Originally posted in Cultural Weekly on November 23, 2016.
Dear Mr. President-elect,
I’d like to explain something about the theatre, because you seem to misunderstand what theatre is all about.
You recently asked the cast of Hamilton to apologize to the Vice President-elect, Mike Pence. You tweeted:
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!
You tweeted that because, at the end of Friday night’s performance, with Mike Pence in attendance, cast member Brandon Victor Dixon read this message from the stage:
You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening. And Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here. We’re all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out.
Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do. 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, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.
Here’s the thing about theatre. It is not a safe place. Theatre is dangerous. It challenges the status quo. All good theatre confronts its audience. That has been true since Aeschylus and Shakespeare, Molière and Beckett, and for Hansberry and Albee, Wilson and Pinter, Parks and LeCompte.
Theatre, good theatre, makes its audience uncomfortable. And theatre does not apologize for that. Theatre never apologizes.
As Mayakovsky said, and Brecht said after him, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”
This, Mr. President-elect, is the hammer of theatre. We, all artists, all culture-creators, will not apologize for what we do.
Image from the official Instagram feed of Hamilton: Actor Brandon Victor Dixon reads a message to Vice President-elect Mike Pence.