We have experienced a whirlwind few weeks as a company, a community, and as a nation, and I wanted to take the opportunity to speak directly on some events and how we are choosing to respond as a company. At the end of October, we enjoyed the smashing success of Pride and Prejudice performed by a fearless cast of six women in the beautiful Heathside Cottage in the Northside neighborhood of Fineview. The production sold out two-thirds of its performances, and our audiences were lively and appreciative. Nearly a month later, we remain deeply humbled by this success.
As I’m sure you’re all aware, our nation underwent a major election about a week after closing Pride and Prejudice, and regardless of where you sit on the ideological spectrum, I’m sure we are all feeling the effects of this change in our daily lives through the news we consume and the interactions we have. These effects hit somewhat closer to home for us this past weekend when Vice-President-elect Mike Pence attended last Friday evening’s performance of Hamilton: An American Musical, and after the performance, the cast delivered a heartfelt, impassioned message to the Vice-President Elect resulting in a media firestorm and several tweets from President-elect Donald Trump demanding an apology from the production. This whole sequence of events has brought about a larger discussion on the role of the arts and artists in a changing society and what constitutes acceptable conversation and interaction within artistic venues.
Before I go any further, let me first say that we are wholly unconcerned with if and how you voted in this most recent election, nor are we concerned with your feelings on the events of this past weekend. Our mission is to engage and inspire communities through classical drama, and absolutely no one is excluded from sharing these experiences with us. Our job is to bring people together and share a meaningful, transformative experience to create a larger dialogue about how we are more alike than we are different.
With all of this said, I don’t want to leave the impression that our work is devoid of politics. On the contrary, we are seeking the very conversations and interactions that are not happening enough in public or private spheres. We hope you come to our shows to be entertained, and we promise to entertain you, but we also see a larger purpose to our work by challenging and questioning cultural, social, and political norms. Please bear in mind that the words we speak by masters like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and of course, William Shakespeare, have shaped the course of history for hundreds of years and have served as exercises in free speech when free speech was not an inalienable right and could, and did, have grave consequences for the messenger. In 1601, Robert Devereaux, the second Earl of Essex, commissioned Shakespeare’s own company, the Lord Chamberlain’s men, to perform Richard II, a play about usurping a sitting monarch, as Essex staged an unsuccessful coup against Queen Elizabeth. A few years later, this same company, now called the King’s Men, performing under the patronage of King James himself, literally held a mirror to the king’s face in a performance of Macbeth to remind him of his bloody ancestry. In this tradition, we believe that speaking an earnest and heartfelt truth while giving a voice to underrepresented individuals and communities is not only a time-honored tradition in the theater but also one of our central duties as artists. Mr. Trump’s assessment that the theater should be a safe and special place is true in the sense that no one should be physically or emotionally harmed in the act of making theater, but it is not a sanctuary from political discourse and never has been.
For the past year and a half, Mr. Trump, and by extension, Mr. Pence, have employed isolation, division, and fear to spread their message and ultimately become elected to the highest offices in the country. We do not wish to imply that divisive rhetoric and policy began only with him or any one political party. In any democratic society, public figures ought to be held to a high standard, and we see an opportunity to use our work to hold them to that standard. Our job at Steel City Shakespeare Center in this time has been to work in direct contrast to the tactics of isolation, division, and fear. When they aim to divide our culture and isolate the vulnerable, we bring people together and ensure that everyone has a place to come and feel welcome and a vital part of our community. When they spread fear, we spread hope, joy, and love. When they divide and isolate, we bring people together. When they build walls, we build bridges.
As we prepare for the upcoming holidays, we are restaging our script from A Christmas Carol, adapted by Michael Mykita and myself last year. We feel strongly that the messages of this play speak directly to the divisive political climate we’re currently experiencing in 2016. In this story, we see a man pulled out of his comfortable and unchecked worldview and given perspective on the suffering of those around him and also the joy and love that comes when people gather together and share what they have with one another. Early in the story, when Scrooge encounters the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, Scrooge asks why Marley suffers in the afterlife when he was a successful businessman in life. To this, Marley retorts, “Mankind was my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.” As we move forward in this changing world, we remind ourselves and everyone we encounter this holiday season that mankind is our business. In times of great uncertainty, we must take a look around, set aside our differences, and remember that mankind is our business. We must never forget that no matter what color, creed, gender, age, or orientation we may be, we are more alike than we are different. And when those in power seek to divide us, it is important to remember that our problems are too great, and our differences are too small to allow petty divisions to come between us.
Have a wonderful holiday season surrounded by those you love.
Welcome to our new blog! Everyone on our Board of Directors contribute to our blog. What can we say, we all have lots to say! Check back often for thoughts from Jeffrey Chips: Artistic Director, Marsha Mayhak: Director of Repertoire Development, Jessica Moore: Director of Actor Training, Michael Mykita: Director of Audience Development, Darcy Mahaffey: Director of Marketing.