The Personal Political

by August Schulenburg

in Activism,Edgerton New Plays

Post image for The Personal Political

“There’s a kind of weird idea that politics isn’t about psychology, or that politics isn’t about family, or that politics isn’t about daddies, and mommies, and brothers. Of course, politics is just another aspect of human behavior. And I think one of the great things about American democracy is the way in which it has carved out space in the American soul. It’s a political ground, across which all sorts of human issues—sexuality, gender, fear of the other, identity pride, hope—traverse. So, I think that politics is an inseparable fact of life, and all plays talk about it in some way or another.”
-Tony Kushner, Text and Performance Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 1, January 2004

The political impulse, at least in its current American incarnation, is about reducing the complexity of personal experience into simplistic categories: Mama Grizzlies, NASCAR Dads, Liberal Elites. Our bipolar party system allows for a single dimension of movement, either right or left.  It is easier to write-off and demonize a caricature, particularly as the complicated realities of neighbors have been replaced with online echo chambers.

Yet the consequences of politics are always felt on a painfully personal level.

No one knows this better than Jonathan Moscone, son of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, who was gunned down at City Hall 33 years ago, along with gay rights advocate Harvey Milk. Moscone has turned his experience of dealing with the guilt, grief and legacy of that loss into a play, Ghost Light. The original production at Oregon Shakespeare Festival was awarded a grant from The Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Program, and it is currently playing at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

On February 8, PBS NEWSHOUR shared a moving look at process of making this play:

Watch Legacy of S.F. Mayor Revived on Stage by Son on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

As the interview makes clear, the pain that comes from flattening the four-dimensions of human experience into the two-dimensions of political expediency cuts in multiple ways: not only is the unbearable loss of human life made ‘necessary’, but a deeply personal memory is subject to ongoing political machinations. So it is that someone’s father becomes history’s footnote.

“One of the main reasons that Jon wants to do this piece is to liberate his father’s memory.”- Tony Taccone, Playwright of Ghost Light

This is one of the great gifts of theatre: to raise the arrhythmic complexity of the human heart up from the steamroll of history. We need theatre like this to remind us that politics is inescapably personal.

Have you seen Ghost Light, and if so, what was your experience of the play?

Is there a play that you feel best captures this political-personal dynamic?


The Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Program, directed by Brad and Louise Edgerton, was piloted in 2006 with the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles by offering two musicals in development an extended rehearsal period for the entire creative team, including the playwrights. The Edgertons launched the program nationally in 2007 and have supported 128 plays to date in 50 different Art Theaters across the country. The Edgerton Foundation received the 2011 TCG National Funder Award in June in Los Angeles.

TCG member theaters with a strong and consistent track record of producing new work are invited by the foundation to submit letters of inquiry to plays@edgertonfoundation.org. A panel of readers reviews the plays and one-time grants ranging from $5,000 – $75,000 are awarded.


August Schulenburg is the Associate Director of Communications at TCG. He is also the Artistic Director of Flux Theatre Ensemble, winner of the 2011 Caffe Cino Fellowship Award. He is a playwright whose produced plays include Riding the Bull, Carrin Beginning, The Lesser Seductions of History, Dream Walker, Rue, Jacob’s House and Other Bodies. He is also a director (most recently Ellen McLaughlin’s Ajax in Iraq) and actor (the recent film, The Golden Scallop). Learn more here.