DPW chair credits actor and Wisconsinite Bradley Whitford for sparking series of fundraising, cast reunions like “Happy Days” and “The Princess Bride.”
Thanks to some of its famous friends, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has found a way to make Zoom and political fundraisers… fun.
Ahead of the 2020 election, the DPW has hosted a series of virtual events where the casts of beloved movies and television shows get the gang back together for a script reading. They’ve included beloved classics, such as “The Princess Bride” and “Happy Days” to more contemporary shows such as “Veep” and “Parks and Recreation.”
DPW Chair Ben Wikler said the virtual events have been “routinely” attended by over 10,000 people and raise about six-figures through pay-what-you-can donations which has raised enough money to “supercharge a legislative race and make a difference in the presidential race.”
“The Princess Bride” reunion alone raised $4.5 million.
“This is not the silver lining I expected this year but it’s been something that’s been really exciting to be a part of,” Wikler told UpNorthNews Thursday. “It brings some joy to a very difficult year.”
Wikler credits actor and Wisconsinite Bradley Whitford for sparking the series of events. Whitford has been a longtime volunteer and fundraiser for DPW but with the pandemic, it wasn’t safe for him to fly out to his home state, much less host any in-person events.
Whitford most recently has gotten involved in “The West Wing Weekly” podcast, where hosts Hrishikesh Hirway and Josh Malina revisit and discuss one episode of “The West Wing” with a guest. Whitford, who played White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman on the show, suggested the DPW host a virtual ‘The West Wing Weekly’ event during the Democratic National Convention.
In addition to the hosts and Whitford, they invited Janel Moloney, whose character Donna Moss hailed from Wisconsin, “to talk all things Wisconsin and why the state is so important,” Whitford wrote in a promotional email. “Everything from cheese curds to electoral politics!”
People could chip in any amount they wanted to tune in. Wikler did not anticipate that thousands of people would sign up.
“We realized, ‘Hey, there might be something here,’” Wikler said.
From there they started brainstorming. One DPW staff member is friends with someone who knows actor Cary Elwes from “The Princess Bride.” So they reached out to him through their mutual friend and came up with the idea of a cast reunion with a script reading.
“And boom! That thing came together in no time flat and blew me and so many people away,” Wikler said. “”The Princess Bride” is literally my favorite movie in the world. I memorized the script as a kid so knowing that this was in the works just knocked me off my feet. And then having it actually happen was a ‘dream within a dream,’ to quote the movie.”
That event, “launched a thousand ships,” Wikler said, in Wisconsin and in other states. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party held an event with the original cast of the mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap,” and the cast of the cult classic “Dazed and Confused” held a table reading to support organizations in Texas helping register voters.
The latest event scheduled by DPW: a Halloween performance of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” starring the original Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Tim Curry.
“Once something like this gets going it tends to snowball,” Wikler said.
The additional funds are certainly appreciated ahead of a major presidential election, but another benefit the party has seen is that the events have gotten people marginally interested in politics to sign up to volunteer with phone-banking or texting potential voters.
“This opens the door to folks who might not think of themselves as the kind of person who would ever go to a political fundraiser and yet they step in, they have the fun of the event, and then they get involved after,” Wikler said.
And compared to in-person fundraisers, these virtual events don’t take up much of the creative artists’ time. Instead of flying into a location and attending dress rehearsals, they get to stay home, log on and participate in the event with, at most, one technical rehearsal ahead of time. Wikler said virtual events only take up a few hours of the artists’ time as opposed to days or weeks with live events.
“I love live, in-person events. I think they are magic,” Wikler said. “But there’s a lot of setup involved, a lot of preparation.”
So while he (like everyone else) is looking forward to a future where we can safely gather, Wikler thinks there’s still a future for virtual events in a post-COVID-19 world.
“This is now something that’s part of the political toolbox,” he said. “As the world gets a little safer and our set of options expand, we’ll be able to carry the best of these innovations forward with us. I think that’s going to pay dividends for years to come.”