Other Than That, How Was The Play Mr. VP? / by Jefferson Geiger

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Hello Mr. Vince President-elect Mike Pence. You probably won't see this letter, but who can predict what goes viral and what doesn't?

I heard you got booed on Friday when you went to see the multiple Tony Award-winning musical "Hamilton." Afterwards, the cast pleaded that you hear the wishes of the diverse America they represent. On Saturday President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that you were harassed by their remarks and the actors should apologize.

Some say that Trump's tweet was made to distract people from his $25 million lawsuit settlement or him wanting foreign diplomats to use his hotels. That may be true. It shouldn't distract the public from more important issues like Trump picking atrocious people for his administration, allegedly asking the Argentine president to fast-track his building permits and who knows what else by the time this column is printed.

But since popular culture is my forte, that is what I'll focus on in this column. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you attended the musical in hopes to learn what the fuss was about. Live theater is the perfect opportunity to broaden one's horizons.

On Sunday you said that the remarks didn't offend you but you did question whether it was an appropriate venue to say them. Over the weekend your supporters too have been saying that the theater is supposed to be a safe space where one can enjoy entertainment without politics being shoved down their throats. 

I say no to this.

Let's ignore for the moment the fact that the musical is about an immigrant who wanted to make his life better and was killed by Burr because the vice president couldn't handle criticisms. Let's also gloss over when you were booed at while throwing the first pitch at an Indianapolis Indians' game in the spring.

If you didn't want to see something political maybe you should have seen "Cabaret." Part of it tells the tale of a couple trying to make their relationship work despite dealing with the complicated life of a nightclub. The other part addresses people ignoring the growth of the Nazi party in 1930s Berlin. On second thought, maybe you wouldn't like it.

How about the extremely popular "Les Misérable"? It features an ex-con who is relentlessly hounded for his crime of stealing bread to feed his family. The ensemble revolts against the monarchy for not paying enough attention to the poor. Wait, that's not right for you either.

You could see "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," which won Neil Patrick Harris a Tony Award in 2014. In it, the genderqueer rockstar Hedwig suffers from a botched sex change operation. I have a feeling that the fact that you believe in conversion therapy—which includes shocking a gay person to "cure" them of their homosexuality—means you probably won't enjoy the show.

Oh, I know! Since it's a staple of almost every high school graduation, seeing "RENT" would be the perfect way to spend the weekend. You could even follow it up by going to a performance of Larry Kramer's play "The Normal Heart." Both focus on struggling artists during the New York HIV/AIDS crisis in the 80s.

Yet since your defunding of Planned Parenthood paved the way for an HIV outbreak in Indiana's Scott County, you might have difficulty empathizing with the characters.

You see Pence, the stage has been the vanguard of political expression since Aeschylus wrote Greek tragedies in 499 BC. The medium isn't suddenly going to become apolitical because you want it to. 

What we have here is a misunderstanding of definitions. The stage is not a safe space for you or other audience members. It's a safe space for the actors, playwrights, and directors to express themselves without fear of persecution.

For instance, Javier Muñoz, who took up the mantle as Alexander Hamilton once Lin-Manuel Miranda left the show, is openly gay and HIV-positive. The cast is almost entirely made up of people of color from a variety of backgrounds. Chances are someone else in the ensemble is gay, practices Islam or had an abortion.

You, a proven danger to their wellbeing, violated their safe space the moment you entered the theater. They were raising money for the nonprofit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS that night. That is why people booed. That is why Brandon Victor Dixon delivered the message at the end of the show.

I'm sorry that you, a straight white male who won the privilege lottery, had his night ruined when the disenfranchised tried to open up a dialogue with you. They didn't throw away their shot to make the world better. Will you throw away yours?

History has its eyes on you.

This column was originally published in the November 23, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.