Tony nominee Susan Egan (Broadway’s original “Belle” in Beauty and the Beast has a lot to say following last week’s Hamilton: An American Musical drama.
On November 21st I was called out in the following article by my friend, Larry O’Connor – once a theatre house manager and now according to Wikipedia: editor of the news/commentary website Breitbart.com, and frequent television guest on Fox News Channel’s early morning show Fox and Friends as well as FNC’s Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld.
It’s all good, but my response was more than 5000 words, so I couldn’t put it on his site.
Here it is:
Hey Larry – Susan here. I am sincerely happy for your success ? so you are welcome. I listen to you often on Fox (I?m often in the car). I also listen to CNN, MSNBC, Glenn Beck, read WSJ, Wash Post, NY Times, Politico, Huffington, Real Clear Politics, etc. ? in other words many sides. I have no issues with you other than the fact that your recent arguments seem stalled. As a contributor to news outlets, you talk about the liberal mindset and berate the whining, but this article strikes that very tone. It?s ?old news? and self-aggrandizing in that see-I-was-a-victim-too way, recalling an old story and comparing it to recent news in effect to put yourself on some higher pillar of thought. Pence handled himself so well ? take that example and build from there.
Larry, I wish you reached out to me either seven years ago, or before writing this most recent editorial, to ask my side of the story. That would have been more interesting and useful to your readers. You mention that we were friends; I still consider you one and look back fondly on those days at the Shubert, despite your use of my name as some amalgam for Hollywood liberalism and public shaming. I think you know I’m intelligent. I don’t recall ever having a political conversation with you, so I don?t think I offended you back in the halls of Beauty and the Beast, but I wish we had talked politics. I may have been young, but I may have also surprised you with my logic, and you may have had the chance to influence me. Id have liked that. Yet here we are, and you seem to think you know so much about my view and the role I?ve played in events. I have always wished you looked for my side in the Scott Eckern debacle, but more importantly, I wish you took a more constructive slant in general today. I would also ask you to correct your representation of my letter seven years ago – my role seems to have grown over time. You are allowed your viewpoint, of course, but it isn’t quite an accurate or complete landscape.
For the record:
I did not knowingly start a crusade and I resent that word for so many reasons, most especially the violence associated with it. I did not write more than one letter (you mention “in one of her impassioned letters”) and I did not launch it to the theatre community as a whole. I wrote a post on my personal Facebook page, then people shared it. I cited a letter I received from composer of Hairspray, Marc Shaiman. I did not call for Scott’s resignation. I remembered the theatre community’s solidarity with the LGBT community during the early years of AIDS and cited that Scott?s support of Prop 8 seemed hypocritical since his livelihood depended on those in the LGBT community. It was not particularly well-expressed. At the moment I wrote it, I actually felt like I was committing career suicide (that may surprise you); I was the little guy (an out-of-work actress) going against the “boss” (producer) who would likely never hire me again. I honestly thought, as I wrote, that I would bare the brunt of the aftermath, but that I was in a place in my life where if I never work again I’ll survive, but many of my pals (most LGBT) were NOT in that position, so I decided to walk to the edge of the cliff. I was shocked by the speed at which that post went viral (wish I had expressed myself better and used alternate links), which may sound naive, but “viral” was still fairly new then and I was sitting in a Los Angeles apartment, miles away from Broadway, and honestly didn’t know I was striking a chord to that degree. It was the day after an African American was elected to the White House and yet my LGBT pals were being sent to the ?back of the bus.? I wrote a post about those feelings.
I was sorry Scott resigned. That wasn’t my intention, though I do concur that for whatever reason my post (as opposed to Marc’s or others) seemed to be the one that fanned that spark and ignited a storm. I was shocked that the Rodgers and Hammerstein Association, Sondheim, Schwartz and others (within hours) withdrew their works from Sacramento Music Circus, forcing Scott to leave. I met with a former leader of Sacramento Music Circus and asked him to intervene (surprise you?), and he explained to me why Scott’s resignation was the only way forward at that point. To this day I am saddened to think of Scott’s departure, and wish our community had been secure enough in itself (and the historical wave for marriage equality that was moments away) to simply accept an apology, NOT for Scott?s beliefs, but for the seeming hypocrisy and conflict of interest – a simple acknowledgement that those under his power were made to feel less because of his donation. It almost seems silly now, but Scott was in a position of power over many ? can you imagine how they felt going to work knowing he hoped to undermine what they (and the state) considered their personal rights? To his credit, Scott did apologize, but it was wishy-washy at best and the fire was too big regardless. Looking back, even you have to agree, Larry, that the marriage equality movement was poised to tip. I don?t think you can blame me for the whole of that, or for the left-leaning Hollywood you write about. But since that post seven years ago, I now keep my cards closer to my chest. I have strong beliefs and share them with few. I am not ashamed by any of them and in fact love to argue them with anyone open to listening, but I have learned the power of a simple post and would like to proceed with caution to try to minimize unintended casualties. So, your assumptions about me, in this recent post, are interestingly two-dimensional at best and convenient for your narrative. Sad, too.
