The Body Politic: ‘Kristina Wong for Public Office’ Wins This Election

What’s your election day coping strategy? Will you obsessively watch as they count each electoral vote on national television? Or will you try to take your mind off the polls until the election’s been called one way or another? Either way, election season brings forth a spate of politically-inspired performance, and even in pandemic times there’s plenty to choose from.

Radio plays from the San Francisco Mime Troupe and Berkeley Repertory Theatre in conjunction with over 90 nationwide broadcasting partners. Homebrewed web series such as Ross Travis’ satirical Lady Rona Public Service Announcements, and the newly rejuvenated So Soul SF salons, co-presented by the Black Artists Contemporary Cultural Experience and Brava Theatre. Zoom productions and cross-continental collaborations too numerous to list. All ready to do their political duty and offer solace to communities under pressure.

But one piece in particular stands out to me as being perfect both for election night stress-viewing, and post-election decompression, and that is Kristina Wong for Public Office. Not only is San Francisco-born performance artist Kristina Wong an insightful satirist—with two decades of politically-aware, socially-engaged work under her belt—but she’s an elected official on her neighborhood council in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. So her faux campaign performance is utterly grounded in the political processes it seeks to subvert.

Kristina Wong in ‘Kristina Wong for Public Office’ captured at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in October 2020. (Image courtesy of Center Theatre Group.)

While plenty of artists create work about politics, only a handful of them ever actually run for public office (“there’s always room for Jello”), and even fewer wind up getting elected. That Wong’s crowd-working campaign strategies garnered her just 72 votes still gives her extra insight into the machinations of the political process—even for a low-stakes, entirely voluntary seat on the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council. Even before she was elected she encountered some dubious tactics from supporters of one of her opponents, but by virtue of there being two seats available and a three-candidate pool, she won her spot and the real work began.

Serving on a neighborhood council is about as politically unglamorous as it gets, and yet, as a microcosm of the national political process, it’s highly instructive—both for Wong as an individual, and for the audience of her digital show (directed by Diana Wyenn, and filmed onstage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre for an in-house audience of empty chairs and a global audience of anyone with internet access and $10). Unlike most other political shows, Kristina Wong for Public Office dares to set up not an us/them dichotomy or a call to some amorphous action heavy on rhetoric but light on specifics, but a practical, DIY guide to running a campaign of one’s own, and what to expect once you get into office.

Kristina Wong in ‘Kristina Wong for Public Office,’ captured at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in October 2020. (Image courtesy of Center Theatre Group.)

A performer not afraid to fill up her available space, Wong stalks the perimeter of the Kirk Douglas Theatre stage like a prizefighter, an Elvis-style studded cape with her name stitched in sequins on the back fluttering in her wake. Her talents as a fabric artist are on proud display: a banner emblazoned with a rainbow-striped eagle and a marijuana leaf, hand-sewn stars and stripes draped over the podium.

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