“The Theater must always be a safe and special place”

“The Theater must always be a safe and special place” – Donald J.Trump (via. Twitter) 

I type this, as I sit in an LCP seminar discussing this particular quote from the President Elect Donald Trump. This tweet followed the Vice President elect, Mike Pence’s  trip to see Hamilton, where he was booed by the audience, addressed at the end of the production by the cast. Brandon Victor Dixon addressed Pence, after the curtain call, as he tried to make a speedy exit.

“Vice-president elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us, just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen,We’re all here sharing a story about love. We, sir, 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 this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

Pence reacted, not in anger, but instead asking whether this was appropriate, and called into question the position of Theatre in our society. Is it a place for political debates? Were the cast of Hamilton right to call out Pence in the Theatre?  As much as I dislike Pence, his reaction was commendable. He told his children, that the booing was the sound of freedom and complimented the cast. Trump reacted, oppositely, through his usual media, a rant on Twitter.

“The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior” -Donald J.Trump (via. Twitter)

“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!” -Donald J.Trump (via. Twitter) 

There are so many things that make me angry about these statements. Firstly that the president elect is so petty, about some one respectfully calling out his administration, with their fears, that he will insult their career and art. Secondly, his definition of a ‘safe space.’ According to Trump, a safe space, in college, to stop women from getting raped and sexually assaulted, is political correctness gone mad, but the minute a middle-aged, straight, white man, is respectfully called out, it’s a necessity. Trump, was not the first person to call the Theatre a safe and special place.

In recent history, Theatre, has been considered a safe, special space, especially for minorities, with many mainstream performances having political roots. The production, that I think of, when discussing this, is RENT. The characters of which are made up of Black, Gay, Straight, Queer, Trans Americans in New York. A story that would have been hard to tell at the time, through other mediums.

Theatre is now used to challenge that norm. Trump wants it to be comfortable, to not invoke change. The statement felt drenched with irony, and made me uncomfortable. Who is he to say, what the theatre, can or can’t be? Broadway has always generally been democratic, rather than republican. Yes, the Theatre is and should be a safe and special place, but his definitions of safe and special, are not ones I agree with. It shouldn’t only be safe for the straight, white man. Which I and many others, think that Trump’s administration will lead to. How dare he use a phrase, so commonly used, in protecting minorities, when his campaign and his policies be so heavily rooted, in racism, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and everything else.

The other question raised, is, were the cast right to get involved in Politics? Since the dawn of Theatre, it has always been used as a way to inform people, and discuss politics, from Greek Tragedy to Brechtian to Contemporary Theatre. I think the cast, of a show about politics, especially a cast made up of minorities, had a right to an opinion, and using their platform was admirable.  As I said, Broadway has never shied away from it’s democratic tendencies.  Addressing the issues of Trump’s policies, at the end of a show, which glorifies, and rightly so, immigrants, was particularly powerful, and amplified the core aspects of the show. Especially as Trump’s policies tends to target immigrant. I am constantly drawn back to the line ‘Immigrants. We get the job done’, which the reaction, to that showing, according to reports, was very lively.  The cast addressed Pence respectfully, and kindly, better than how Trump treated the cast.

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Julius Caesar – Donmar Warehouse

I went to see Julius Caesar, part two, of the Shakespeare Trilogy at the Donmar Warehouse, following The Tempest, yesterday.  Again I got tickets through the Young + Free initiative, which provides 25% of their tickets for free to under 25s. Julius Ceasar is about the rise and fall of the title character, and his betrayer, Brutus.

Again this production was set in a female prison, however it was a far less magical, mythical production, than The Tempest, which I think was very effective in the story it was telling. The theatre in the round aided to make a truly visually and audio immersive production. And the whole tone of the production was great Switching, from comedic, to eerie, to poetically tragic. It had a good pace, and the sound and lighting all aided to the shifts in the tone.

The whole cast were brilliant. I was so excited to see them again, as it is the same cast in The Tempest. Their connection to every audience member, I would have to say, made the production for me. Their interaction, their conviction and the true grittiness of their performance was perfect. There were moments that were just so realistic, you forgot that you were watching a performance in a theatre, you thought you were watching inmates perform Shakespeare, and it just made you really uncomfortable. Especially from Harriet Walter, who was usually the cause of this uncomfortableness. Also Jade Anouka, who played Mark Antony, brought a really playful aspect to the play. My favourite scene had to be the funeral. The rhythmic presentation, aided with the lighting and the rest of the cast, was very empowering and riling.

The production was full of different ideas and conventions, which I loved, individually. However, I felt like there were too many, and none of which, that they were really committed to. It mixed and matched too much.  I loved them all at the time, but in looking back at it, they didn’t seem to follow through in the whole production, and it just left me quite confused.

Overall, it was an amazing cast, and the director produced an extremely immersive and tense production, which was very enjoyable to watch.

