As a University graduate in the field of both Communications and Theater in days of yore, I cannot stop pondering the audacity of the cast of “Hamilton” when they chose, from the stage, to address newly- elected U.S. Vice President Pence who was trying to enjoy an evening of musical theater in Manhattan.
It is not actually the content of their message to him that bothers me, but rather their sense of entitlement. How is it that the cast not only grabbed the opportunity to speak directly to their future Vice President, but felt they had the explicit right to do so? Media outlets all refer to the issue of “free speech” and apologize concurrently for giving the event air time.
Theatrical works have always been a way to express political thought. A great drama or musical with political ideals can be a major contribution to Western culture. As a theater goer, one reads the reviews…decides if the production entices, and then, finances permitting…tickets are purchased to partake of the evening. In the case of “Hamilton” tickets are being sold by “scalpers” for as much as $1,000 per seat and there is a waiting list online. I signed up months ago, to be advised when regular tickets will be available.
One goes to the theater to see great acting, singing, and choreography bring an author’s vision to life. One does not go to hear the political thoughts of the actors after the conclusion of the event. Essentially, the cast held the audience captive without their prior consent. The rudeness and bad taste of their decision concerns me as it is not a “free speech” issue. They stole the opportunity to make a speech before the new V.P. and the theater’s captive audience. It was not their right to do so. They could have written a letter, had it signed by the entire cast and delivered it to V.P. Pence without imposing themselves on a theater full of paying customers.
“Free Speech” allows one to stand on a soap box and espouse one’s views to passers-by, without fear of arrest. It allows one to print a newspaper, pamphlet or book with ideas contrary to the mainstream, secure in the knowledge that punishment by the authorities will not ensue. It allows me to write a blog without risk to life and limb by local bullies. It is a gift of Democracy which still has parameters of good and bad taste. Even when I post an article on public media, the reader has the right to avoid it, delete it, share it or ignore it.
At the risk of over-simplifying the situation, I must blame Mr. Obama who, while not involved in this specific event, created a social climate for this abuse and others like it to flourish. With marches and rioting in various locations across the United States, simply because the candidate of their choice was not elected, the current President of the United States sits quietly on the sidelines enjoying the show. He is not seen wringing his hands in concern. Businesses have been destroyed and people have been physically harmed during these protests, but there is little heard from their hero, asking them to stop. The rioters and dissenters and presumably some of the actors of the cast of “Hamilton” are in favor of perpetuating the Obama legacy. Why should he ask them to be respectful and to desist from such behavior? His one Presidential statement “to have respect for the process” the day after the election has been overshadowed by his choice not to address the chaos and disruption in American cities nation-wide following the election. It is important to note that these rallies are no longer spontaneous, but continue to be organized by those with agendas of their own.
In Los Angeles in 1992 I experienced the “Rodney King Riots” firsthand. I was invited to meetings with the Mayor and Chief of Police of Los Angeles prior to the decision being handed down – where we were informed that organizations were set to riot if they did not receive the judgement to which they felt entitled. It was a dark day for Los Angeles and taught us all just how fragile Democracy and freedom really are. Without all the citizens prepared to live an ordered and respectful way of life… anarchy ruled the day. Homeowners were on their rooftops with shotguns to protect their homes, stores, and families. Businesses were burned to the ground. Firefighters were murdered, and police abandoned protecting the shops and the citizenry in favor of protecting those extinguishing the fires. The domino effect of mayhem was quite stunning to experience.
At the end of the Six Day War in 1967, a wonderful illustrated book of political cartoons by Ephraim Kishon was published entitled “So Sorry We Won!” The book is enshrined in my library and I always will remember the title. It is relevant even today. Such are the spoils of war, elections and Democracy. It is now time for everyone to grow up, respect the processes of free elections, and move forward. When I was teaching in an inner city school in Cincinnati Ohio, the election of 1968 was won by Republican Richard Nixon against Democrat Hubert Humphrey. The students at my 99% black student high school came to school wearing black arm bands as a proclamation that they were in “mourning.” They were sad, disappointed, devoid of hope at that moment. But they did not riot, pillage or protest for weeks on end.
As for the producers of “Hamilton” … they have options. If they remain silent about the abuse of both the Vice President and the audience by their esteemed cast, they deserve a flood of cancellations in the future. Personally, I am removing my name from the waiting list and have no intention of ever attending a production where the actors make the decisions rather than the director or producer. Their silence is their consent. The public awaits an apology from the Theater itself. Again, let me be clear that I am not complaining about what the cast said or their right to express their concerns, but rather with their audacity to do it in this venue. Without a statement of disapproval from the management, a boycott of “Hamilton” would send a message that would not only be felt by this production. It would help to ensure that in the future, the theater-going public can return to enjoying one of the most exquisite forms of entertainment, in the knowledge that they are getting exactly what they paid for!