An early look at the Obama campaign – from a stage manager's perspective

An early look at the Obama campaign – from a stage manager's perspective
Courtesy photo

After last week's focus on new offerings from Universal Studios, I had intended to discuss Disney's recently debuted Anaheim expansion, but after recent events that subject felt frivolous. How could I dwell on such simple pleasures when the Greatest Political Show on Earth has pulled into town?

OK, the 2012 presidential campaign isn't exactly the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (though both boast braying donkeys and elephants), but it is set to be the Most Expensive Show on Earth. The Avengers may have earned $611 million domestically to date, but Obama and Romney will each spend a billion on their blockbuster battle.

I'm an arts and culture columnist, not a political analyst, so I have no intention of wading into the left-versus-right wars, but I will admit to enjoying Michelle Obama's many appearances on my favorite cooking shows and her admirable advocacy of childhood exercise, home-grown food and social acceptance for women with ginormous shoulders. So while spending last Saturday afternoon standing in the sun to secure tickets for the First Lady's Tuesday appearance at the UCF Arena wasn't exactly my idea of a fun weekend activity, thanks to my wife's insistence that we do just that I received some eye-opening insights into the event management and guest service skills of the Democratic campaign's downtown Orlando office.

The curse of having a background in theatrical stage management and special event production is that I can never attend anything – a Broadway musical or a high-school recital, a red-carpet premiere or a kid's birthday party, even my own wedding – without obsessively analyzing its execution. My mantra is "the show starts when the audience arrives and doesn't end until they leave," and I think consistent communication is key to quality customer service. With that in mind, my first impression of Obama's Colonial Drive headquarters (directly across the street from the Orlando Weekly office) was far from favorable.

We arrived about 20 minutes before the 3 p.m. ticket distribution was advertised to start, because we anticipated a large crowd as there were only three other disbursement centers (Kissimmee, Sanford and UCF). Apparently those in charge didn't have the same foresight, since the 200-plus people ahead of us had not been organized into a compact switchback queue under shade, as you'd expect at any second-rate carnival. Instead, the line spilled haphazardly through an active office parking lot, with drivers creeping through trying to avoid clipping the crowd.

The second disquieting sign came shortly after I joined the line, when I overheard a woman behind me ask a campaign worker if she could also get a ticket for her husband, who was sitting in the air-conditioned car with their dog. The volunteer appeared uninformed of exact regulations, but encouraged her to bring them both back out into the mid-90-degree heat. Eventually, word spread that everyone was allowed two passes, but by that time the poor pooch's paws were poached.

Actual distribution didn't begin until 22 minutes after the advertised time, with no explanations offered. Instead, we were assaulted by a steady barrage of clipboard-wielding campaign workers ballyhooing voter registration forms (I updated mine) and begging for volunteers (I didn't see them nab one); when the 12th one accosted us in 10 minutes, I feared the restive masses behind me would assault them all. After the line began inching forward, I pried some intel from an anonymous staffer: The delay was due to uncooperative Wi-Fi. Instead of having ticket-seekers fill out paper forms for volunteers to input later, the campaign kept hundreds sweating for over an hour as they slowly stabbed at six balky laptops.

The only thing more embarrassing than the campaign's amateurish event flow was the lack of decorum displayed by some waiting around me. While the organizers were less than organized, they didn't invent humidity; when a volunteer brings you free bottled water, don't bitch that it's lukewarm. Any enthusiasm these supporters had seemed to evaporate in seconds under the sun; I have to wonder if Romney partisans in the same position would have started chanting anti-socialist slogans, instead of swearing and whining.

I asked for a campaign representative to comment, but all were "upstairs," with no response by press time. Check my take at to see how Michelle Obama's Tuesday talk turns out. But whether my experience is a microcosm of the national election, representative of a major urban center along the key corridor in a crucial swing state or not, anyone anticipating an easy re-election has cause for concern.

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