My belief for the record ? and it will anger those on the right who called for my head seven years ago (and again this week, thanks to your article) and those on the left who lifted me up as a hero: I felt Scott?s donation was his right, but that it was unbelievably insensitive and tone-deaf considering the place where he worked. That?s it. I stand by it. It was my right to say so on my personal Facebook page, as it was his right to donate. But you are correct in your assessment that my statement hurt him, and I regret that. The aftermath was fast and furious … and educational. I never wanted casualties, but I take full responsibility. This letter I write now is no excuse, but I challenge your characterization of me.
With regard to Hamilton. I think you have again missed the boat entirely. Your outrage at the ?Hollywood left? and your victim-like-stance, fans the same flame you accuse me of igniting – albeit from the other side. Can you see it?s the same fire? You have a wonderful platform now, Larry. Are you interested in solving issues or reporting your own form of vitriol? Your “whining” for lack of a better word, is perpetuating the problems in our country – but now you are paid for doing it ? your success is built on the ?unfairness.? You are allowed your income and success, but evolve the message. I don?t think you?ll be out of a job.
You know who I love? Charles Krauthammer. He?s on Fox (I know you know). I agree with him, I disagree with him, but I love listening to him, because he offers solutions. Well-considered, reasonable, refreshingly clear solutions based on actual knowledge. I don?t always agree, but I love listening to him just to hear his take. Often, no matter which side I’m on, his solutions build bridges to me or to others. I’d love if Trump hired him ? though I?m not sure Mr. Krauthammer would.
So now, this week?s article, is not Sacramento Music Circus and an unemployed actress causing issues, it?s Hamilton. Politics aside, I?m fan-girling a bit to be mentioned in context to the show.) There are so many articles about that night, but the real news was in the comments to those articles, don?t you think? I read how the show is ?overblown,? actors ?suck,? or ?good for them,? ?Trump sucks,? blah, blah, blah. It seems trivial ? but HERE is the real story?The point we?re all missing is that we are all missing the point! Who CARES if the show is good or bad or overhyped ? if tickets are available or if a boycott would even have an effect ? that is not what that night was about. The only story here is this: the curtain speech to Mike Pence and the resulting tweets were one massive missed opportunity.
I understand why a Trump presidency scares many. I understand why millions voted for Trump. Both reflect that people do not feel heard. Not in some mamsy-pansy ?safe-space,? we-all-need-coloring-books way (I?m trying to make you laugh, am I making you laugh?) ? I mean very simply our country has lost its ability to empathize. Both sides.
I understand why Hamilton actor, Brandon Victor Dixon said what he said in the way he said it. I do not know him, but I?m trying to put myself in his place, and I also know how Broadway shows feel and work ? so ? I?m imagining ? They knew last-minute that Pence was coming. It caused frenzy and emotion backstage. He scrambled to think of what and how to say something. He had good plans, BUT he didn?t know the secret service would try to rush Pence out (that always happens, but this may be Bandon?s first time experiencing it). So, he had to improvise, get Pence to stay. He tried to say nice things, but his distaste for Trump and Pence was still, unfortunately, palpable. He spoke from his point of view to be heard, rather than from the desire to bridge the gap. I do not think Dixon was trying to shame Pence (as you claim), but from a performance standpoint, he was rushing and nervous and though some kind words were there, the inflection was harsh. He?d have been SO much better in a second take! Actors. Bummer.
I also get why folks thinks Pence was inappropriately put on the spot. The ?chat? was awkward and unexpected. He didn?t have a microphone like the actors on stage in order to fairly respond, so he was out-numbered and our manned (Hamilton joke). He was being pulled by secret service (also new for him). Still. He managed a very classy response. Kudos. Can we get some Biden/Pence memes, now?
