Hamilton Shows Its Power to Pence – 8 Thoughts

Hamilton Shows Its Power to Pence – 8 Thoughts

PerformInk Publisher Jason Epperson’s take on the business and life of producing theater.

In case you missed it … Vice-President Elect Mike Pence was booed before Friday night’s Broadway performance of HAMILTON by the audience. During several moments relevant to our current political discourse, the actors were forced to stop as the audience cheered. After the show, the cast thanked Pence for coming from the stage and presented a brief, eloquent statement about the concern of marginalized groups in America since the election. President-Elect Trump fired off multiple tweets, calling the cast rude, the show overrated, and demanding apologies. Subsequently, a man disrupted Chicago’s Saturday night performance of HAMILTON shouting belligerently about Trump’s victory through 2 songs. The following are some random thoughts I’ve been pondering since Friday evening.

A distraction?

There’s been some outcry that the incident has distracted from the $25 million dollar Trump University lawsuit settlement, and that perhaps sending Pence to the show was designed to do just that. I don’t buy it. I can’t say what the actual difference in media coverage has been, but I think some may not realize how important what happened at HAMILTON is. Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune called it “perhaps the most effective and furthest reaching act of political theater in the history of Broadway, if not the entire American theater,” and it’s hard to disagree. 

It’s about the audience’s response.

Though the actors’ message to Pence after the curtain call was important, it’s really about the audience. The powerful messages in the show were amplified exponentially by Pence’s presence, and they reacted with cheers and standing ovations, at many points stopping the show. Much of the power of the piece lies in its reflection of the world today, and reflect it did indeed with Pence in the audience.

The bubble has burst.

Trump and Pence have lived in a bubble for the last several months. Rallies of 10,000 supporters are entirely different than appearing in front of the public-at-large. The Hamilton audience, though probably fairly liberal, is a better representation of the people. What will we see when our new President and Vice-President appear at future less-partisan events?

Should theater be dangerous?

Trump said, “The theater must always be a safe and special place.” Misguided as his demand for an apology was, he’s not wrong. Many theater artists are saying “no, theater should be dangerous!” … I really don’t like that sentiment. Theater should be welcoming and safe. Art should often make people uncomfortable, but dangerous? That’s just not a good word for it. That’s the kind of sentiment that allows Profiles Theatre to happen.

Did he pass the test?

This was honestly Trump’s first real social media test since the election, and he failed. The story has continued due to his multiple tweets demanding apologies from the cast and producers. What does that say about how he will react when faced with dissenting world leaders?

Let’s check our own house.

James L. Nederlander, President of The Nederlander Organization, which owns the theater that HAMILTON plays in, donated $30,000 to Trump’s campaign. Nederlander and his late father have contributed to both sides of the aisle, including relatively small amounts to Hillary Clinton, but year after year the family funnels tens of thousands to Republicans candidates. The Nederlanders also own Broadway In Chicago and their associated venues.

It was a protest.

Hedy Weiss thinks Pence would perhaps have learned a thing or two if he was allowed to watch the show without distraction. She said as much in a rare opinion piece. She may not be wrong, but it wasn’t about Pence or his psyche. It was a rejection of the Trump/Pence ideology. I’d also advise her to stop putting words like “authentic” and “protest” in quotations.

More to come?

By many accounts, the man that disrupted the Chicago performance threatened to kill all of the Democrats in the audience. He paid a lot of money to be able to do that. Chris Jones received a death threat for his (fairly innocuous) Tribune coverage of the incident, according to a Facebook post from his wife. Trump and his message have emboldened people to act like this, and we’re going to see a lot more of it.

About author

Jason Epperson

Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.