I recently had the pleasure of meeting one of the performers from one of Washington DC‘s most popular performance groups, The Capitol Steps. Jon Bell took a minute to sit down and do an interview with us at BroadwayReviewed.com and we are very excited to share with you a bit more about one of DC’s most well known performance groups The Captiol Steps.
What are the Capitol Steps?
“Capitol Steps” is a musical, political satire. It consists of a number of actors that make fun of the things that are going on in politics today. Each show usually consists of 3 men and 2 women that put the mock in democracy. It is a fun, fast-paced show geared to make you laugh.
How did the Capital Steps Form? (This answer came from one of the founders)
The Capitol Steps have an odd history – we started in 1981 as entertainment for a Senate office Christmas party. We were all working on Capitol Hill at the time…and the joke we like to make is that we originally intended to put on a traditional nativity play, but in all the Congress we couldn’t find three wise men or a virgin! So, instead we decided to make fun of the very people that employed us. It was the early days of Ronald Reagan…he had gone from acting to politics, so we thought we could go from politics to acting. And we thought that after that first party, someone would tell us to stop (or maybe even fire us!) but no one did, so 28 years later, the group is still going. For the first fifteen years, we had a rule that anyone who performed with the Capitol Steps had to be a Capitol Hill staffer. Eventually, during the Clinton years, we got so busy that we added some Washington-area actors, and now the group is about fifty-fifty, staffers and performers.
When we started, it was the Reagan administration and the songs were about the scandals back then, “Thank God I’m a Contra Boy” or “Mine Every Mountain.” Over the years, the members of the Capitol Steps have learned to listen to the news not as a serious source of information, but more, “is it funny and what rhymes with it?” So when Dan Quayle was Vice President, we did “Stand By Your Dan,” the first Gulf War gave us “Papa’s Got a Brand New Baghdad,” and the North Korea nuclear threat prompted the song “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?”
Over the years, our favorite scandals have been those that suggest a certain song. For example, when Governor Mark Sanford said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, but was actually in Argentina, it gave us a good chance to use “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” and when the Tiger Woods scandal broke, we did “Fly of the Tiger.” Sometimes it’s like the politicians are thinking of us. And though some people think Barack Obama isn’t always quite as funny as George Bush, he gave us Joe Biden. So we’re grateful for that!
How did you get involved with the Capitol Steps?
I was living in Williamsburg, Virginia at the time when I got an email from a friend of mine who had already been performing with “Capitol Steps” for about 15 years. His email asked, ” Are you still black ? Are you still performing ? ” He told me that “Capitol Steps” was currently looking for someone to play Barack Obama and that I should get in touch with Elaina Newport for an audition. I spoke with Elaina and sent her my headshot and resume. I also took a look on you-tube to see what “Capitol Steps” was all about and I realized that they often used well known songs and changed the words to make fun of what was going on in politics. Elaina told me that she wanted to hear me sing and that she would like a comic monologue. So, after checking them out on you-tube I got the idea to sing Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” but change the words to talk about gas prices. I had the audition on a Saturday in November at 3 p.m., after the audition Elaina asked me to stay and watch the show that evening. She told me that I was hired during the intermission of the show that I saw that night. I was overjoyed !
What is the biggest challenge with all of the different routines you have to memorize?
The amount of time that we have to learn some of the songs is really fast, so I always have to be ready to learn something new whenever they have an idea for a new skit. Last year, I was flying to California to do a show and just as we landed in the airport, we got word that Michael Jackson had just died. Well, Micheal Jackson was in our show that we were about to perform in a couple of hours. So Elaina had to change the script in a matter of hours and decided to take Michael Jackson out of the show and replace him with Cher. Well, to make a long story short I began to learn the new lyrics for Cher and that evening I put on a skirt and a long,black wig and Cher became a part of the show.
What do you feel the biggest impact you have had with the Capital Steps is? Education, Entertainment, Awareness, etc…? I think it is the joy that I feel daily to go out and perform this show. It is so rewarding to bring joy to so many people for a living. My world has also expanded since I have gotten to travel throughout the country. I have met so many different cultures and made some great friends.
What do you love most about being a part of The Capitol Steps?
I think “Capitol Steps” is an awesome company to work for ! I get to travel the country and I have worked in some theatre’s that have seated over 2,000 people. I am trully blessed ! There are days that I take a breath and think “This is really happening to me!”. I also think that the people that I work for are so talented and fun. It’s always great when you love the people that you work with. I also LOVE the challenge of having to learn something new at a moments notice, this is an actors dream !! Another fun fact about the “Capitol Steps” is that we are always working with different performers. There are about 24 cast members throughout “Capitol Steps” and they are always mixing us up with different cast members, so we have A LOT of scripts in our head. We will often play different roles depending on who we are paired with. There could be 4 shows going on in different parts of the country on the same night.
Where can we see you all perform?
You can always find our schedule on our website : capitolsteps.com ~ You will be able to find out the next time we are performing in a city near you. You can also book us to do a show. We do private and public shows throughout the country and we always have shows every Friday and Saturday at 7:30p.m. at the Reagan building at 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C.
What would you say the most important thing someone can get from one of your shows is?
The news really can be funny, it’s all in how you look at it.
What do you like most about being a part of The Capitol Steps?
I love the travel, the people that I work with and the constantly changing script……. it is a wonderful challenge that I embrace daily.
What else would you like us to know about you or The Captiol Steps?
I have been performing professionally for 20 years and I love where my career has taken me. I thank God for opening these doors and allowing me to experience this incredible joy.
I’d like to thank Jon Bell for taking the time to talk with Broadway Reviewed and if you would like to see The Captial Steps perform contact them through their website by clicking here.