There’s no time like the present for some good political satire.
“It’s getting to the point where it’s challenging,” Elaina Newport, co-founder of Capitol Steps, said in an interview with The Times. “We think something is huge and will stay in the news for a while, but by the end of the week, something else happens and no one remembers.”
Capitol Steps is a political satire troupe founded in 1981 by former Capitol Hill staffers Elaina Newport and Bill Strauss. The group has since toured all 50 states, performed for four U.S. presidents, and on Tuesday, August 15, they’ll be at the Performing Arts Center in Oak Bluffs for their second performance on Martha’s Vineyard.
Ms. Newport is one of the two main writers for Capitol Steps. She and Mark Eaton, as well as their contributing writers, are always on the clock as long as the political climate continues to rapid-fire material. “We finished writing a song about Scaramucci getting hired, and had to rewrite it about a day later,” Ms. Newport laughed.
The troupe started out when Ms. Newport, former employee of Senator Charles Percy, was planning entertainment for the office Christmas party. She and a colleague came up with satirical songs, parody, and skits. “They were either going to tell us to stop, fire us, or both,” Ms. Newport said. “Here we are, 35 years later.”
The group will perform numbers from their latest album, “Orange is the New Barack.” The show will feature talk of the town Trump, Putin, Bernie, Senator Warren, and more. “We have more costume changes than a Cher concert,” Ms. Newport laughed.
According to Ms. Newport, maintaining bipartisanship is one of the hardest parts of this type of comedy. “The Republicans have the Senate, the House, and are the party in power,” she said, “From a comedy standpoint, it’s easier to poke fun. That’s why we’re so happy Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are speaking up — it keeps the show balanced.”
According to Ms. Newport, performers have to be bold and fearless, and sometimes try out new jokes on the fly. “I’ve been known to text performers a new joke right before they go on,” Ms. Newport said.
Five Capitol Steps actors perform over 30 songs and skits in each show. According to Ms. Newport, the cast is made up of three men, two women, and a lot of wigs.
“If you want to hear Bernie sing a showtune, Trump belt a rock song, and Putin dance shirtless, then this is the show for you,” Ms. Newport said.
Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., and George W. Bush invited the troupe to the White House to perform. “The staff was so nervous,” Ms. Newport said. “They didn’t want us to sing songs about the president. After one show, President Bush Sr. came up to us and said, ‘I think the show was censored!’ He’s an extremely nice guy.”
Capitol Steps have also performed for President Gerald Ford after he was out of office, and also for Hillary Clinton.
“It’s been a very divisive time,” Ms. Newport said. “Sometimes you just gotta laugh.”
Capitol Steps perform at the Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, August 15, at 8 pm. For more information, visit mvconcertseries.com.