Recently I found myself getting into a Twitter argument (how else do people get into arguments these days?) with a man who was attacking Laura Benanti for speaking out on political issues. Here’s the tweet in question:
Let’s try to put aside the personal attack we all feel when someone compares Ms. Benanti to a monkey. Because there’s something much more important we need to be talking about right now.
First, a quick scroll through this account will show you this man isn’t just on the Trump Train, he might as well be the conductor. Now I’m not here to tell you who to vote for, but it is very interesting that he is attacking actors who disagree with him. I wonder if he would say the same thing to Scott Baio? Clint Eastwood?
I couldn’t care less about what this man has to say or who he supports, or even that he wants to silence opposing opinions (which is scary in its own right). What disturbs me is that he thinks it isn’t an actors job to comment on social/political issues, when from the beginning of time theatre has been used as a platform for political debate.
Going back as far as Ancient Greece, theatre has been a way to talk about politics. Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (no, not the one with Patti Murin) is about women’s place in society during wartime. Shakespeare’s Coriolanus depicts class struggle. Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as an allegory for what was going on in America during McCarthyism. Angels in America was created so people could finally start having a public conversation about an epidemic so many people refused to acknowledge (the most prominent being Ronald Reagan, a man I’m sure Mr. Schmitz himself admires).
Actors aren’t just there to entertain you, they’re onstage to tell you something, to get you to start talking about something, to make you question life as you knew it. Actors–and all theatremakers–are providing you with a wonderful platform to debate pressing issues when they perform.
So Mr. Schmitz–and all others who wish to silence theatermakers because their views don’t align with yours–actors won’t back down. Their very jobs are to speak out, to be a voice for the voiceless. And if you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand the true value of theatre.