I don?t fault any of these people. I imagine I even know why Trump tweeted what he did. He was surprised by the event, he was trying to protect his VP (not that he needs it, but I get it). He spoke his gut reaction. He spoke from his point of view, not from the desire to bridge the gap. My gripe here is that he should know better.
I wish all sides understood their platforms better. I completely misjudged my own platform 7 years ago (didn?t know I had one), and it was minuscule in comparison. Hamilton is the greatest show ever (I?m sorry, there is no discussion on this point), and because EVERYONE knows about Hamilton, Dixon had an even larger opportunity, maybe even responsibility, though it was a lot to ask. He called for the postings and tweets, but he was too much the young, brash Alexander than the moment could digest. Perhaps we needed a Jefferson in this moment. Then there?s Trump ? sigh ? he should know better by now that he won and now he can afford to be generous ? allow some awkward steps by others, especially from those new to the world stage, and hear the message, not the delivery. Dude, c?mon, asking for an apology like some uptight school marm was cringe-worthy.
In my dreams this is what happened:
Brandon Victor Dixon:
Ladies and Gentleman, we have a very special guest tonight. Let?s hear it for our Vice-President Elect, Mike Pence (hold for applause, even if some is hesitant). Sir, we are honored to have you here this evening; thank you for taking the time to see our show about the birth of this great country of ours. As you can see, we are a very diverse group, much like our country as a whole. Our story is about immigrants in our nation?s past and the great contributions they have made. It?s also about divisions of thought and philosophy and the polarization that occurs. So, new? (hold for laugh) But it is also about the strength of a nation because of these battles of words and ideas. We may not all agree today, and we trust you know that your incoming administration is causing anxiety in many of our communities, but we believe in what Hamilton and our Founding Fathers (and LADIES!) professed, and what they delivered us. And your presence here gives us hope that you do as well. As tonight?s Aaron Burr recognized just a few moments ago ?The world is wide enough? for all of us. Congratulations on your victory. We hope you will keep ALL of our country?s great and diverse citizens in your thoughts as you lead. We wish you well.
Pence responds as he did.
Trump tweets: We hear you. We will be YOUR #POTUS and VP, too. History has its eyes on us. #NowCanIGetATicket?
Ok, Lin-Manuel could likely have written it much better and in rap form. I don?t want to belittle anyone?s sides or feelings, but you get the drift. I believe we need to bend slightly beyond our own narratives to create common ground between ?ours? and ?theirs.?
Larry, you know so little about me, but profess to know much. It is a microcosm for the issue at large. We assume about others what is simple to help us hold our own belief system in place. If you had called me up, I?d have told you my personal solution is to become shoe-obsessed (don?t blame Zappos). I want to try on as many of my fellow citizen?s shoes as possible. Corny? Ok, I?ll take corny for $500, Alex, because this is the way I see best to find a path forward for all of us. I do (and I don?t think I?m na?ve) believe that is what the vast majority of this country wants. My real wish is that we all swap some shoes this holiday. Stop professing what you believe ? we have heard it in countless ways thanks to modern media ? and honestly, both sides are tuning the opposition out. Instead, stop talking, and look at the picture from as many angles as you can. If you climb inside someone else?s experience, you can stop hearing their tone and begin to hear the message. It will challenge your thinking; it will be incredibly uncomfortable for a time; it will cause a lump in your throat and make you cry, and feel anger, and relief, and shame. And if you?re not feeling all that, you?re not doing it right. It will be impossible to reconcile the experience with your narrative in its current form, because you will lose the stomach for being a contributor to the divisiveness. And THAT is the place where I want to meet everyone I encounter – downsizing our baggage to just a carry-on with rollers, please – where we can begin to move forward. There is a time for argument and a time to reconcile-with-differences. I say this to the (oh-so-young) liberal protestors who didn?t bother to vote, the right-wing conspirators who don?t know where to turn their anger now that their guy won, and everyone in between ? the vast majority of great Americans who are not racist, or hateful, or ignorant, and who voted, in nearly equal numbers* for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
*Can we stop this argument, too? If the opposite candidate had won the electoral, the same lawsuit would be filed. Popular vote could go either way taking these into account: zoning, voter ID, computer hacks, Russians, DNC?s bias, intimidation, licenses for non-legal residents which trips voter registrations sent to their homes, counting, re-counting, timing of numbers coming in, absentee ballots, media reporting of election ? painful, right? With all of this, we could spend years and endless money and time on who won more popular votes. But in the end we?ll still know it was damn close. That is the only information we need in order to conclude that the best infrastructure we could invest in now is bridges.
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