on–– Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter used every dirty trick they could find to take down Upton Sinclair From using quotes from The Jungle out of context to distributing fake money called “Sinc-Liar Dollars” to an unprecedented mail campaign that put attacks against Upton in every mailbox in California The put up tens of thousands of billboards, hitting every major street from San Diego to Sacramento They paid off the LA Times in order to make the “unbiased” news coverage lean their way They even got celebrity athletes like baseball icon Ty Cobb and tennis legend Helen Wills Moody to join in on the action Now, Campaigns, Inc. spent millions of dollars trying to get Merriam back in office Much of that money came from major conservative donors, such as Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who with the help of media tyrant William Randolph Hearst, even created fake news reels to play before every movie MGM released From my most recent calculation–– and I’m no math genius–– but when adjusted for inflation, they spent the equivalent of $200,000,000 in today’s money on this gubernatorial race Which is even unheard of in 2020, for a governor’s race for the most part But it wasn’t enough They knew they would need an endorsement from the most famous Democrat in America: FDR But certainly that wouldn’t and couldn’t happen, and that brings us to one of the later scenes in the play At this point in the story, we just witnessed Upton Sinclair and Charlie Chaplin, his good friend, be stunned by the new reels that even included Sinclair- and Chaplin-look-alikes to convince Californians that Upton and Charlie were secretly evil We also saw Leone Baxter face one of her toughest tests yet After an argument with Baxter, Whitaker went his separate way But Merriam warns Baxter that he won’t accept the optics of having a young, unknown woman be his mastermind She has to get Whitaker back or she’s fired After swallowing her pride, and asking Whitaker to return, the two consultants know they must pull one final, outrageous punch

And something tells me that Merriam ain’t gonna like it ANISH: Will, I wanted to sort of circle

back to the play and your process

a little bit

Can you tell us how the play has

developed over the last couple

of years and what your process

has been like?

WILL: Yeah, sure! So um you know sort of – sort of

picking up from – from what I said earlier: it was actually on November — what was it? — November 4th, 2016 or November Yeah, 6th? I don’t know. Yeah, 6th And uh we were at a bar in Chicago, and Ben the Literary Manager, as the election results were rolling in, asked me if I wanted to write this play for TimeLine And I’d be a member of their Playwrights Collective which is what commissioned this play and then also Tyla’s play who some of you probably saw last month some snippets from that And then there were two other playwrights in the Collective, as well: Calamity West, Maureen Gallagher And we spent about 2 years fleshing out ideas, helping each other with our work, we would bring in writing every month and take turns and we would all read each other’s research, and learn all about each other’s projects And it just kind of fuels you to always keep working and always keep digging And it was just – it was a great process to work on it And then at one point, I was like, “I’m gonna make this a musical” and then I remembered I don’t know how to write music so then we went back to the play version But now it’s gotten bigger and fancier and uh, very, very “Nick Bowling” –– I think he’s the right pick But yeah, it was just a treat to write on, then we did the WILL: ––in 2018 Oop! Am I frozen? ANISH: You froze there for just a bit WILL: Did you lose me? Oh okay –– Then I wrote the play, it was fun! [laughter] MAREN: Will, there’s like a bit of a screwball –– 1930s screwball comedy feel to your play, too Do you want to talk about that piece? And where that part came into –– how you thought about the overlapping dialogue and some of those relationships? WILL: Yeah, well I think uh you know –– we’ve been talking to Jessica tonight about how crazy it has become in politics and media and social media, and my main thought was, I can’t make this story seem crazier than what’s going on now because it’s not possible So what I want to do is get people in a great mood, have a lot of fun while at the same time, maybe not even realize that this monster is unfolding in front of them And also, I just really love old movies I’ve spent a lot of quarantine with my wife, watching old movies And there’s just something about the warmth of the theatrical lights, and, and –– and the ability to create these pictures and have these arguments that just felt like they needed to be a little heightened –– just a little more upbeat, a little more fun, a little more exciting And hopefully that’s that’s sort of what we’ve landed on ANISH: Do you think, Will, uh that you can share a bit of the impact that a company like Campaigns, Inc. had on the world? Including their later work? I know you had mentioned universal health care was something they were trying to achieve WILL: Yeah, I mean –– with this election being essentially the beginning of Campaigns, Inc., you can follow the trails from there of keeping Sinclair out of office because that really would have been an event that would have politically changed the United States for the foreseeable future –– to have someone as much on a Socialist ticket as Upton Sinclair and Sheridan Downey were–– well, Downey, not so much, he was a little more establishment–– but definitely Upton And then, as I said before, the healthcare thing, which was just an unbelievable blow to everyone’s individual health rights here, and we’re still dealing with the fallout from that cause a lot of people are still voting who were alive during that smear campaign and they still have that

