For anyone whose love of the theater goes beyond Cats or The Lion King, the historical importance of theater in political discourse is a given. We look back to the voices of Brecht, of Shakespeare, of Aristophanes, and of Caryl Churchill and others in our own time, as a crucial part of the ongoing dialog that a society has with itself.
As I mentioned yesterday, the cast and creators of Hamilton spoke to Mike Pence from the stage after their performance this past Friday. When they respectfully alluded to the inflamatory statements his running mate had made during the campaign, Pence was right to listen and to respond with grace.
Tyrants, when they assume power, instinctively move to silence inconvenient opinions from the stage. Fortunately, it seems that Mike Pence, much as I disagree with him on many issues, does not have the instincts of a tyrant.
Perhaps others in the contemporary theater — particularly theater that speaks to political issues, as Hamilton does — should continue this tradition. Maybe after every stage performance of a play on or off Broadway in which a public official or policy maker is in attendance, the creators of that play should speak to that attendee from the stage.
This could be in the form of praise, if the official in question is doing a great job, or in the form of constructive criticism, if there is a sense that policies are not serving the needs of all the people. Good politicians will come to see it as a badge of pride that they were singled out in this way.
This wouldn’t be quite a political stump speech, since the most important element would be the added dose of reality — a quality which is never far away in true theater. I propose a new term that inserts the “r” of reality into the idea of a “Stump” speech.
This proud new tradition, in which the cast members and creators of a play speak directly from the stage to a politician in the audience after a performance, could be called the “Strump speech”. Whenever those in the theater make such a speech, they will be affirming the first amendment rights which we all value so highly here in America, and they will be reminding us that we still live in a free society.