I won’t try to trivialize this past month, lest a quippy opening convince you that I am normalizing the results of the election. These past few weeks have been a blur of anxiety. Fear. Recuperation. Tears. Shifting will-we-or-won’t-we-talk-about-it eyes at the Thanksgiving table. (My heart goes out to everyone who had to sit through a meal where they did not feel validated, heard, or safe.) It’s a little funny, because last month’s post was an anticipatory victory lap celebrating Hillary and the Democratic party. This month, I am loath to think about what a play trying to make Trump look sympathetic would be like; who would be up to the challenge of tackling that?
Fortunately (and perhaps unsurprisingly), my playwriting community at school has provided me the space I need to process, cry, and sometimes even laugh. The day after the election, my playwriting professor began the class by apologizing to us, before giving each of us time to speak about what was hurting. She assured us that the work began now; that standing on stage, or putting pen to paper, as a marginalized body, is a radical act. That notion has been repeating like a mantra in my head ever since November 9th.
This semester, I’ve been writing a play about mothers and daughters. It isn’t anything radical, or new. Rather, it’s the first deeply personal play I feel I’ve ever written in my “more adult/mature” playwriting phase. It returned me to the excitement of staying up past my proverbial bedtime in middle and high school, writing the scenes I used to create because they were the expression of fears and fantasies. I didn’t think anything would come of those.
And yet. They all (or mostly) feature women who are trying to navigate spheres typically dominated by men. In the play I’m writing now, there isn’t a love interest, nor does there need to be one. Characters learn how to swim to tackle their vulnerabilities. The women are PhD candidates, financiers, professors, students. They are political, radical, just by being.
And while the premiere production of Building 90 (my play) is still years away (or maybe exists solely in my mind), the Hamilton cast illustrates the idea of radical theater perfectly. They’ve been doing the work, and they did it especially on November 18th. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, and producer Jeffrey Seller (along with other members of the cast) put together a message to be read to Vice President-elect Mike Pence at the conclusion of the performance, which he attended. Brandon Victor Dixon, who currently plays Aaron Burr, delivered the following powerful words after curtain call:
“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, sir. But we hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values, and work on behalf of ALL of us.”
What followed was a tweet from Trump, saying that the theater is a “safe and special place” and that the cast of Hamilton was “rude” to Vice President-Elect Pence (God, I hate writing those words). He then demanded an apology. This launched a day of memes, #NameaPenceMusical, and major national coverage. Looking past how utterly ridiculous it was, Trump’s claim made a point—Hamilton: An American Musical made headlines for a reason other than how brilliant it is. It was, and is, inherently political, of course. It is radical. Of course.
The days following the election also prompted a fascinating discussion in one of my English seminars about why one should be an English major. One of my friends in the class responded with the idea that people intake the world around them through stories, that stories are the closest experience one can have to a lived experience entirely different from their own. That breeds empathy. I parroted back the mantra about the radical act of playwriting, which another peer expanded to writing and art in general. While I am still processing and writing and watching video clips of Obama with my brother, while this country feels broken, while we still manage exams and papers and reading—
These past few weeks have (selfishly, at least for me) affirmed and reaffirmed the importance of writing, art, and good storytelling. And that’s, perhaps, a tiny victory. But we’ll take it.