The Mueller Report has become this summer’s most sought-after script. Following its release in April 2019, theatre artists in both red and blue states have organized unique showcases of special counsel Robert Mueller’s “Report on Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” This month alone, there will be live readings of the report from theatre companies in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., starring actors like Alfred Molina and Harry Groener.
Joan Lipkin, artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company in St. Louis, likens reading the report to “performing the resistance,” saying, “The findings are shocking, and our collective use of theatre is a way to educate, engage, and possibly activate people, and make sure that this is not yesterday’s news. We’re not elected officials, we’re not lawyers—we’re theatre artists, but we have a lot that we can bring to the table.”
It was Jackson Gay of the New Neighborhood theatre company who inadvertently pioneered the live reading trend, after posting a half-joking status on Facebook (“Who wants to get together and read the Mueller Report?”). By early June, Filibustered and Unfiltered: America Reads the Mueller Report, was underway in Queens, N.Y. The 448-page report was read in its entirety from 8 p.m. Saturday, June 1 to 8 p.m., Sunday, June 2. The readers numbered more than 100 and included Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis, actor Michael Urie, playwright Taylor Mac, and New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, with musicians Rebecca Hart, LPfunK, Elizabeth Pugh, and the Jazz Bastards playing during the report’s longer redacted sections.
A recent CNN poll of 1,007 American adults showed that only 27 percent of respondents have read a portion or all of the report. Gay’s intentions for the event were “to draw focus onto the Mueller Report—remind people that they paid for it [with tax dollars], they should read it themselves, and come to their own conclusions” about whether President Donald J. Trump committed obstruction of justice. “Whether they have a different conclusion than somebody else, it doesn’t matter,” she says. “It’s more about making your voice heard and making sure that you’re engaging in your world and your politics, and your government.” More than 700 people attended the reading, indicating that there was indeed interest around the report, as well as a desire to consume it in a more digestible format.
The reading, a collaboration between New Neighborhood, DMNDR, and Slightly Altered States, was put together in less than a month. According to Gay, “We had to do it from the ground up: Hire security guards, rent Porta Pottys, chairs, and schedule everybody—it was quite intense.” But despite the hasty scheduling, Gay notes that “the second [the reading] started, it was the most peaceful thing that you could imagine: It was literally just one person after another stepping up onstage and reading the report, and people listening.” Videos from Filibustered and Unfiltered can be viewed on Facebook.
Meanwhile, as Gay and New Neighborhood mounted their Mueller Report event, Lipkin was halfway across the country organizing The Mueller Report: Read, Sing, Resist at projects+gallery. Unlike Gay’s, the St. Louis performance was much shorter, just three hours. Held on June 22, the event interspersed summaries of the report with the president’s “most outrageous” tweets. Handouts were provided containing the contact information for Missouri senators Josh Hawley and Roy Blunt, congressman Lacy Clay, and civic organizations like Common Cause and Countable.
The performance also featured seven musical parody numbers written by NYC-based social activist group Sing Out, Louise. Audience members stomped to the beat of “We Will Stop You,” a takeoff on the popular Queen song, snapped along to “The Trump Administration,” set to the tune of the “Addams Family” theme (“The Trump administration / Just might destroy the nation / We pride the corporation / Despite the common man…DUMP TRUMP”), and cried during the closing number “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (“Somewhere over the rainbow, love trumps hate / Black lives matter to all, and Muslims can immigrate”).
Lipkin recalls that as the event progressed, “People got more and more invested, and more and more animated and expressive and vocal.” In particular, one line from the report hit a chord: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of Justice, we would so state.” As that line was read, and the audience was invited to repeat it, according to Lipkin, they “started hissing and booing; it was great.”
Then last Monday, June 24, more than a million people tuned into the live-stream of a star-studded Mueller report play that took place at New York City’s Riverside Church. Robert Schenkkan’s The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts featured 18 actors as current and former members of the Trump cabinet, honing in on the President’s 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice (e.g, “Act One: President Trump Asked the FBI Director to Shut Down the Investigation Into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn”).
Performances by John Lithgow, Kevin Kline, and Joel Grey as Donald Trump, Robert Mueller, and Jeff Sessions, respectively, generated audible laughter in the church, but the text was far from fictitious. “We wanted to get the Mueller report out there, in a theatrical and dramatic way, but not change a single word of it,” said producer Sheryl Kaller.
Fellow producer Susie Dietz noted that two days after the event, Mueller agreed to testify on July 17 in front of the House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee. Though she admits there couldn’t have been a one-to-one cause-and-effect, “We now know that public opinion is empowering. What we were trying to do was raise public opinion. And I think we did that. And we will continue to do that all the way up to the election.”
Dietz, Kaller, Steve Saporito, and “Pose” actor Billy Porter, recently founded Resistance Theatricals, a new theatre company aimed at hosting live readings of the Mueller report at theatres and universities across the United States. “The more we hear the Mueller report in any context that people will listen to it, the merrier,” said Dietz. In line with the upcoming election, they also plan on partnering with ActBlue and Indivisible to raise money for progressive candidates.
But the Mueller report readings don’t stop there. On July 11, Arena Stage will host an 11-hour marathon reading of Volume 2 of the Mueller report, spearheaded by actress-activist Jjana Valentiner, and will include such local theatre leaders as Maria Manuela Goyanes and Michael Kahn.
Two Los Angeles theatres will also host Mueller report read-a-thons this month. On July 18 a 15-hour event will take place at the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood (and will be livestreamed on Facebook and Twitter); readers so far number more than 90 and include Los Angeles city councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, and actors Jeff Perry and Harry Groener. Then on July 22 and 23, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble will host two eight-hour sessions; readers will include councilmember Paul Koretz, and actors Alfred Molina, Norbert Weisser, Frances Fisher, and Brenda Strong.
Theatre artists and individuals looking to put on their own Mueller report readings can do so easily. Gay is partnering with People for the American Way to create a how-to guide, available starting July 4th on New Neighborhood’s website. “What we really want is at least one organization or one person in every state to do it,” she says.
Theatre or community groups interested in downloading the free script for Lipkin’s event may contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Schenkkan’s The Investigation is also free for people to watch, download, and perform, at Law Works’ website.
“We in the theatre know there’s a tremendous power in reading something out loud,” said Arena’s artistic director, Molly Smith. “This is an opportunity to come out, in a community, and listen to it read with your fellow citizens, and make up your own mind. I also think it’s really important in the run up to the elections, as we’re moving into the debates. And now that Robert Mueller will be testifying, it’s particularly important for people to educate themselves on the report.”
*This story has been updated throughout.
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. This Giving Season, please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!