You might have noticed the ballyhoo going on all day today over Donald Trump’s tweets admonishing the cast of Hamilton for delivering a curtain speech to Mike Pence, who was in attendance last night:
We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.
A simple, heartfelt request. Mr. Pence, to his credit, stayed and listened. But Mr. Trump, for reasons which we can only speculate, found this utterly reprehensible:
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!
Forgetting for a moment the absurdity of Mr. Trump suddenly recognizing the importance of a “safe space,” I was struck by this idea that the theatre “must always be safe.” I think that reveals a profound misunderstanding of what theatre actually is.
Certainly people go to the theatre for an escape. I did that very thing myself today, seeing a British farce at the theatre company where I’ve worked for the last 24 years. For a couple of hours, I giggled along with a bunch of strangers, united in that moment. And we all walked out smiling. In that instance, I would certainly call it “safe.”
But to assume that the theatre is meant for ONLY this, only for escapism and laughter and frivolity…well, that’s simply incorrect.
At the top of the proscenium at the theatre where I work is this line from Hamlet: “to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature.” The theatre, as mirror, reflects everything about human nature back to us, nobility and dishonor, kindness and cruelty. This is the theatre’s moral function. And sometimes it’s intensely uncomfortable to watch.
In my former life as an actress, I played roles that were silly and fun, and I played roles that left me a trembling mess every night, teary-eyed and exhausted, overwhelmed, exhilarated, and grateful for the experience. Most people who work in the theatre will tell you the same thing. And all of us can remember a time we’ve sat in the audience and felt challenged, even offended, by the goings-on onstage. But we understand that this is the very nature of the thing that also nurtures and sustains us.
Theatre absolutely saved my life. But it does not owe me “safety.”
That the cast of Hamilton took a moment to ask the incoming Vice President to consider the very real fears of many Americans was neither rude, nor was it “harassment.” They did what Americans are SUPPOSED to do, and they demonstrated the power of theatre to persuade, or at least attempt to persuade, its audience to consider the world at large.