The Theater Must Always Be A Safe Place

imagesWoody Guthrie – This Machine Kills Fascists

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 “We have art in order not to die of the truth.” Nietzsche

After a performance of Hamilton (a Broadway musical based on the story of one of the United States’ founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton) the lead actor, Brandon Dixon, formally addressed our future vice president, Mike Pence, from the stage. He began by thanking Pence for attending the performance and stating that, “ We hope you will hear us out.”

“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.”

This respectful and thoughtful delivery was attacked by our president elect the next morning via his favorite form of communication, Twitter: “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!” In a second tweet Trump stated, “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!”

On the campaign circuit Trump repeatedly belittled the press and the first amendment, even suggesting that he would like to change the law to make it easier to sue his critics. Trump, with these comments, has made it clear that he does not believe in political expression (unless it is favorable to him) and would use his power as president to silence the press through legal actions. In his tweets he clearly states that Dixon and the cast of Hamilton were wrong to lawfully and nonviolently exercise the power of their constitutional right of freedom of speech.

Since ancient times, art has served as a powerful method of challenging the status quo and inspiring social change. The Roman goddess of poetry was also the goddess of wisdom. Art has the unique power to open our eyes to another way of seeing-the beginning of wisdom. Historically, art has been a vehicle for social change, justice, solidarity, and raising consciousness-a formidable weapon against violence and oppression.

“Many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills and dare scarce come thither.” Shakespeare/Hamlet – 1602

In Sophocles’ Antigone (441 BC) the heroine defies the King’s command, even though it means certain death, because his orders are at odds with her conscience.

From the satiric plays of Shakespeare and Moliere with their wry mockery of the pompous noble class, to the searing work of Bertolt Brecht, Arthur Miller, and Edward Albee and their brutally honest unveiling of corruption in society, the theater has been a forum in which artists are able to lift their voices for those without a voice.

The Novelists Emil Zola, Victor Hugo, Dostoyevsky, Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck have all written from an urgent sense of need to expose hypocrisy and reveal the tender and human faces of the dispossessed, the lost, the lonely, the hungry and the homeless – as have poets and songwriters Garcia Lorca, Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Bruce Springsteen, to name just a precious few.

We have been warned by passionate artists such as the novelists George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, and film makers Fritz Lang, Jean Cocteau, and Terry Gilliam, to lift up our heads and see what the future may hold, if we are not mindful.

Goya’s wrenching paintings continue to shock us more than 200 years after they were painted. There is intense pain, and compassion for that pain, in each of Kathe Kollwitz’s works, while Picasso’s Guernica (1937) has become a metaphor for the brutality of war.

The photographs of the victims of the Dust Bowl were instrumental in bringing relief to thousands of suffering  families and Nick Ut’s heartbreaking Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, “Napalm Girl” is said to have been the final statement that ended the Vietnam War.

The list of legendary artistic luminaries is endless, with more creating works each day. The arts give society depth and provide inspiration for personal, social, and spiritual change. But when the individual with the highest power in the land sends tweet after tweet designed to create fear of personal expression it casts a chilling shadow.

Art is a life line to freedom. As funding for art and art history in our schools, already threatened to extinction, continues to decline, we cannot leave the holistic education that we want for our children entirely up to government funded schools. It is our moral  and ethical obligation as parents and educators to bring this trove of knowledge to our children.

Trump may believe that art should be a “safe place”, a comfortable fantasy outside the realm of politics, but, should he build his wall, may artists everywhere be inspired by those such as muralist David Siqueiros (1900’s) and the guerrilla street artist, Banksy, and paint Trump’s infamous and infernal wall with the vibrant colors of all the rage against injustice and abundant universal love inherent in the human heart.

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The Surviors – 1923 -Kathe Kollwitz

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