Friday, November 25, 2016

On Race (one)

Christopher Jackson & friends.
Yesterday, the family was sitting around watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Sesame Street float rolled up and who was riding up top, singing the song Try a Little Kindness but Christopher Jackson, he who originated the role of George Washington in the Broadway musical Hamilton.

My friend Grant soon posted on the Facebook, “Kindness? Sesame Street is totally biased and should be canceled. Shameful!” Indeed, even on this day of family unity it is impossible to see every moment as a prism through which to refract this entire American moment.

How to easily unpack this coy bit of FB snark for one entirely unaware? Grant was modeling President-elect Trump’s response to the company of Hamilton having addressed Vice President-elect Pence with a brief speech from the stage of the Richard Rogers Theatre, one week ago tonight.

"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!" tweeted Donald J. Trump

What was actually said in those prepared comments did not become the controversy. In fact, it was an entirely respectful speech addressing the concerns a large part of the electorate has about the new direction this nation will take under a Trump Administration. It was a plea from the diverse peoples of America to be seen and to be heard.

What many actually heard was the Vice President-elect being booed by a large part of the audience as he entered the hall, and what they saw was an actor of color lecturing him as he exited the hall.

I got into a dust-up with someone on social media who commented, “Pure Bullying! By definition, it was. Plain & simple. He had a microphone, on his ground, with his gang.”

I not only provided this individual the actual definition of bullying but also pointed out that not all black people are in “gangs.”

He responded, “Who said anything about black people?”

Theater humor.
Of course. We have heard the dog-whistles for so long, and I myself am quite learned in the blunt tools of trolling and misdirection, but I walked right into that one. He who used the code-word "gang" went on to accuse me of race-baiting.

But let us ask the question: Was addressing Mike Pence in that manner appropriate? Was it fair? Did an actor have the right to single out an individual like that while attending the theater? Should not performing artists stick to their job of singing and dancing, and leave the speeches to others in a more appropriate venue? Does everything, after all, have to be about politics?

Well, the play in question is Hamilton, which has invited discussion of controversial issues such as race and immigration in America, and its creators have never shied away from their opinions on such matters. Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor currently playing Aaron Burr, was acting on instruction from the producers, and was provided the speech by them. Lin-Manuel Miranda himself (currently across the sea filming a movie for Disney) is said to have helped write it.

For days I was trying to remember a similar situation, as presented in a play, one in which an actor was intending to make a political speech from the stage without the permission and agreement of the company with whom he shared the stage. Yesterday, I finally realized that I was trying to think of a play that I, myself, had written.

In that play, the artistic director of a company, who is also acting in his final performance at that company in late 2005, is thought to be planning to speak out against the Iraq War following his final bows.
I hear tonight, instead, he might make a speech. 
A speech about -- 
About Iraq, yeh. 
Can’t say I’d support that. 
Not his place to do that. We got people from all across the globe coming here, tourists. Everyone knows someone in Iraq. It’d be insulting to them. 
It’s his last night as artistic director, his last performance -- 
It’s not right. He runs the place, he doesn’t own it. It’d be totally unprofessional. We’d have to take it up with the union. 
It’s just words.
Man steps out, speaks his mind, appears he speaks for all of us, init? Doesn’t matter if he says he doesn’t. I might even agree with him, don’t matter. He didn’t ask. 
David Hansen © 2015
That is from The Great Globe Itselffirst produced was in 2015. Had our production followed the Hamilton-Pence controversy rather than preceded it, our post-show discussions might have seemed a bit more pertinent.

To be continued.

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