embedded in them somewhere that this is a crazy Socialist idea to take care of people And so I would say the impact has been pretty intense in the United States, I don’t know about the world ANISH: We have a question from Susan Goldberg: “Do you think that Campaigns, Inc. founders ever regretted what they had done? [Will chuckles] Will: Uh, yeah So, I do actually think that You know, it’s kind of a weird scenario, where it’s people who I disagree with about everything, but I also have tremendous respect for them I mean, they were brilliant in what they did Um and–– sorry, I just lost my train of thought–– I do think they regretted things and they’re, you know, there’s even a great quote from Leone Baxter uh talking about this campaign, she’s older when she says it, and she says, basically, you know, “We did a great job, we won, but the fact that it was Frank Merriam is a damn shame.” And it just goes to show that even that early on, they were just willing to represent whoever to win which is why they had to come up with some of these crazy tactics Another great one, they came up with that isn’t in this–– isn’t in this play, is they came up with this concept of the “faceless candidate” where they were running a campaign and the person they were representing was so terrible, no actual human could be worse So what they did was instead of putting pictures of people on things, they put an outline of a human being, and they labeled this person as you know, “Yeah, our guy was, you know was a domestic abuser, and he’s an alcoholic, but this mystery guy? What could he have done? He could have been a child molester He could have been a serial killer You can’t vote for him.” So then people go in and they don’t know the name, they just know that it’s this guy versus the really bad mystery guy And that’s how they won a lot of campaigns was creating these “faceless candidates” which is a pretty wicked tactic ANISH: So everyone, we have about 10 minutes left, and I would encourage you if you the audience, if you have any other questions for our panel, to go ahead and chime in there on the YouTube comments and we’ll try to feed those questions out But I wanted to pose a question to you Jessica, which is: you know, we’re about 13 days left from a pretty important election, probably going to be one of the most important elections in our lifetime And I wondered if you might have any tips of being a good consumer of media? And how do you avoid any, uh, real fake news? JESSICA: It’s a great question First, at Snopes, we actually avoid the phrase “fake news” because it’s been politicized and weaponized in ways that it no –– the definition is lost Originally, “fake news” was described by journalists and consumers of media as being, uh, misinformation technically, junk news But now it can be anything that a political party disagrees with They all it “fake news” and so we are no longer using that phrase, instead trying to be as specific as we can To make sure that you don’t come across such media, junk news, what I always try to remind people including students, so young people–– if you’re helping educate young people to grow their media literacy skills–– something really easy to scan for is does this piece of media information illicit emotion? Is it trying to make me fearful? Do I feel sad in some way? Do I feel angry? If that is the case, even if you don’t realize that’s it’s a sensational headline, it might not be, but just the framing and how that story was written –– it might not be a clear indicator of what’s actually going on Beyond that, as soon as you screen something for its gauge of eliciting emotion from you, check the sourcing That’s pretty standard and, if you can, find the source of information yourself I mean, there are publicly available databases of federal documents, voter information, and I know that takes time, and we don’t all have that to really get a true sense of a news story, and so that’s why you have people like us, Snopes, who can break down and bring you non-partisan news sources that you can rely on So those are my main tips: scan for emotion

