The Theatre is a Political Space and so is Hamilton

by Sophie Perry

Photo credit: CNN

With just a brief glance at Katie Hopkins’ contributions to both the Daily Mail and a quick scroll through her Twitter feed, it’s obvious that she constantly exercises her right to freedom of speech. Therefore, I was both bemused and surprised at scathing comments Hopkins made towards the cast of Hamilton after their open speech to Vice-President elect Mike Pence at the end of their November 18th performance.

If you have been living under a culturally repellent air raid shelter for the last year, then you won't have heard of Hamilton. The smash-hit Broadway musical, which won 11 of its record breaking 16 Tony nominations in 2016, has been described by Spencer Kornhaber as ‘one of the rare cultural products that comes close to actually earning the phrase “universal acclaim”’. A sung through musical comprised of rap and hip-hop songs: Hamilton is the stage biography of the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. Combined with a diverse cast, the show is inherently political.

So, with the newly elected Vice President of the United States sitting in their audience, the cast gave a speech where they stated: ‘We, sir, 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. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.’  

Following this, Hopkins responded on twitter: ‘Bunch of lovies believing they have the right to lecture VP Elect Pence. What is it with actors and the moral highground? #BoycottHamilton’

After a number of tweets on the subject, Hopkins published an article in the Daily Mail asking: ‘Can you imagine anything more vomit-inducing than paying (thousands of dollars for this hottest of tickets) to watch a musical, [...] then being lectured at by an actor paid to recite other people's lines for a living?’

The general point of her argument appears to be: 'Why don't actors understand all we want them to do is act?'. And I can't help but feel that she completely misses the point of Hamilton.

Scratch that, she completely misses the point of theatre itself.

Acting is not just acting. It is not just walking onto a stage, reciting a few lines, then leaving in a black out. Actors are not just ‘paid performers who make people happy for money’, as Hopkins claims. Acting is an emotional labour. It is time, it is energy. It is embodying someone else: their thoughts, history, and beliefs. It is sharing this with a brand new audience every night and asking them to both engage and challenge. Acting is a political art form.

This is where I lose track of Katie Hopkins’ entire stream of thought on the topic, as she describes theatre as ‘a sanctuary [...] where neither politics nor your mother-in-law can get to you’

Is this description not another way of phrasing 'safe space'? How can she possibly believe that theatre should be a safe space? Unless, of course, you're off to watch this year's panto: theatre has always been political. It makes noise. It reaches out from the stage begging for someone to listen and engage. Hamilton is no different. It is a political musical, set in a political time.

Also, for Hopkins to criticise the cast is completely unfair. They stated their case articulately, calmly and maturely (which is a complete opposite to the ways in which Hopkins promotes her views). They asked Pence to listen and engage because the theatre is not a safe space; it is a space where a dialogue is created.

So, Hopkins, in response to your narrow-minded belief that 'speech is not FREE if your audience has PAID to listen to a musical', an actor is not lecturing, it is freedom of speech. In the same way that your airing of views on BBC Breakfast is... Or is this a lecture as, after all, we have paid our TV licenses to watch the news not to hear your misinformed ranting. If Hamilton's audience didn't want to listen then they did not half to. They could have got up, turned their backs and left...much the same as the Union of Brunel Students who turned their backs on you last November.