“[Hamilton] is such a nice escape from all the craziness in our world right now. It’s about two famous New York politicians locked in a dirty, ugly, mud-slinging political campaign – escapism.”
– Lin-Manuel Miranda on Saturday Night Live
“Vice President-elect Pence we welcome you and 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 parents or defend us and uphold our unalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us. We truly thank you for sharing in this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colours, creeds and orientations and we truly hope that you heard our message sir, because you all represent all of us.”
– Brandon Victor Dixon at the Richard Rogers Theatre
Hamilton is by definition a show about politics. The whole second act is an account of the creation of the American political system. The first act is just as political, singing out about the power of revolution and fighting for the unheard voices. The recently released remixes of Hamilton tracks as part of the highly anticipated Hamilton Mixtape are even more intensely political – just listen to ‘Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)’.
When Mike Pence walked into the Richard Rogers Theatre on Friday night, he knew what he was walking into. The plot of Hamilton is no secret – not only is it pulled from history books, but it has become such a pop-culture phenomenon that even those not schooled in US History know what it is about, and what it has come to stand for. Hamilton is not just about telling the story of an immigrant, or a group of revolutionaries, or even the women who are normally silenced in these stories – it is the very place where these people stand on stage, and sit across from their counterparts in the audience. The cast of Hamilton has always included an incredibly diverse group of people, representing the US to the best of its ability, and this has been one of the most discussed and celebrated aspects of the show’s work. Mike Pence did not go in blindly.
I cannot even begin to imagine the pain it must have caused for the company of Hamilton to perform for Mike Pence that night. Mr Pence, much like Mr Trump has been very open about his proposed policies, and many of those policies are directed at the very people and communities that Hamilton seeks to represent each night. Beyond that, it must have been hard to be an audience member in that room with Mr Pence. New York has been a hot spot for protests against President-Elect Trump and Vice President-Elect Pence since the results of the election were announced. But the actions of the Hamilton company were not just those of protest – they were a show of acceptance, acceptance of the upcoming Trump-Pence administration, and acceptance of the power these people will now hold. More than that, they were an act of faith – faith in their nation’s democracy, and faith in the man standing surrounded by security on his way out of their theatre that he would stop, if only for a moment, to hear them.
The theatre has always been a space for people to ask for people to listen to them. It has become a tradition for cast members to step forward once the show has finished to ask patrons to donate money to a particular cause, or to inform them about large social and cultural issues that they can make a difference in. The theatre has always been a safe space for actors to use their platform to give a voice to the people who aren’t always heard.
Hamilton has participated in this tradition before. And this is no different.
Mr Trump, who took to Twitter to voice his anger, said that “the theatre must always be a safe and special place”, and I fail to see how that was not the case here. When Brandon Victor Dixon stood forward, speech in hand, he was standing there for all the voices who have been crying out in all their different ways since the election. With the greatest respect for the position he had, and for the position the man he was addressing has now gained, he thanked him for listening, for choosing this show, choosing to hear them, and for choosing to stay for a few moments to hear the people he spoke for. Dixon used his position to stand up for the voices needed to be heard – loud, clearly and without hate speech and violence. As Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the show, tweeted later “Proud of @HamiltonMusical. Proud of @BrandonVDixon, for leading with love. And proud to remind you that ALL are welcome at the theatre.” And honestly, if that does not show the power of the theatre as a safe and special place for everyone, I don’t know what does.
I am not a fan of Mike Pence or his proposed policies, but for a second let’s put that aside. I am not here to talk about my political views, I am here to defend the place of theatre and I want to take a moment to talk about this event specifically. Despite being booed on his way in, Mr Pence did go to Hamilton, and he watched it. Theatre is a space for learning, for education, and a place to test your own personal views. Given that, Mr Pence’s very presence in that space shows, for me at least, a glimpse of hope. He went to perhaps the most political show running on Broadway and listened to every word of it. More than that, when the show ended and the cast stayed to address him directly, he stopped. He didn’t demand an apology. He didn’t walk away. Despite the audience’s booing (which the cast made sure to discourage) he stayed and listened.
And that act of staying and listening gives me hope for the next four years.
So please, Mr Pence, keep on listening.
© Hayley New 2016