Rent

Hamilton and Safe Spaces

Recently, the Vice-President Elect, Mike Pence, attended the multiple award winning, critically acclaimed musical Hamilton. According to reports, upon arrival the VPE was greeted with a mixture of boos and cheers from the audience. There were points in the show where Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics and music caused the audience to respond in such a way that actors had to pause and refocus. Afterwards, during the curtain call, the cast addressed Vice-President Elect Pence voicing their concerns and their desire that the Trump administration remember them after telling the audience not to boo Governor Pence.

The President-Elect responded on Twitter with this message:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>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!</p>&mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/799974635274194947″>November 19, 2016</a></blockquote>
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As this blog goes out, many angry Americans are rating the Hamilton show as a 1-Star show and #BoycottHamilton is trending on Twitter. The point of this blog isn’t political. It isn’t about the Hamilton’s cast message to Vice-President Elect Pence nor about really about President-Elect Trump’s tweet. It is about the idea that theater is a “safe and special place”. theater can be a place of entertainment, but it isn’t solely a place of entertainment. Theater is also a place where ideas are challenged, where people are challenged. Shows like The Crucible and The Hairy Ape are designed to make people think within the context of theater. Even seemingly “safe” shows like Oklahoma, The Music Man, Wicked and Hairspray present ideas to challenge the ideas and notions of the audience. Look at shows like Rent, Angels in America, Dog Sees God, Book of Mormon, the list goes on and on.

So lets get rid of the idea that theater is a “safe” place, but it is a “special place”.

 

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Theater as a means for social change

This is an issue I’ve been struggling with since the Sandy Hook/Newtown, CT school shooting. How should we as artists, playwrights, directors, and actors respond to such a tragedy. How do we share our voice and our beliefs. should we even say a thing? Do we have a responsibility beyond just entertaining?

I recently submitted a piece to the group NOPASSPORT for their Gun Control Theater Action event (to be held Jan 26 at Theater J in Washington DC). And while I haven’t heard if my piece was selected or not, but it did get me thinking. Can theater be an effective tool for societal change?

Obviously, I think it can be or I wouldn’t have spent two days writing and polishing and editing a 10 minute play for that purpose, focusing my attention on something else, a light comedy or farce perhaps. I’m reminded of a quote John Cheever said, “Art is the triumph over chaos.” Theater is an art and without it, in any form, we are allowing chaos to truimph. So, as artists, we have a responsibility to be an agent of change in our society. Every great story has a character going through an emotional or physical change from who they were to who they should be. This, in turn, should challenge the audience to examine their own life and change.

I also think that we are a visual society. That you can express in characters what is often not heard in debate. You can debate about AIDS vicitms or homosexuality if you con’t know such people, but when you watch a piece such as ANGELS IN AMERICA or RENT, you come face to face with people who are suffering from AIDS or are real people who happen to be gay, or suffer a hate crime. NEXT TO NORMAL brings us face to face with mental illness. O’Neill’s THE HAIRY APE displays his concern for the working man and society’s attempts, at that time, to look away from them.

So yes, I do think that theater not only SHOULD be an agent of social change, but has a responsibility to do as much.