With the election fast approaching, Associate Professor of Theatre Heather May has co-created a series of online videos featuring a cast of puppets meant to help people understand the ins and outs of voting. Just Co Vote — the name is a play on COVID — is designed to disseminate information about the voting process and direct visitors to relevant resources.
May acknowledges that the “surprisingly challenging and stressful” experience they had while filling out an absentee ballot during the June primary election was inspiration for the idea. “It got me thinking about how confusing voting actually is in the United States — especially during the coronavirus pandemic, when election rules and circumstances seem to be changing every few days,” they explain.
May enlisted the help of Justin Tacuri ’17, who graduated with a double major in theatre and media and society and now produces music and voice recording projects, and Anna Claire Walker, one of May’s students when May taught at Auburn University. Both Tacuri and Walker were a part of Mosaic, May’s theatre company devoted to dialogue, community, diversity and the pursuit of social justice.
Determined to make the content fun, interesting and accessible, May tapped into Walker’s background in puppetry and together the team settled on a Sesame Street-like vibe, bringing Just Co Vote characters Stressica, Issalation, Afraido and Val to life. “Puppets can do a lot of things we can’t,” May says. “It’s a great way to not feel like you’re lecturing.”
Each week, the team produces two full episodes, along with short reels of voter information and a version of an episode that includes audio descriptions and subtitles. Episodes address topics such as voter registration, early voting, and how to find the correct polling location, as well as how to manage barriers to voting such as poll access for people with disabilities. The website includes a contact form where visitors can suggest additional topics for the cast and crew to cover.
One of the challenges of the project was figuring out how to address voting concerns for individual states. “There was simply no way for us to talk about each state individually,” May says. Instead, viewers are directed to vote.org to obtain specific information related to the state where they’ll be voting, including deadlines, reminders and election-related coronavirus guidance.
The voting-minded puppets have elicited positive reactions from the public. “My favorite moment was a comment on an Instagram post where someone had shown the video to a relative and their college roommate who had questions about registering to vote,” says May. “She said she knew exactly what to tell them to go look at because of the episode.”
The team will continue to produce videos until Election Day on Nov. 3. “We want people to share the site and engage with it,” May says. “The goal is for the information to get out there so everyone can vote.”