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Counterpoint: The Theater Should Not Be a Safe Place

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Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays the role of Aaron Burr in 'Hamilton,' addresses Vice President-Elect Mike Pence on Nov. 18, 2016. (YouTube)

The chatter today is that Vice President–Elect Mike Pence went to see Hamilton, was booed by some audience members upon arrival, and was addressed by the cast afterward in what most people would describe as a respectful reminder of core American values:

Already many are saying that Pence’s sure-to-make-headlines attendance at Hamilton was planned as a distraction from Donald Trump’s $25 million settlement in a fraud trial brought by some 6,000 former students of Trump University. (If so, it worked.) But this is an arts blog and not a politics blog, which is why we’ll focus here on Trump’s response:

I am not an expert on the theater. I have only been to dozens, not hundreds, of plays. But I can say this:


The theater should not be a safe place.

I’ll say it again: the theater should not be a safe place. The theater should challenge, upset, discomfort, call out, and upend. The theater is exactly the space where a politician who twice voted to ban gay marriage should have his ideas addressed at a production where the lead actor is an openly gay and HIV+ man. Where the man soon to be serving in an administration that has called for a Muslim registry and the building of a wall should be advised, from the stage, that “We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us.”

If the theater does not do this, the theater fails. If art as a whole does not do this, art fails.

The theater is at its worst when it is reflecting our own comforts back to us. (I can think of a few examples.) If we go to the theatre to feel safe, or to see our own preferences and beliefs on the stage, we are experiencing coddling. Not art.

Let the address from the cast of Hamilton be the guide for every theater in America for the next four years.

This has been your counterpoint.

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