Finally, I wanted to say, that I was really glad to go to the theatre yesterday, especially with all that had happened in the U.S. I thought Theatre is the perfect way to escape this, but the thing is, is every performance is influenced by outside events. As much as I tried to forget about Donald Trump, I couldn’t help but see his reflection in Julius Caesar, or at least the Caesar that Brutus paints. The rise and fall of his, and Brutus’ power and the eventual fall of Rome to Octavius, felt like a weird dystopia, that felt familiar, and oddly foreshadowing.

Scrapping GCSE Drama?

First we began with the idea of scrapping A-level History of Art, which as an idea was a travesty, but still went through. However in the aftermath of National Youth Theatre leader, Paul Roseby, suggesting that GCSE Drama is irrelevant, it is now being reconsidered as part of the GCSE syllabus .

Reservations about art subjects as part of academic qualifications have always existed, with some universities not accepting certain arts subjects as part of an application. The suggestion from Roseby, is to integrate theatre into the more academic subjects, I have to question how? And what use is that? The best example of that for me, is English. But I still have to disagree, If my only experience of Theatre were the plays that we studied in English, Shakespeare, Priestly, Tennessee, I would have never come to study Drama at University.

As someone, who studied the Scottish equivalent of GCSE’s,  National Five, I am not sure, if I am outstepping my place discussing this, however, I can say, with a fair amount of certainty, that I would never have come to study Drama at University, if I did not have the access to studying Nat 5 Drama, or the teachers that supported and encouraged everyone’s passions in our school, be it theatrical or otherwise. For me studying Drama at school became such an important aspect of school for me, socially, academically and basically everything else. Without Nat 5, I would have not pursued Drama, it was so important in introducing me to the world of Theatre, and the idea that I could have a career in it, or at least further my studies in it. Without it, I would possibly be studying a degree that I didn’t want to do, or I would be completely lost.  And of course for that, I have to thank my school for having such a fabulous Drama department.

However of course that is not to say the GCSE Drama course is flawless, earlier this year, they dropped the requirement to see a live Theatre performance and analyse it for an assessment, this was replaced by a recording. As good as recordings are, you do not get the same effect, if you are sitting in the audience. I for one, generally think that a good performance will make you feel like a community with the other audience members. You do not get the same atmosphere watching a recording, and it will effect how you analyse a production. And some people, may think the content is irrelevant, or the fact that people see it to be soft or easy, are arguments enough to justify those people thinking it should be scrapped.

It would break my heart, if GCSE Drama was scrapped from the syllabus, people seem to consider it to be a soft subject? I don’t understand this, I think it requires the most of amount of work, from teachers and students alike. If GCSE Drama is scrapped, it would be the beginning of scrapping all drama in schools. Creativity and passion must be nurtured, so it can bloom, not cut at the root.

 

A Night in Miami – Donmar Warehouse

I went to see A Night in Miami on Saturday night at the Donmar Warehouse, through their Young + Free initiative for under 25s, providing 25% of their tickets for free. A Night in Miami, follows a night in a motel in Miami, where Muhammad Ali, Malcom X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown had convened. When the world saw them as icons, in this play they were just four friends, celebrating the world heavyweight champion.

 

With the show lasting an hour and a half, without an interval, or set changes, it is not surprising that the show’s success lies within the tension held. Walking into the space, you can already hear cicadas, and planes rumbling overhead, immediately setting the scene. The garish hotel set, oddly spacious, however reminisce of the 60s. The set, had a little cove where, most likely due to where I was sitting, meant the sound was absorbed and difficult to understand. But hey, when the tickets are free, who can complain?

 

With the show set in the height of the Civil Rights movement, the tension in the movement, and within the black community indeed made the show. It was held throughout the performance in the audience and on stage. Every time the tension built, it either bubbled over or there was a break, in the form of the music of Sam Cooke, or a snappy one liner. Creating the perfect tone for the show. This was all aided by the soundscape and the brilliant chemistry between the four actors. The involvement of the audience was a welcome break in the tension, adding electricity in the air, and a humour to the piece, that was different to the repeated one liners. It was a very realistic and poignant glimpse into the civil rights movement. Sope Dirisu, captured the youthful Muhammad Ali, with a playful and spirited energy. Arinzé Kene, Sam Cooke, had a brilliant voice, and his rendition of A Change is Gonna Come, with footage portraying protests from the 60s, all the way to the Black Lives Matter Movement in Missouri, on the cyclorama behind, was a chilling moment – emphasising how much of a problem equality still is. The performance felt far longer than ninety minutes, I think showing the weight of the issues addressed, with an ending flooded with finality.

 

Overall a very important, topical and political performance, to be performed right now, brimming with chilling images, conceived by the directors and actors.  Also an enjoyable play to watch. I loved the script, and ended up buying a copy. I would highly recommend. It is showing at the Donmar until the 3rd of December.