Since its beginnings, the theatre has been a place where audiences can expect not only to be entertained, but often also to be challenged — a place where curtains are pulled back to reveal lives and stories that often are relegated to the wings, a place where preconceptions can be shattered and minds can be opened to other ways of living and looking at the world. It is also, of course, a place where many of those who may feel on the margins of society are frequently drawn for the safety and support it offers to communities of artists and creators.
With this in mind, it may have been surprising to some that last Friday night, Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence ventured to Broadway to take in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning musical, Hamilton.
On the heels of President-Elect Donald Trump’s win, Pence going to watch a musical that explains the Founding Fathers’ struggle and commitment to establish a democracy and cement a constitution that guarantees equal rights for all — featuring a cast comprised of primarily non-Caucasian actors, and many who are publically “out” — was, to put it mildly, one of the more unique moments in recent memory. For, of course, the ideas of democracy and equal rights for all are both ideals that Pence and his running-mate had repeatedly disavowed over the previous months.
Seizing on the strange, almost surreal opportunity of having Pence in the audience, cast member Brandon Victor Dixon asked Pence to remain when the show concluded. “I see you walking out,” he said from the stage to Pence, “but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments.”
With that, he read aloud a statement prepared in advance by the show’s creator, Lin Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, and producer Jeffrey Seller, and encouraged the audience to capture his words on video because the message “needs to be spread far and wide.”
“Vice President-elect Pence,” he began, “we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical….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.”
Dixon’s words almost immediately transcended the theatre walls, going viral on social media around the world and trending on Twitter mere minutes after he had said them. The aftermath sparked fury in Trump, who Tweeted in response that “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!” Pence himself later told the media that during the speech he told his daughter and her cousins that “this is what freedom sounds like.”
For literally “speaking their truth to power” and reminding the vice-president elect that the themes of Hamilton are themes that were fought for for everyone, for “all of us”, we chose the creators and cast of Hamilton for our Speak of the Week.