VP-elect Mike Pence attended Hamilton on Broadway Friday. During the curtain call, actor Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, stepped forward from the ensemble to address him as he slipped out of the theater, pausing in the hallway to listen. Dixon invited everyone in the house to turn on their phones to record it, “so this message can be spread far and wide.” This video was shared via the musical's Twitter account.
The president-elect couldn't keep off Twitter, with these two dispatches in response: “[Pence] was harrassed [sic] last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!” Then: “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!”
The theater isn't a safe place; presidents are shot there. During the decades of the Cold War, theaters in countries locked behind the Iron Curtain used the theater to spread messages of dissent hidden deep within metaphor. Vaclav Havel, one of those playwrights in then-Czechoslovakia, emerged from those hideous years to be elected president of the Czech Republic. Theater will be a safe place, sir, when the United States is a safe place for “all of us.”
While Dixon's message was delivered in a respectful way, both in its elegantly stated content and delivery, the choice of that particular actor being the messenger adds some juicy layers to this peaceful protest: Aaron Burr was the third Vice President of the United States, so in a sense, Dixon/Burr was speaking VP to VP. As Vice President under Thomas Jefferson, Burr was President of the Senate, and therefore presided over the first impeachment trial in the U.S., that of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, whose extreme views were believed to have trumped his ability to execute his duties in an unbiased way as a justice on the highest court. Burr had been a Revolutionary War hero, a New York State Assemblyman, New York's Attorney General, and U.S. Senator from New York; however, spoiler alert: he killed his arch political rival in a duel: Alexander Hamilton. Impeachment, violence, extreme views are floated just below the surface of the cast's message.
So far, the president-elect has demanded only an apology from the sensationally popular Broadway production, but censorship of the arts will be close on the heels of his promised crackdown on the media. The ACLU took out a full-page ad in The New York Times to deliver this promise to the President-elect, which boiled down tweet-style to read: “Should President-elect Donald Trump attempt to implement his unconstitutional campaign promises, we'll see him in court.” Give cash or volunteer.
Political moves and countermoves are often dismissed as merely “political theater.” Damn straight! And the further we get into Trump's takeover, the more crucial it will be to create plays that overtly call out the lunacy that is to come. Or to stage old plays that cleverly embed messages, performed in a place and at a time when we can watch them unfold together—Ubu Roi, anyone? Orange County theater-makers, we've already called for you to get off Facebook and get to work. Orange County theater-goers, support their efforts; show up.
Get off social media, and call, call, call or send postcards to elected government officials so their staff is overwhelmed by the volume—your message will be heard. Their social media accounts are barely perused by staffers, just enough to delete the nastiest comments, but they must answer phones. Make them ring off the hook! Then get back on Facebook and join the “Postcard Avalanche to Denounce Bannon” set for the days the post office reopens after Thanksgiving. Search out Google docs, such as “We're His Problem Now,” that provide the tools for action against every category of promised attack. And to which Dixon/Burr spoke directly when he said to Pence:
“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. 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.”
No matter the arena in which you plan to take action—calling, volunteering, donating money, purchasing fact-checked media, or protesting on the streets, get your affairs in order immediately. Pay any and all parking tickets; don't give any reason for authorities to keep you locked up if arrested for protesting or to search you if stopped because of outstanding warrants. Get your health care needs taken care of as much as possible before the ACA is repealed, even if that's not how you are covered. Give to NARAL and Planned Parenthood, which as of October has been around for 100 years and may be the only health care available for all genders after a repeal. And especially because Planned Parenthood is one of VP-elect Mike Pence's primary targets.
As gracious as the plea was by the cast of Hamilton, an American Musical, and as impressive as it was Pence stayed throughout the performance despite pointed lines being delivered directly to him that erupted into standing ovations by the audience that stopped the show, grave doubt remains that though the VP-elect listened, he did not hear.
Lisa Black proofreads the dead-tree edition of the Weekly and writes about the arts and South County beaches. Her OC roots go back to the Cuckoo’s Nest but she left to create original theater on four continents, then returned to bodysurf small waves.