The headline: “President-elect Trump Demands Apology from HAMILTON Cast”
That breathless news story of today, the timing of which has caused many people to note that it owes its existence to the need to bury a different breathless news story (namely a $25 million settlement of a civil case involving a certain real-estate “university”), is nonetheless what I’m going to focus on today, here, since … well, there are a couple of tiny things to note about it. And those things are anything but tiny.
Especially to someone (me) who has spent the bulk of his life pretty tight with the arts, and artists, and free creative expression.
Quickly now, the back story:
“Current Vice President-elect, Michael Pence, paid a visit to Broadway’s revolutionary mega-hit, ‘Hamilton’ last night and reports from inside the theater confirmed a less than enthusiastic reception. The forthcoming Vice President got a mixed reception from the packed as he was both cheered and booed upon arrival.
So the current President-elect did the Presidential thing, which of course was to immediately climb onto the Twitter machine without adult supervision:
“Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!”
Further back story:
Following the show (as reported by the Washington Post in the quote below), Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor currently portraying Aaron Burr, read a brief statement to the Vice President-elect on behalf of the company:
“‘You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening,’ he said to audience laughter. ‘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.’
“As he pulled a small piece of paper from his pocket, Dixon encouraged people to record and share what he was about to say ‘because this message needs to be spread far and wide.’
“‘Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at “Hamilton: An American Musical.” We really do,’ Dixon said to further applause. ‘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.’”
The current President-elect tweeted, by way of response:
“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!”
Great art doesn’t always feel safe. Great art doesn’t always spare your feelings. Great art doesn’t always confirm your beliefs. Great art doesn’t always stay polite. Great art doesn’t always conform to its audience’s idea of propriety.
Great art takes risks and dares you to experience them too. Great art challenges your feelings and your beliefs. Great art is a bumpy ride. And great art wouldn’t be great art if it did exactly what you wanted, all the time – that being the case, it would be pablum.
So the President-elect’s tweets make sense. Because all his life he’s reacted badly to having his feelings and beliefs challenged, to having people do something other than exactly what he’s wanted, all the time.
Not long after the President-elect expressed all that dismay, and demanded apologies, one supporter of his on Twitter (whose Twitter handle I won’t include here, because I’m uninterested in giving that supporter any more exposure) tweeted this:
“An artist’s job is to make people smile, not to make political statements. Apologize to Mike Pence, or stop calling yourselves artists!”
The President-elect seems so concerned about the artistic environment being a safe and special place – when his political friend’s feelings may be endangered. He wants an apology from the “Hamilton” cast – for expressing those subversive thoughts about the effect they hope their show has.
He’s not likely to get it.
Fair is fair: I’m pretty damned concerned about the coming Administration’s policies making the American environment into a not-very-safe or special place for many groups of people – when their rights and freedoms, livelihoods and very lives may be endangered. And I want an apology from the President-elect – for the past seventeen months of expressing truly subversive thoughts in the past seventeen months about the effect he hopes his “show” has.
I have a feeling I’m not likely to get that, either.
But what’s obvious is the President-elect’s (and his groupies’) fundamentally stunted understanding of free, creative, artistic expression.
Happily for him – and for us – I have the sense that he’s going to experience a lot more of it in the next few years.
He’s going to get an education, all right.
“Apologize, … or stop calling yourselves artists”?
Say no to this.
This week, quite a number of people in my FB world will return to their musical ensembles – scholastic or church-related or community groups or whatever – stand in front of them, and try to find something to say that addresses the place we find our nation in. Not an easy job. (No easier is the job of the people who will return to their music – or other! – classrooms and try to find the right thing to say to their elementary and pre-school-aged charges. That’s certain.)
I will, too. So, I’ve been thinking furiously (and you may take that however you like). I’ve been remembering ensembles I’ve been a member of, throughout my life, and drawing inspiration from them.
Here’s what I think I would say to any of the ensembles that I get to work with. Here’s what I think I would say to any ensemble I’ve EVER gotten to work with — because there are groups full of people from my recent and distant past that I’ve been thinking of in the last day or so, as well, who happen to be wonderful people but even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t matter. They all were – are – PERSONS, and as such deserve respect unconditionally.
“I feel like I have to say this, in this moment; but I also feel like there’s no need to say this, generally, because you all know this already; but I also feel like it’s worth saying at all times.
“In this ensemble, no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter what instrument you play or what flag you wave or what voice part you sing, no matter whether you read music well or somewhat or not at all… no matter what…
“When you are on this field, in this choir room, on this stage… you are IMPORTANT… you are WELCOME… and you are SAFE.”
Effectively, that’s what George Parks said (by way of his actions), for all those years. It’s what newly-minted NafME GNP Leadership Award winner Thom Hannum has done for all of his years – and specifically, valiantly demonstrated six years ago when a particular bereft band needed it the very most. It’s what was shown to me and to anyone within reach, by all the band directors and choir directors that I’ve ever played or sung for. And I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and for, a pleasant number of friends who are stellar band and choir directors, and they all personify that sentiment.
As role models go, they’re all far better than some of the public figures we’re fixated on now.