Saturday, 19 November 2016

Should art be safe?

Over the weekend, the cast of Hamilton delivered a message to Vice President Elect Mike Pence, as he sat and watched their show. They pointed out that they represented the diversity of America and asked that the new administration work on behalf of all America

Trump's response was to take to Twitter with the following:

My first response is that it's pretty bloody rich to claim a calm and reasoned statement was 'harassment' when Trump himself has delivered some hateful speeches in the last months. If you cannot stand people responding to what you do - you're in the wrong job, mate.

But what I wanted to discuss today is this idea that theatre should be a safe space, because this is something I vehemently disagree with.

I studied Drama at college and university, so I have a long-standing love of story-telling in all its forms - theatre, TV, film and books. For me, stories are an integral part of my life and I see them as playing a key role in the progression of our society.

Some stories are there to provide comfort after a bad day, some are there to make you laugh, to make you cry when you feel you need to. And some stories are designed to make you think. All, every last one, has its worth.

But while comfort and cheer are wonderful, worthwhile things - this is not and should not be the sole purpose of art and stories. For me, stories are where real, grass roots change begins.

Films like I, Daniel Blake are important because they are not safe - either you watch it and identify with it on a very painful level or you are confronted, shamefully, with the reality that you are lucky enough to be able to turn a blind eye to it. Films like Schindler's List are important, not because they are fun to watch, but because they confront us with the truth of what happened in that war, what we cannot be allowed to forget - what we must learn from it to ensure it never happens again.

Why would a man like Donald Trump demand that theatre remain safe? Because he is a bully and because he knows - perhaps he is smarter than we give him credit for - that this is where the talk begins. You see a play supporting Black Lives Matter; you read a book about a transgender teenager; you see a film about coming out as gay - suddenly you have an insight into a world, a life you didn't understand before. It challenges your ideas, makes you consider your beliefs, it begins to change the way you think - and the way you think dictates the way you act.

Books and plays and films and shows - these are were ideas are born and kindled. And ideas - outspoken, progressive, passionate, kind ideas - are dangerous to a man like Trump, who wants us to focus and respond only to his rhetoric of fear and hate.

The theatre, the cinema, the bookshop - these are indeed special places and they should be welcoming havens for everyone. But if Trump's idea of safe is toeing the party line, echoing his one sided speeches and not challenging things when they make us uncomfortable, when we know them to be wrong - then we all need to consider embracing dangerous.

(By the way, Mr President-Elect, good try, but people are still talking about your $25million settlement over Trump University)

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