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Michael Moore takes his anti-Trump fight to Broadway

Kiyo Dörrer sb
July 31, 2017

With his Broadway debut, "The Terms of My Surrender," Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore wants to trump the US President. His latest political battle is again waged with feel-good humor.

Poster for Michael Moore's "Terms of my Surrender"
Image: DW/K. Dörrer

"I do not accept living in a country where Donald Trump is president," Michael Moore announced on the stage of the sold-out Belasco Theater on Broadway. "And I'm not leaving America," he added, a baseball cap perched on his head with long ruffled hair. Meanwhile, the event quickly resembled an election campaign.

Moore's mission could not be clearer. The award-winning filmmaker and bestselling author plans to use his Broadway debut to throw Trump from the Oval Office. He believes that satirists "can bring him (Trump) down with humor, comedy and ridicule - simply because his awfully thin skin just can't take it," Moore said in June.

The first stage of this mission is the one-man play, "The Terms of My Surrender," which debuted in New York over the weekend. It comes as Moore is also working on an anti-Trump documentary, "Fahrenheit 11/9" - a reference to November 9, the day after Trump was elected. 

Read more: Michael Moore working on new documentary 'to end' Trump

A veteran activist

This is by no means the first time that Moore has employed his art to critique his beloved homeland. The 63-year-old is best-known for political documentary films like "Bowling for Columbine" and "Fahrenheit 9/11" that respectively railed against the gun industry lobby and the Bush administration in the wake of the Iraq War.

Michael Moore receiving an Oscar in 2003
Michael Moore won an Oscar for "Bowling For Columbine" in 2003Image: Getty Images/AFP/L. Celano

But Trump's election victory has sparked Moore - along with many of his colleagues in the entertainment industry - to fight back with creativity. 

One thing that distinguishes Moore, however, from many of his peers is the fact he was one of the few to predict the real estate mogul's rise to the presidency - and to warn against it. It means that people are paying special attention to Moore in the Trump era.

The setting for the play is characteristically tongue-in-cheek as Moore stands in front of a huge American flag in the Belasco Theater and talks about his life as an activist. Early in the show, he reveals his first anti-authoritarian action as a shy 16-year-old in the 1970s when he spoke out against racial discrimination aimed at African-Americans.

Moore has since maintained the belief that each person can and must do their part to change the status quo. The 63-year-old spoke excitedly about a librarian from New Jersey who used a chain letter to force Harper Collins to publish Moore's controversial book "Stupid White Men," the first 50,000 copies of which they intended to pulp because of perceived offences to the Bush presidency. It went on to become a major bestseller.

"No one will do it for you," said Moore of the need for political activism. "We have to do it."

Michael Moore at the debut of "Terms of my Surrender" in New York
Michael Moore at the debut of "Terms of my Surrender" in New York Image: DW/K. Dörrer

Broadway against Trump

The anti-Trump message on Broadway is not limited to Moore. A June production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" caused great controversy among conservatives when the lead character strongly resembled President Trump.

Read more: New York theater loses sponsors over Trump 'assassination' scene

Keeping faith with the original, the Trump-like Caesar is assassinated, which caused protesters to interrupt the outdoor performances. Director Oskar Eustis also received murder threats.

Meanwhile, an adaptation of George Orwell's dystopian novel, "1984," which has strong Trump-era undertones, has been very popular among liberal theater-goers and is happening opposite the Belasco Theater.

Read more: US theaters to screen '1984' as anti-Trump protest

Feel-good factor

In contrast to these heavy-hitting productions, Moore's first Broadway play employs a fun, late-night show format. The anecdotes about his own activism serve more as feel-good history than a concrete plan of action.

Audiences line up for the sneak preview of Michael Moore's Broadway debut, "Terms of my Surrender"
Audiences line up for Michael Moore's Broadway debutImage: DW/K. Dörrer

As Moore told the story of the activist librarian, for example, an extra in the theater asked the filmmaker to run for president. In turn, the theater stage was transformed into a mock election campaign for Moore's candidacy in 2020.

During the show's finale, the filmmaker engages in a dance performance with two stripping policemen.

Following the play, an audience member asked Moore if he could create a checklist of possible anti-Trump actions. "Good idea," Moore replied before handing out more autographs.

"I want people to feel moved," Moore said in the New York Times in the run-up to the premiere. The thunderous applause at the conclusion of the sneak preview indicates that he succeeded - though it probably can't be heard in the White House. 

"The Terms of My Surrender" is running at New York's Belasco Theater through October 22, with an official premiere on August 10.