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Play Swaps Genders of 2016 Presidential Candidates, Receives Surprising Reactions from Audience

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A play has brought parts of the 2016 presidential debates to the stage but with an added twist: Donald Trump is played by a woman, while Hillary Clinton is played by a man.

Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science at INSEAD, joined forces with Joe Salvatore, an associate professor of educational theater at NYU’s Steinhart School to develop Her Opponent, a play featuring actors performing excerpts from the three debates verbatim but with the genders of the candidates switched, NYU News reports.

The play gave different names to the Trump and Clinton characters, calling Trump’s persona “Brenda King” and Clinton’s persona “Jonathan Gordon.” A third actor played the moderator in the debates.

The audience’s reaction to the play brought some interesting results. Salvatore and Guadalupe originally predicted that even though the candidates’ genders were reversed, the candidates’ personalities would match those portrayed in the real-life debates. But the results were exactly the opposite of what they predicted.

Guadalupe wrote in a reflection on the experiment:

It was an unusual experiment which sparked some surprising reactions in a talkback session after the events. The expectation, held by myself and the majority of people polled before the performance, had been that Clinton would look “more presidential” as a man and Trump’s lack of respect for, and aggression towards, his opponent would not be tolerated in a woman. Our predictions were way off.

Audience members found that the arguments from Trump’s character sounded more convincing coming from a woman.

“About halfway through watching this it hit me – I see how he (Trump) won,” one audience member commented.

They also agreed that many of the arguments coming out of the Clinton character’s mouth seemed less believable and said that the character came off as “untrustworthy” or “fake.”

“I expected to feel validated in my beliefs,” a left-leaning member of the audience noted. “But I thought Gordon was weak. I found myself expecting him, as a man, to attack more.”

The experiment challenged people’s perceptions of gender, even if it did not change people’s opinion of the two candidates.

“It gave people enough distance to reflect on their own deeply ingrained gender bias, and to think about how they might have better understood the debates and the other perspective if they had not held such strong preference or distaste for a specific candidate,” Guadalupe said.

Her Opponent was performed at the Provincetown Playhouse in the West Village in New York City in January, and there is a plan to shoot and edit a re-creation of the play.


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