and check the sources ANISH: That’s great, thank you I have another question from Bobby Arnold: “How do you think Campaigns, Inc. would have thought of the quote-unquote success of the current political climate has been encountering with smear campaign tactics? WILL: I mean, I can only speculate but I think that they would see their work in what’s going on and there would be a sense of pride in that I can’t speak for them or how they would react to what it’s like today, but you know, I’m not convinced they wouldn’t still be in the ballgame doing these kinds of things if they could Uh yeah, Maren –– do you have any thoughts on that? MAREN: Oh boy, yeah, I mean, it feels like they were already there They were a little ahead of their times, so they would just be –– you know, I think that what would be harder for them is that they wouldn’t be the only players doing the same thing WILL: Yeah, they would be up against people like Jessica right now which is not something that they had back then If there was a Jessica, they certainly weren’t going to give Jessica a voice to reach millions of people, um So we’re very fortunate that we are in the Modern Jessica Era [laughter] JESSICA: Yeah, I mean that example of taking Sinclair’s, uh, you know, fiction work and quoting it as real, attributing it to him I mean, similar cases happen now, more so in the election season, with video, video clips that are manipulated They might show the candidate –– Biden, Trump, whomever it may be –– doing something real, but it’s totally taken out of context And that’s really a huge part of the misinformation cycle that we’re dealing with so, yeah ANISH: I have a question from John Sterling: “Where do conspiracy theories fit with all of this disinformation?” JESSICA: Depends who you are and what you believe! If, I mean, for some people conspiracy theories are the reality so –– hopefully, if you are able to gauge what is a conspiracy theory, then you are now seeing those become mainstream, there are some big, high profile groups of conspiracy theorists that are making their way into mainstream politics right now and therefore, it’s a part of our information cycle and a part of, in fact, our news cycle ANISH: It’s interesting, you know, there was a documentary on Netflix talking about –– forgive me, I’m forgetting the title of the documentary but –– it was about social media and how we’re sort of being siloed into seeing what we want to see, and uh the information that’s being fed to us So, in some ways –– oh, it’s called the Social Dilemma –– thank you Jenny Lynn –– Social Dilemma It’s a great documentary, but it’s – it’s it’s one of these issues that I think we are all struggling with as a society is that social media has become such a huge part of our life, to be able to connect to our friends and family, but yet the, the information that is being fed back to us is almost manipulating us to a certain degree and I wonder how you all feel about that in terms of how to combat that to a certain extent? JESSICA: Yeah, I mean these platforms are feeding and surviving off of confirmation bias and eliciting emotion, and uh, what you see on your social feeds is there for a reason, and it doesn’t look like anyone else’s except for maybe your friends and family who think similarly and consume the same types of media as you do And so, these silos are closing in and we are constantly being inundated with news and opinions, analysis that confirm what we already believe in It’s really only a problem so if, if these algorithms don’t change for these mainstream sites, we’re going to continue to see this siloing of information ANISH: And, you know, to a certain extent I think that we as –– we have the responsibility upon ourselves to break ourselves from that, as well, and be able to seek out different sides of information from both sides so that we can sort of make our own opinion ourselves Would you agree with that? JESSICA: Yeah, and if there is one way that you have been getting your news, try a different way, or just add a new method into your daily habits If you’re relying only on Twitter to get your news, instead maybe set up notifications on your phone for the Associated Press, or something Just have a diverse ways –– diverse way that you’re getting information and that’ll make sure that you’re more well-rounded

Definitely ANISH: Great Great, well, we are almost at time I want to, first of all, thank all of you for joining us this evening Thank you for being with us tonight We hope that you’ll be able to check out other upcoming events celebrating Campaigns, Inc. I want to thank our panel for being with us, as well, and giving their thoughts about this very important play that we hope to have on the stage somewhere down the road You can still sign up for our class with Maren and Katie Jacobsen, they’ll be sharing a dramaturgical approach to fake news Teaching you how to be a critical consumer of media so you can navigate the news like a superhero And, uh, class sessions are next week so you can sign up right away before those slots fill up And then you can also join us for Red State Blue State – themed Take Home Wine Tasting with our neighborhood partner, BottlesUp –– also next week You can get all those details at timeline theatre dot com I want to thank our actors who worked with us this evening, I want to thank our panel, Will, Jessica, and Maren, for being with us, and everybody who worked on this, I want to thank them for their hard work and participation Just a few things from me: just remember to be safe out there, wear a mask, wash your hands stay socially distant We want to make sure you all take care of yourselves And most importantly: get out there and vote! Thirteen days left til one of the most important elections of our lifetime, so be sure to get out there and vote! We want to thank you again for joining us this evening, and we hope to see you again soon Have a great evening [upbeat swing music]