As we get closer to the day when Donald Trump will be sworn in as the President of the United States, I can’t help but think back to one of his now infamous tweets. I struggled, like many who voted for a different candidate, to speak rationally about the subject and though I posted a little rant on my Facebook page, I kept my thoughts for another day. Today is that day.
Back in November, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence was boo’d and sent away with a post show statement from the cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton”. Though unless you live under a rock, you probably already know that because Facebook, the twitter-verse and traditional media all quickly picked up the story. Just in case you call a rock home (no disrespect to those who do), let me repeat it here as it was read by actor Brandon Victor Dixon:
“Vice President-elect Pence, I see you’re walking out, but I hope you will hear just a few more minutes. We are a diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our friends, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of us. We truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colours, creeds and orientation. We don’t have to agree, but we have to live here.”
President-Elect Trump responded to the event in typical Trump fashion:
Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2016
A Safe and Special Place
I’ll be honest, I quickly stopped following the drama because it was truly just political theatre on the grandest scale. Also, Let me get beyond the hypocrisy of Mr. Trump asking for a “safe and special place” because that is a can of worms in itself, but I do want to discuss that safe and special place.
For those of us who have lived and worked in theatre nearly our entire life, the theatre is the only place where theatre makers feel safe and special. It is a place of refuge, a place of love and a place where we can share our passions together while challenging our own beliefs and talents. The theatre is one of the few places where us “freaks” find community, acceptance and a platform. It doesn’t matter your political beliefs, social class, sexual orientation, race, religion, or family makeup, you are accepted. Every day that the curtain rises, we welcome audiences into our special place to share ideas.
While all theatres should be physically safe spaces, we, as theatre makers, do not intend to create a mentally safe space for the audience. We are not there to just entertain, but to challenge the audience’s beliefs and give them something to think about when they walk away from the theatre. I think Playwright Edward Albee said it best, “If you spend a hundred bucks, or more, to go to the theatre, something should happen to you. Maybe somebody should be asking you some questions about your values, or about the way you think about things. Maybe you should come out of the theatre, something haven happened to you. Maybe you should be changing, or thinking about changing. But if you just go there, and the only thing you worry about is where you left the damn car, then you wasted a hundred bucks.” Playwrights create texts that raise the issues of the present, and bring forward the issues of the past, that far too often remain unspoken, in an attempt to begin a dialogue.
The theatre will always be a place to challenge the status quo. The theatre will always be a place to stand up for what is right. The theatre will always be a place to stand up for the issues we believe in. It doesn’t matter if the curtain has risen, or fallen, artists will always speak out – always have, always will.
“Conversation is not harassment, sir”
— Brandon Victor Dixon (@BrandonVDixon) November 19, 2016
As Americans, we have a lot to think about, but we also have a lot to talk about. A conversation has to begin to understand how the United States has become so politically polarised. This polarisation has caused our government to be on the verge of defaulting on its own debt, the government has nearly been shut down because budgets can’t be passed, and simple bills that both sides agree on have been pushed aside just because of party lines. Our cities have become unsafe because people are afraid of the police and the police are afraid of the people. Basic human and civil rights are being challenged in a way that can set back the country to a time when the very fundamental freedoms that it was founded on were not for all. Access to basic mental health is not for all, but those who need and can’t find treatment can still access guns to terrorize the lives of others. A country that founded by immigrants has the potential to become the most walled off country in the world.
We have a lot to talk about. We have a lot to discuss. A great place for those conversations to begin is in the theatre because there are few places today where an audience’s attention is kept for two hours straight. The theatre has the opportunity to show its audiences how the other lives and how our ignorance has become one of the greatest threats to our democracy. Harassment isn’t required, but a little bit of listening and talking is.