The Rear View of the Town Hall

OK, just before it becomes too stale to discuss, it’s now my turn to talk about the Obama Town Hall.

View from our seats at the Obama Town Hall

View from our seats at the Obama Town Hall

As a college student I studied lighting and scenic design; I was a theatre major. My early career was in the music business doing concert tours. Stagecraft was for me a specialty and a profession although the closest I get to it now is as a member of the audience. And that suits me just fine, thank you very much.

While those who attend campaign events including town hall meetings might enjoy thinking that the event is for their benefit, they are partly correct. It is equally true that the audience is as much a prop as are the flags and the lectern with the presidential seal. This is because the primary audience is the one that sees what all the television cameras capture.

Staging events such as a town hall involves not only where to place the flags and the media stand but also the audience. That’s where the amateurs staging Wednesday’s event failed. The stage was set up almost at one end of the room. The media stand was in the middle and occupied nearly two-thirds of the distance left-to-right. An embarrassingly large portion of the audience was seated farther away from the stage than the media stand.

The sound system was positioned in such a way as to create a dead zone for about twenty percent of the audience.

Security was fairly tight getting into the building. Once inside, the only real security was in the immediate vicinity of the stage. There was more security in among the audience at the Coldplay concert I attended recently. When the president arrived, the main aisle that ran sort of up the middle clogged up with people rushing up to snap photos. And then they stayed there in the aisle. It’s a safety hazard. It’s a fire hazard. And it blocked the view of many.

From where I sat, because of sight lines, people standing in the aisle, and the no sound zone I could see nearly nothing and I could hear nearly nothing. I will watch the re-run on C-Span this weekend so I can see what I witnessed.

Also, the White House staff in audience and media areas appeared to have no idea of how to run an efficient and effective live performance. And yes, it is a performance. It is theatre. I saw harried White House staffers running around like so many headless chickens. Some appeared completely frazzled, apparently the effect of being given responsibilities beyond their talent or expertise. The ones I saw were old enough to be my kid. These were amateurs who were doing jobs similar in many respects to what I did for a living when I was that age. Either they weren’t prepared for that kind of work or they forgot their lessons. For example, staffers argued with media and members of the audience. Steve Perez tells of one who participated in the ticket distribution who was either clueless or just plain lying.

Do I blame Obama for the poor job the staff did? Not really. Yes, as the HMFWIC, he does have some responsibility. But he’s not a micro-manager and I don’t want him to be. Whoever runs the advance teams bears that burden.

But none of this matters, really, because according to everyone I’ve spoken to who saw the town hall on TV said htey thought it was good. And that’s the point of the whole exercise. Oh, and I get to tell anyone who asks that I was there.

  1 comment for “The Rear View of the Town Hall

  1. junior
    March 21, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    I was there too – I see the back of my almost bald melon in the photo.

Comments are closed.