Earlier this week, the theatre world was put on blast by the controversial, chronic headline-grabber, Donald Trump, our president-elect. Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of one of the most popular, critically-acclaimed Broadway musicals of the century: Hamilton. After what one can only assume was a stellar production, Pence was addressed by the cast with a simple, respectful plea. Essentially, it was a request for Pence to ensure all Americans representation and protection in our diverse, and increasingly divided country.
While Pence himself refrained from giving an immediate response, Trump took the matter into his own hands: on Twitter. He attacked the cast of Hamilton, stating that Pence had been “harassed” by the cast, and that the theater “must always be a safe and special place”, calling them “very rude.” He then demanded an apology. Also, he called Hamilton “highly overrated”, while he’s never, in fact, even seen the production himself. Pence has since voiced his opinion on the subject, and it appears to stand in stark contrast with Trump’s. He wasn’t offended at all, and he respected the cast’s usage of their first amendment rights, even saying that he enjoyed the show.
The main issue that I have, however, is with Trump’s viewpoint of theatre itself. Suggesting that a theatre always remains a safe space is in complete misalignment with its purpose and function in society, especially in regards to Hamilton. Theatre is a center for change, impact, thought-provoking ideas, and certainly, speech. Artists should not be condemned for using their platform to evoke change, or denounced for offering their perspective.
Regardless of political beliefs or your opinion on Hamilton (PSA: I’ll gladly take someone’s ticket if this “harassment” has led them to “boycott” a show that’s sure to continue selling out), there is also the first amendment. People should not apologize for expressing their opinions in a respectful, considerate manner, especially on the stage, where social conventions have been continually challenged, and censorship has proven to be unwarranted.
Apologizing to Donald Trump for using the stage as a platform to directly communicate with somebody who is going to be highly influential and integral to the policies that will shape our country for the next four years would fail to make any sense, in the same way that this outrage and boycott is, quite honestly, frivolous. Theatre, and art in general, will continue to make noise in this world, as it has for many years prior.
If you want a safe space, watch the movie version at home.