We might be living in a golden age of television, but if you want to look at a popular art form that’s really been getting under people’s skin lately, turn to something a little older: theater. Since Donald Trump won the presidential election last November, every few months brings news of another political statement from a theater, and another virulent wave of outrage and counter-outrage in response.
Not long after the election, the cast of Hamilton directed a speech at Mike Pence when he attended the show, calling on the new vice president elect to protect and defend “all of us,” including those “of different colors, creeds, and orientations,” and to “uphold our inalienable rights.” In response, Trump supporters staged a boycott, albeit one that does not appear to have impacted the show’s ticket sales.
In June, the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park staged a production of Julius Caesar in which the assassinated Caesar became a Trump-like figure. The production was met with a wave of enraged op-eds — and with protesters, one of whom crashed the stage mid-performance to yell, “Stop the normalization of political violence against the right! This is unacceptable!” Sponsors withdrew their support from the production. Theater companies across the country with “Shakespeare” in their names received death threats.
Also this summer, a new staging of 1984 on Broadway had audiences fainting and vomiting in their seats; on one occasion, audience members got so riled up that they caused a disruption and were arrested. 1984 is not a politically controversial play in quite the way that Shakespeare in the Park’s Julius Caesar was — few people, if any, are so outraged by its political ideas that they are calling for a boycott or forming picket lines outside of the theater — but it is a politically powerful play, one that is sparking intense, visceral reactions in its audience.
In fact, theater in general seems to be our most politically potent art form right now. No other medium is getting under its audience’s skin in quite the same way. And that’s because theater is uniquely immediate, making it more intimate — and more susceptible to disruption — than any other medium. Read more