Presidential Spotlight Shines on Wagner Ranch 4th Grade Student

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(Michelle Swaney, Photographer)
Agnes Swaney as 9-year-old presidential candidate Kaley Gurlbaus.

    Let’s call this “funk” news: mostly fake, but lots of fun. What if a fourth grader was elected President of the United States (POTUS)? Agnes Swaney, a student at Orinda’s Wagner Ranch Elementary, recently played the role of presidential candidate Kaley Gurlbaus, a spunky, 9-year-old karate-loving Girl Scout, who successfully wooed voters with her campaign slogan, “Vote for tomorrow’s leader — TODAY!” POTUS Among Us is the latest improvisational comedy performance of the Washington Improv Theater, revamped this year from a live, DC stage production to an online format viewable on YouTube and all social media channels.
    The Washington Improv Theater, cleverly acronymed WIT, is an improvisational comedy theater established in 1986 in Washington D.C. Fortunately for Lamorinda, comedy veteran Michelle Swaney, who portrays the role of Kaley Gurlbaus’ overbearing campaign Mom-ager, was instrumental in securing spots for Bay Area comedic actors in the recent Internet collaboration.
    Concepted for adults, the humorous, imaginary campaign saga mimics the real-life path of political candidates: cutthroat debates, attack ads, punditry, scintillating scandals and political intrigue, seasoned by a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek social media promotion.
    In the fictional world of POTUS Among Us, instead of Democrats and Republicans, three political parties — Rock, Paper, Scissors — duke it out for the presidency amidst a swirling media circus. Actors in Michelle Swaney’s troupe of Bay Area improv actors called, Jurassic Pope, represented the primary candidates of the Scissors Party: General Fist, a blustery, combat-hungry military general, Miranda Curie-Swift, an environmentally obsessed candidate, fixated on overpopulation and her questionable approach to combating that; and Beekman, whose masked face resembles a cross between a giant Croc and Jason Voorhees from Friday 
the 13th.
    Rounding out the pack is charming 9-year-old Kaley Gurlbaus, a Greta Thunberg-esque breath of fresh air, who proudly wears her karate yellow-belt with every outfit, earns an impressive array of Girl Scout badges and promises to nominate an all-female cabinet. Amusing “attack ads” accuse her of heinous crimes, such as hosting playdates during the pandemic and shortchanging customers at her lemonade stand.
    “Typically, POTUS Among Us is a live, interactive show, performed on stage in DC,” Swaney explained. Performed quadrennially — every election year since 2004 — the show was forced to make alterations in the presentation and delivery this year, which opened the door for actors from around the United States to participate. As the fast-paced, satirical format humorously chronicled an election cycle from beginning to end, every stage performance depended on audience participation by voting, which gave every show a different and unpredictable outcome. This year, once Swaney learned the show would take place virtually, she immediately sought to incorporate the local improv troupe she founded, Jurassic Pope of Oakland.
    POTUS Among Us was young Agnes Swaney’s first foray into the acting and improvisational comedy world. She plans to expand her theatrical resumé by performing in Wagner Ranch’s spring musical, assuming COVID-19 precautions permit. Michelle Swaney conceded her daughter Agnes had such a positive and rewarding experience performing in POTUS Among Us, perhaps she will want to follow in her mother’s comedic footsteps, although that was never the goal when the personalities and platforms of this year’s candidates were created. “I was on the phone, in a brainstorming session, and Agnes just happened to wander into the room,” Swaney explained. “I asked her, ‘Agnes, what would be important to you, if you ran for President?’”
    Without hesitation, Agnes responded, “S’mores. Recess. Birds. Karate. And Double Christmas.” And a candidate was born.
    To enjoy a variety of sketches from POTUS Among Us, visit #WITPOTUS2020 on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Swaney’s improv troupe, Jurassic Pope, performs classic and interactive improv year-round. To stay up-to-date on their latest comedy endeavors, follow Jurassic Pope Oakland on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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