The theater has always been as much a place for political commentary as for glitzy escapism, but the 2016 election and its aftermath has led the denizens of Broadway to be especially outspoken.
First, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence’s appearance at a November showing of Hamilton set off a firestorm of controversy mere days after the election. Then, this Sunday, Hillary Clinton attended a Broadway showing of the Color Purple where it was she, and not just the actors, who garnered the most applause.
The two incidents couldn’t have been more different, although they both served to illustrate the ever-blurring line between art and politics. Let’s compare them:
Hillary Clinton’s standing ovation
When: Sunday, January 8th, 12 days before the Presidential Inauguration
What play: The Color Purple, a musical based on the classic novel by Alice Walker. It follows the hardships and triumphs of a group of African-American women in the 1930’s American south.
The response at the theater: Video from inside the theater shows cheering and clapping from inside the house as crowd knotted around Clinton, her husband and her daughter.
Matthew Kovalsky, an attendee at the matinee performance, told CNN he loves The Color Purple and was thrilled to meet the Clintons. “I approached them and said ‘Thank you so much for supporting the cast, it means a lot to them to have someone of your status take the time to come see the show.’ They said, ‘Thank you so much and that they wouldn’t miss it for the world.’”
The response afterward: Clinton and her social media presence have been mostly silent since her loss in November, and her camp has not issued a statement or comment following her appearance. However, fans on Twitter expressed joy and sorrow over her appearance, tweeting #ImStillWithHer.
Mike Pence’s less-than-warm reception
When: Friday, November 18th, less than ten days after Donald Trump’s election win
What play: Hamilton, the record-breaking musical that re-imagines the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton. The play is notable for its diverse cast and eclectic, hip-hop inspired score.
The response at the theater: Pence was greeted with boos and some scattered applause at the theater. After the show, the cast delivered a speech pointed at Pence:
“”We, sir – we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights,” said Brandon Dixon, who played Aaron Burr in the show. “We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
The response afterward: The incident set off a days-long controversy about free speech, safe spaces and the place of politics in art. President-Elect Donald Trump scolded the cast on Twitter, saying they “harassed” Pence and that the theatre should be a “safe and special place.”
Pence took the incident gracefully, calling the show an “incredible production” and saying the boos were “what freedom sounds like.”
“I did hear what was said from the stage. I can tell you I wasn’t offended by what was said. I will leave to others whether that was the appropriate venue to say it,” he said on “Fox News Sunday” the weekend of the incident.