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Theatre history and political protest

As tensions ran high in the aftermath of the US presidential election, Mike Pence, Republican governor of Indiana and vice president-elect, attended a Friday evening performance of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. Upon entering the theatre, the politician was greeted by cheers and boos from the audience. The audience’s reception of certain themes related to immigration and other American values were, according to observers, apparently heightened by Gov. Pence’s presence.

Following the curtain call, actor Brandon Victor Dixon began to read a message from the creators of the musical. Pence had already begun to make his exit from the theatre but paused when Dixon, who currently plays Aaron Burr, said, “We hope you will hear us out.” The president-elect stood in the hallway outside the auditorium and listened to the message crafted by composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, and producer Jeffrey Seller.

Donald Trump, the president-elect, was outraged by what he characterized as “very rude and insulting” behaviour and he engaged a battle on Twitter. Pence later told reporters that he “wasn’t offended” by the company’s message and that he “really enjoyed the show.” Pence also noted that he told his children, after being cheered and booed by the audience, “that’s what freedom sounds like.”

BBC News Magazine interviewed historians and critics for perspective on the history of political protest in theatre. Critic and historian Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, vice-president of the IATC, commented in the magazine. Jenkins told the BBC that “Hamilton occupies a unique space in the current Broadway scene because it’s both challenging and popular. It rewrites the narrative in so many different ways. That’s part of the genius of it.”