A Dangerous Use Of Safety
It’s now over twelve days since Donald Trump was elected as the next President of the USA. Like many people in the States and across the globe I was deeply saddened that such a divisive, openly sexist, racist and ableist campaign had resonated with so many people.
The word Trump has been sitting gloomily in my list of posts to write for several days, but I’ve struggled with it, not knowing how to start writing about the result and the lurch to the extreme right it represents.
Then Vice President Elect Mike Pence, a man who signed a bill making it easier to discriminate against LGBT people, and who a federal judge described as pursuing policies that: “clearly constitutes national origin discrimination” went to the theatre.
He went to see Hamilton, a critically acclaimed show about America’s founding fathers, performed by a diverse, largely non-white cast.
During the curtain call the performers addressed Mr Pence directly, welcoming him to the show and sharing their fears, honestly and courteously.
Actor Brandon Victor Dixon read out a message, on behalf of the cast:
“We are the diverse America that is alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our children or our parents or defend us and uphold our inhalable rights but we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us.”
Donald Trump took to Twitter, furious that the cast had used the stage to address Mike Pence. In his tweet demanding an apology, he appropriated the language of ‘safety’. He wrote:
“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!”
As someone who’s often felt un-safe in public places, including theatres, because of the invisible barriers caused by social expectations or old-fashioned theatre etiquette, I’m angry that Donald Trump’s appropriated language born out of experiences of oppression and discrimination. This is ironic given that his words, actions and proposed policies are making many people feel deeply unsafe.
I’ve been thinking about safety, risk taking and audience care in relation to theatre a lot recently because we’re working on a challenging new show that’s quieter, more serious and more intense than Backstage in Biscuit Land. I want to make sure that everyone will feel welcome and safe to access this piece even if the content’s challenging.
There’s a big difference between taking a personal risk with your identity or wellbeing and taking a creative risk in seeing something that challenges your thinking.
As non-disabled, white men, Mike Pence and Donald Trump are unlikely to have felt at risk of discrimination in cultural spaces because of the characteristics fundamental to who they are.
The beauty of theatre is that it provides a platform to challenge stereotypes, open up discussion, and share a wide range of perspectives.
The cast of Hamilton gave Donald Trump and Mike Pence the opportunity to begin a dialogue with all those who feel at risk. But by dismissing their fears and hijacking the language of ‘safety’, Donald Trump has again demonstrated the significant threat his incoming admirations poses to equality and social justice.
We must follow the Hamilton cast’s lead and resist – creatively, openly and fearlessly.