And then he tweeted. The president-elect of these United States is, of course, a thumbmeister of prodigious proclivity, hurling 140-character putdowns and opinions into the Twittersphere with disruptive glee and strategical savvy. It’s a brave new political world out there, and Donald Trump has shown a mastery of its evolving mechanics.
This particular tweet, as most any arts follower knows by now, was a finger-wagging at the cast and creators of the Broadway musical hit Hamilton, a show that Vice President-elect Mike Pence had attended, and where he became the recipient of a post-show plea from the stage to recognize and support the American diversity that the people on the stage represented. It was a highly unusual shout-out, but these are highly unusual times, and Pence, who has a history of hardline opposition to LGBTQ rights (he is even widely believed to have supported shock therapy to “cure” people of their homosexuality, though Snopes.com says that’s not entirely true) seemed a highly unusual attendee at a Broadway musical, an art form suffused with gay culture.
Was the Hamilton cast rude or presumptuous? Maybe, although its spokesman spoke softly and carried only a verbal stick, lecturing in the politest of tones. He implored the audience not to boo Pence, and yet boo it did, which in its own way is intriguing, because a theater full of people who can afford tickets to the highest-priced show on Broadway is hardly a cross-sampling of the downtrodden.
Pence, asked later about the incident, said he wasn’t bothered by it, and the pushback was “what freedom sounds like.”
Trump was not so mild. “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 the man who tosses out insults with abandon and does not apologize.
His remarks landed like a slab of steak in the middle of a pack of hungry and highly incensed dogs. Safe! his detractors cried. Theater must be dangerous! It must take chances! It must challenge tyranny and disrupt the assumptions of the comfortable! All of which, of course, is true, at least of the art form in general, if not of every piece of theater: the stage does have other purposes.
This larger theater is bound to be with us for at least four more years. Donald Trump is a formidable player on its stage, and is assembling a formidable supporting cast. We are well and truly back in the Culture Wars. The empire has struck back. Don’t expect the theater, or any other art, to take it lying down. In what form will the arts respond? Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
In his essay Responding to crisis: Artists will do what artists do, ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson, writing before the splashy Hamilton tweet, addressed some of the larger issues that the arts world and the culture in general face in light of the Trump ascendancy. The role of artists, he writes, is “to make us aware of the way we are living, the stresses we feel, the events we observe, the sense of neglect of our needs, the alienation we battle, our understanding of our failure to consider climate change or the consolidation of wealth in the hands of the few or the bigotry that resides within us and is codified by the society. Actually, this list could go on almost forever: each artist has a different experience, a different understanding, a different set of priorities. Human experience is complex and vastly multiple, after all.” It’s a reaffirmation, in a way, of what art should be doing all the time, crisis or no.
IT IS, OF COURSE, THANKSGIVING WEEK, and here at ArtsWatch we sincerely wish a happy day of feasting and thanking and getting-together to you. In this particular little corner of the ArtsWatch Universe we’ll have, in addition to the full-time residents, two sisters, one brother, and three friends to help dig into the cornbread dressing, curried seitan, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, pecan bourbon pie, and the like. But the getting-together is the most important part.
And afterwards we’ll be hitting shows, because a bunch of high-profile ones open Friday or Saturday. Here are a few:
A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS. At a time when the nation is riven by the results of the presidential and congressional elections, Artists Repertory Theatre is taking a look back to a time when the country was really divided. With a script by Paula Vogel (How I Learned To Drive) and the subtitle An American Musical Celebration, it features new arrangements of period songs by an all-star lineup of Portland musicians, from Darrell Grant to Holcombe Walker, Okaidja Afroso, Blitzen Trapper’s Brian Adrian Koch, and more. It’s produced in collaboration with Staged!
A VERY PDX-MAS. Broadway Rose moves into the season with a new musical revue, conceived by Abe Reybold and featuring such musical-theater reliables as Cassi Q. Kohl, Isaac Lamb, and Dru Rutledge.
PARFUMERIE. Out in Hillsboro, Bag&Baggage greets the holidays with an unusual and welcome twist: this delicate 1936 Czech play by Miklos Laszlo that is the inspiration for the wonderful Broadway musical She Loves Me and the movies The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime, and You’ve Got Mail. Who’s your secret admirer? – maybe someone you think you detest.
THE ENCHANTED TOYSHOP. The student and pre-professional Portland Ballet returns with its traditional holiday show (also known as La Boutique Fantasque), with music by Rossini and choreography by John Clifford after the original by Massine. Also, the premiere of Anne Mueller’s Gift Box, to a Bizet score, with accompaniment by the Portland State University Orchestra. Friday-Sunday, PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall.
BUYER AND CELLAR. James Sharinghausen stars at Triangle in Jonathan Tolins’ one-man fantasy about an out-of-work actor who goes to work in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu basement, which is also a shopping mall. “I would even go so far as to say that it is just about as profound as a seemingly light entertainment can be,” Ben Brantley wrote in the New York Times about the 2013 New York production.
OUT THERE: HOLIDAY EDITION. A.L. Adams goes on beyond White Christmas in search of more offbeat and adventurous holiday offerings in and around Portland. From “The Big 500” to the art of bellydancing, she finds a lot. Join her in the outer reaches.
REGGIE WILSON CONSIDERS MOSES(ES). Barry Johnson went to White Bird’s presentation of Wilson & company’s dance reconsideration of the story of Moses, the spiritual tradition, and a re-reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Moses, Man on the Mountain. No burning bushes, Johnson reports, but a relaxed, engaging, and complex exploration of African, African American, and formal Western ways of thinking about life and dance.
POST5: LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST. As the adventurous theater company enters uncertain waters – will it survive a series of hits, including the resignation of its artistic leaders and a production hiatus? – Christa Morletti McIntyre reports on what happened and where things might go.
MAKROKOSMOS PROJECT: TAG-TEAMING A PIANO CLASSIC. Terry Ross was on hand to see and hear a splendid gathering of keyboard artists “play the living daylights out of some extremely challenging contemporary music.”
LOVE WILL FIND A (MOVIE) WAY. In FilmWatch Weekly, Marc Mohan takes a look at the new releases Loving and The Love Witch.
SUERETH AND DISSECT PART WAYS. We report on Bryan Suereth’s departure from the adventurous contemporary arts center he founded. Among many other things, it’s the home of the Portland Biennial.
BILL FRISELL QUARTET: RISKING FREEDOM. Daniel Heila reviews the jazz guitarist’s performance with his group in Eugene: “As they crafted the freedom that exists between master musicians, and as they let it swell into the hall, and as the audience sat, energized, Frisell pushed, pulled, responded, directed, pulled back, all the while smiling and glowing with appreciation—a leader entirely dedicated to his cohorts and the audience who completed the evening’s performance.”
About ArtsWatch Weekly
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