The GameChanger and The Player

The GameChanger is coming off a campaign that ran for seventeen months across the world's media networks, generating transactions worth what must have been billions of dollars. At the age of 46, he is the most accomplished performer a majority of voters have ever seen on the political stage. He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. He has a dream. He asks what he can do for his country. He takes giant steps for mankind, and inspires people to take giant steps of their own. He plays to sold-out arenas.

The Player won many well-deserved honors for his performance as a Vietnam POW in a show that ran for five years at the Hanoi Hilton. But that was forty years ago. When The Player was in his prime, he could be as full of feist as Cagney grapefruiting a mouthy dame, as charming as Tracy sparring with Hepburn, as folksy as Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, takin' on the scalawags and stickin' up for the little guy, see? Today, however, The Player is 71 years of age, and it seems as if his show, which mostly plays in dinner theaters and Moose Lodges, has been running longer than Hal Holbrook played Mark Twain.

The GameChanger plays many roles. In some scenes, he is the Careful Listener, picking up on the stories and concerns of voters that he will later share with millions when his role shifts to that of Master Orator or Gifted Writer. In other scenes, he's a Harvard Policy Wonk itching to get wonky with the likes of Ban-Ki Moon. In other scenes he's a Baller, the Tayshaun Prince of Politics, who's going to put a hoops court in the White House.

The Player's performance, by contrast, has the range and spontaneity of the Mr. Lincoln audio-animatronic at Disneyland. Furrow brow. Blink twice. Line. Blink. Turn to right. Line. Smile and touch fingertips thoughtfully. Turn to left. Lie. Lie. Lie. Chuckle. Blink. Like Mr. Lincoln, the only news the Player makes is when there's some kind of glitch, some deviation from the script, and the script supervisor, Joe Lieberman, has to feed him a...umm...ahhh...excuse me a second...oh, that's right, a line. I meant to say line.

A scripted performance like The Player's is make-believe (or wanna-believe) designed to wrestle reality out of the room so the audience doesn't have to deal with it for awhile. As in: "We're winning! We're winning! We're really, really winning!" Yessir, in The Player's script, we are most definitely winning. But reality has returned with a vengeance, and it wants its money back. Everyone can see the green screen, dude. You're acting in a vacuum.

The GameChanger also wrestles with reality, but does so in order to improve upon that reality, engage with it, speak the truth of it to the audience, not encourage them to escape from it. If the reality of a scene is good, the GameChanger makes it better. If the reality is rotten, the GameChanger moves the scene in a more productive direction. No re-writes or consultation with manufacturers of make-believe necessary. He just does it, and We The Ensemble can relate, because reality is what those of us who are not War Heroes Married to Miss Budweiser have to wrestle with on a daily basis.

The GameChanger's performance is improvised. This gives him the ability to act at the speed of thought, quickly arrive at agreements, and work with large themes that invite productive, authentic behaviors by everyone with whom he shares the stage - including adversaries. Improvisation keeps the nation's narrative fresh, spontaneous, open to the possibilities that life presents and prepared for its challenges and consequences.

I do not want to completely disparage the contributions made by players, be they politicians, audio-animatronics, or both. Players are vital to the process, players lubricate the gears of legislation. And a player does not get to be The Player without having a lot of game. I've got no problem with the show in Washington having a crusty Uncle Johnny character in the cast, cracking wise in the Capitol cloak room, telling 'em about the time he gave ol' Ho Chi Minh what's-for. But casting him as the nation's Chief Executive would be like asking Ned Beatty to play Batman. A joke we'd be playing on ourselves.

The future is not going to follow a script written by Washington scenarists and dutifully performed by people like The Player. The future will be improvised. In light of that, the very best move We The Ensemble can make is to get The GameChanger onstage in November and let the Grand Improvisation begin.

Mike Bonifer is the author of GameChangers - Improvisation for Business in the Networked World. His website is