'Hamilton' Cast Disrespected Theatre by Holding an Old-Fashioned Revival Service
Generations ago, audience members would frequently attend the theatre while armed with assorted rotten fruits and vegetables. The produce was reserved for cast members (or entire casts) who were especially inept. In fact, the well-known phrase "break a leg" is directly connected to the pelting of actors with rotten tomatoes. Prior to the twentieth century, the plane of the leg was "broken" when taking a bow; telling an actor to "break a leg" these days means that a well-wisher hopes the actor earns a curtain call and not a melon to the head. Last week, the Hamilton cast did not earn their curtain call.
As is well known, Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of the much ballyhooed Hamilton. While there, those able to afford the several-hundred-dollar ticket prices rewarded Pence with boos. Upping the ante, the cast delivered a sermonette to the country's vice president-elect. Whether or not you agree with the sermonette, the cast of Hamilton deserves boos for the impromptu performance.
Please forgive me for getting a little theatre geeky for the next paragraph or three, but the cast of Hamilton did the theatre a disservice that night. Assuming the definitions and concepts of the great theatre artist Peter Brook, the cast took a nose dive into the "Deadly Theatre."
In his seminal theatre theory book, The Empty Space, Brook wrote, "The theatre has often been called a whore, meaning its art is impure, but today this is true in another sense—whores take the money and then go short on the pleasure." Brook goes on to explain that the hollowness of much of what passes for theatre is the result of theatre artists failing to recognize theatre's purpose.
Throughout its long history, theatre has served societies in a variety of culturally specific ways. But all of those ways are rooted in the simplicity of an actor on a stage telling a story to an audience. Theatre is communication through the storytelling of actors. The specific forms and approaches to the communication of the story must all serve the story, not the other way around. This is why Peter Brook claimed that theatre artists who create deadly theatre are crippled by the fear that, "If you just let a play speak, it may not make a sound. If what you want is for the play to be heard, then you must conjure its sound from it." On November 18, the cast of Hamilton embraced fear and lost its faith in the power of theatre.
When cast member Brandon Victor Dixon lectured Vice President-elect Pence that the cast, "truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all us," the cast of Hamilton betrayed their calling as theatre artists and co-opted the job of guileful evangelists.