I am a conservatory-trained actress – which is to say – I studied the art of acting and the role of theatre as a platform for artistic expression. Part of that study required exposure to the origin of theater and its role in history as an expression of both politics and the plight of man.
Aristotle (384-322BC), student of Sophocles and tutor to Alexander the Great, developed The Three Unities – the structural elements of the perfect tragedy. Passion Plays, seen across European history, some as single performances lasting more than a week, were an essential part of medieval religious teaching and expression.
Passion Plays certainly led theater into the political realm. As their production left the hands of the patricians (or ‘acceptable upper class’) and fell to the common man, expressing common thought and humor, ecclesiastical authorities forbade their production.
One need only read the titles of Shakespeare’s plays (circa 1600) to see how politics figured into much of his work. Mozart’s operas (circa 1700) brought musical theater to the people, when he began to write in the common language of German instead of aristocratic Italian. My own beloved Café Voltaire, from my Chicago days, was named for the home of Dadaism (circa 1916). Dadaist artists of all types expressed their discontent with violence, war, and nationalism. Bertolt Brecht, influenced by the same, gave us the dramatic theory and political mission of the ‘alienation effect.’ Brecht regarded his method as a way of helping spectators understand the complex nexuses of historical development and societal relationships. He, in turn, influenced Augusto Boal and his Theatre of the Oppressed. Similar themes of ‘life as art, art as life’ resonate in the plays of our own lauded, Arthur Miller (circa 1950). Known for such works as Death of a Salesman and A View From The Bridge, the latter being one of the earliest explorations of the changing tide in America toward ‘the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’
Theater began and has always been the vox populi – the voice of the people. Theater holds up a mirror. It gives perspective. Through the eyes of art we may look at our choices as individuals and as a society and understand their greater significance and ramifications. Theater insists on a vision beyond immediate gratification.
I am curious as to what the fuss is about. I am skeptical. I am not a fan of what the American Theater has cranked out in the last several decades, largely since Disney came sniffing around. My favorite plays are penned by Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill. My favorite musicals are EVITA and Les Mis.
As I snuggle down in my seat, anticipating the most lauded piece to hit American theater in some time, I peruse my program. –Wow, 36 headshots means 36 cast members. I quickly do the math. That’s 36 Equity (Union) contracts. That’s a weekly payroll, for actors alone, at approximately $36,000.00. Easily double that to include stage crew, orchestra, per diem, management. Again, that’s just payroll.
The family of four behind me is excited. Stella is excited. She knows all the words. Bella is excited to be attending with her older sister. The parents are excited. They are so excited Stella is excited with her graduation present. “Oh my, we weren’t sure Bella would be able to keep the secret, she was so excited!” “Are you excited, Honey?” “Do you know who Alexander Hamilton is?”
The street value of my seat is $600 – 800.00. Again, I do the math. A $2,500.00 high school graduation present?
When I graduated high school, I got a calculator. Texas Instruments.
Headline: Theatre ain’t cheap to produce. Theater is not like film or a record album. Once they wrap, primary expenditures are largely complete. The weekly nut in theater goes on and on and on. Where does the green come from? Ticket sales.
HAMILTON is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Neither illegitimate nor immigrant, he grew up in Upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood and graduated from Wesleyan University. Miranda’s awards include a Pulitzer Prize, two Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, and three Tony Awards. He is about to begin his second stint with Disney.
Miranda’s musical, HAMILTON, dramatizes the life of founding father, illegitimate immigrant and orphan, Alexander Hamilton. The show blends musical theater, hip-hop, rap, R&B, jazz, and pop with American history. It depicts well-known historical figures, with colorblind casting. HAMILTON aims to depict “America then, as told by America now.” But as I look around, the America now viewing HAMILTON, is almost exclusively one color.
So what’s going on? What’s happened to The Voice of The People?
As of February, 2017, HAMILTON has grossed over 85 million dollars.
Each performance of HAMILTON – both in NY and in Chicago – offers a ‘day of performance’ digital lottery for approximately 45 tickets – $10.00 a ticket.
Announced just today for the upcoming Los Angeles production, and organized by Miranda and Prizeo, fans are invited to make a donation to Immigrants: We Get the Job Done Coalition. They will receive chances to win tickets to the opening night.
Shonda Rhimes, Kelly Clarkson and Tara Killam are just a few of the notables who have been attracted to participate in this #Ham4All Challenge. In fact championing HAMILTON and its offshoot causes has become quite fashionable. The funding drive, timed to Immigration Heritage Month, benefits a dozen organizations that are part of the coalition. Miranda has spearheaded similar events around the musical.
“My family and I are committed to raising money for important organizations which work tirelessly to protect, support, and advocate for immigrants, refugees, and asylees,” says Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Miranda is the founder and CEO of 5000 Broadway Productions. The entertainment company supports new works, film, TV and stage productions, including Vestments of the Gods (2014), a modern-day take on Sophocles’ Antigone that directly addresses LGBT bullying, and A Burial Place (2016), a drama that revolves around painful secrets.
Daily, Miranda’s Twitter feed, 1.48M Followers strong, is a constant stream of goodwill, support and inspiration to anyone who cares to visit. Not saccharine platitudes and animal photos, but sincere kindness and announcements of efforts helping where help is needed. His celebrity attracting others, giving a bullhorn to voices too seldom heard.
SO while only the 1% can buy the seat to hear the message of HAMILTON, perhaps the real message of HAMILTON is a more intrinsic, subliminal one, descant to the Broadway bombast. The opportunity it creates with the celebrity it makes.
Comedian Bill Mahrer is first in line to denigrate Democrats. He assaults their inability to attack or defend against the current regime. Real news is fake, fake news believed. Democratic candidates continue to lose midterm elections. No charismatic and capable leader rises to the dais. It seems impossible to stop the steamroller of legislation that will cripple all but the most affluent.
Perhaps this is how we do it.
Take it from the rich and give it to the poor.