Published in KPBS On Air Magazine August 1996

Fed up with Dumbos and Asses (read:   Republicans and Democrats)? Think you could do better? Well, now you’ve got the chance, at the FritzCON (the Other convention).   You can form your own state, nominate your own candidate (or yourself!), create a platform, and design a third party in your own image.

Through September 1 at the Fritz Theatre, the FritzCON will make you laugh, make you scream, make you vote, maybe even make you nauseous, while you get a first-hand, total immersion, somewhat surreal experience of nominating a presidential candidate.

The FritzCON runs concurrent with, and only two blocks from, the Republican National Convention. As the promotional material puts it, “it is predicted that the two conventions combined will bring in an estimated $40 million in visitor spending to the city.” In four days, the Republicans will come up with only one candidate, but the Fritz Party will nominate 30 candidates in six weeks.

The FritzCON (note the capitalization) is “promiscuously based on the mechanics of other major party conventions.”   The event, the breathless press releases promise, will allow you to “experience the serotonin-pumping rush of wagering [your] massive voting power on radical, ground-breaking, socially volatile, table-thumping planks.”

The warped minds behind this maniacal political/theatrical spectacle belong to Todd Blakesley and Burnham Joiner, who collaborated on the wacko, interactive “Laughing Buddha WholistiK Radio Theatre” and “More of the Laughing Buddha WholistiK Radio Theatre”, at the Bowery/Blackfriars Theatre in 1991. Their “Don’t Talk to Fish” and “The Mouth” were produced last year at the Fritz Blitz of New Plays.

They met in 1988, when they were both cast in a play that never opened. Their separate brands of twisted humor are complementary. Their writing motto is “If we don’t laugh, it doesn’t get in the script.”

Blakesley, a writer/director/performer, has a lifelong interest in “‘fully interactive, immersion theatre’, where the audience has the ability to manipulate the plot and be partly responsible for the outcome… More than any other performance medium,” he says, “theater has the ability to bring the audience in.”

Blakesley co-founded Theatre: Research & Development, Inc., which, from 1972-1976, produced 27 new plays, including six of his own, at the former Crystal Palace Theatre in Mission Beach. He field-tested some of his political-interactive ideas in two prequels to the FritzCON:   “The Convention” (1976) and “Cigars and Stripes” (1984), which was nominated for Best New Play by the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle.

Joiner, a writer/composer/sound designer/performer who’s written and/or composed for the San Diego Repertory Theatre, Blackfriars, the San Diego Public Theatre and Sushi Performance Gallery, is, to Blakesley, “someone who thinks in gaming terms, with the humor, satire and manic-ness I like.”

So, the entire Fritz Theatre space will be used, with convention seating (maximum capacity: 72), Back Rooms for wheeling and dealing, a score board to tally delegate votes, and designated areas for each of twelve states (six people per state — you can organize your own or join established states such as Confusion, Apathy, Euphoria, Grace, Anxiety).

Despite the proximity to the RNC, this is no partisan polemic. “The Fritz Party is tired of the short-list of two candidates,” says Blakesley.   “We’re against both the Democratic and the Republican parties.”

Amid the yelling, cheering, debating, discussing, balloting and backslapping (if you’re in the State of Apathy, you don’t have to do anything), there are several electioneering actor/candidates.   “But,” says Joiner, “if the audience/delegates find the candidates obnoxious, they can nominate their own.”

One candidate is Pam Nobius, a Neighborhood Watch Commander by profession, whose hobbies are “long walks with stray dogs, cyber-dancing, mah jongg and domestic dispute intervention.”   Her Reason for Running? “Because it’s more fun to be the center of attention than to… have to stand around listening to other people who think they’re better than you talk about themselves.”

Now there’s a platform you can stand on.   Then there are the Fritz Party’s resolutions, including:   Safety Airbags (for refrigerator doors); Tax Pledge Drives (replaces current income tax system with TV and radio pledge campaigns); and a Euthanasia Center (an alternative for those unable to afford health insurance).

“The floor is gonna be messy,” Joiner promises. “I love paper shows. There’ll be noise, lights, hubbub, delirium, brouhaha, gimmy cracks and gewgaws.   The best part is that you can go to the bathroom, spill food on the floor, have a smoke, or buy refreshments whenever you want. You don’t have to hold your bladder for three hours of verbal flagellation.   We suggest wearing vinyl. You never know when we’re gonna need to bring the hoses in.”

The show has a script of sorts, but most of the work by the 8-10 actors is improvised. “You can’t underestimate the audience,” says Blakesley. “I haven’t seen any theater offer as much of the reins to the audience as this does.    People could be totally swept along, or it could be a real disaster. You may see me on 4th and F, begging for forgiveness.”  

Split-second pause, transition from sarcasm to sincerity.   “I’m not really worried about it.   It should be so exciting that people will demand to be involved. It allows people to look at themselves in a way they can’t through any other medium.   The key is to try something different.   Then go home, think about your actions, and come back another night and try something else.”

Adds Joiner, “We believe in believing in America again — and again.”

©1996 Patté Productions Inc.