Eight years ago, this writer walked into rehearsal for one of the most prestigious symphony choruses in the country. At the time, I was a second soprano in that group (I actually have a higher voice than most of the firsts, but kept ending up at second) and one of maybe five members out of 130 or so who were not enamored of Barack Obama. Not at all. After eight years, memory fades as to which venue we were using that night, the main hall or the alternative site, but what doesn’t fade was the jubilation in the voice of one of the other sopranos when the director said, “I know we’re all concerned about the election,” and the female lawyer holding court in the back row said, “It’s going well,” over the heads of everyone else.
Joy and exuberance were in the air. It wasn’t until the break, about an hour an a half into the three hour rehearsal, that the stage cleared so that the liberals could get on their iPhones and check the returns, that the handful of conservatives sat by ourselves out there. The only other woman, a fellow soprano quite a bit younger than me, shook her head, and we looked at each other. “They have no idea what they’ve just done,” we practically said in unison. (The same scenario repeated itself four years later with another person.)
Eight years hence, the tables have turned. And after eight years of keeping our mouths shut just to maintain friendships and professional relationships from which people in the arts – particularly those of us who are not union – gain gigs and connections, the conservatives among us still can’t fully come out of the closet. The reason why was put on display Friday evening in New York. (At this point, everyone out there knows what happened when Vice President-elect Mike Pence went to see Hamilton on Broadway. Not going to rehash it.)
You see, we conservatives dare to be diverse in OPINION from the prevailing political paradigm in the arts: flat out liberalism as preached by the mainstream media. And THAT is barely tolerated. In fact, most of these people who are vehemently anti-church unless it’s for convenience or what we call a “church job” (section leader in a choir), feminist, pro-choice, open borders, and all that jazz, always assume the person they are talking to agrees with them. It is an anathema to them that conservatives could possibly be in their midst.
In the fourteen or so days since Donald Trump has been elected president, things like this have been appearing in my Facebook feed from my friend the lawyer from the back row of sopranos.
She’s actually one of the more tolerant of the lot, but still…she’s caught in the NPR echo chamber. In response, this writer posted this on Facebook.
I’ll get to Antonio Vivaldi, a priest who had to give up being one for health reasons, teaching orphaned girls music so they could make a living later. And the Belgian Jesuit who first posited the Big Bang Theory. And Albertus Magnus who brought chemistry out of the age of alchemy. We call him St. Albert the Great (he was a Dominican friar).
This is honestly the thought paradigm of the truly privileged people in the arts, which is what makes Friday’s display of hubris from the Broadway cast of “Hamilton” so disgusting. Larry O’Connor at HotAir puts it in perspective:
My phone starting buzzing in the early hours Saturday morning as news of the “curtain-speech-heard-round-the-world” hit everyone’s Facebook page. Friends of mine who work on Broadway were sending me their personal opinions because they “could never say it out loud” and they were counting on me to speak on their behalf.
I heard from an actor who pointed out that the performers on stage are in the most prominent position of privilege the industry could ever provide an actor. They appear in the hottest play in the country and have a steady Actor’s Equity contract with full benefits along with a job for the next decade, if they want it.
The idea that these well-paid thespians represent “the diverse America” that is concerned with the direction of the country is absurd, this actor said. They represent the elite not just in this country, but in their own industry. It wasn’t lost on this actor friend of mine that these cast members live a far better lifestyle than the Americans they claim to represent.
Another friend, an actor of color, regretted the message sent to any Republican or non-liberal who heard about this story over the weekend. The man came to the THEATRE with an obviously open mind and they chose to reject the gesture this friend said to me. “And you’re for tolerance and diversity?” the actor lamented.
And that is where this writer’s experience with members of the chorus, a professional group for which most of us volunteered, is essentially the same. The people on the stage that night eight years ago, the ones mourning the loss of their Utopia now, are almost entirely highly educated professionals in white collar jobs. For the most part, they live in lily-white suburbs or pockets of regentrified historic neighborhoods where few people aren’t just like them. If they know people who are blue collar, or work on their feet, those people tend to be their lawn and pool guys. Very few own their own businesses. The teachers in question are largely public school union.
And they are singing in one of the most exclusive groups in the country where a trip to Carnegie Hall every so many years is just part of the package.
If that’s not privilege, what is?
The irony of the entire situation lies in the reality that people at the top of the pyramid dare to lecture those actually trying to help the ones at the bottom. The reality that Alexander Hamilton himself was all about what the cast of the musical that bears his name abhors is a bonus ironic twist. And then there is this:
Indeed I can tell you from first hand experience that in the theatre industry diversity is only skin-deep and genital-high. It’s the superficial and irrelevant differences of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality that the members of the theatre community obsess over, not the more important and challenging intellectual diversity of opinions that they reject and ignore.
In many ways, classical music bears the same markings. The things this writer has heard from the podium…. I do have one friend, an organist, who is gay, and has a sad history that he still is trying to put behind him. This guy is openly a raging conservative, but really he’s about the only one. The others, if they are known as conservatives, are very quiet about it. Our opinions and positions, no matter how well researched and defended, are simply not respected in the political arena among our arts peers. It makes going out after rehearsals and gigs for bonding sessions a painful experience.
The arts, actually, have forever been infested with what we call “liberals” today. This is not a new phenomenon. Chastising a member of the audience, on the other hand, has not been done directly from the cast before now. (We won’t count the number of people affected by Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”) It was done in very bad form. And those of us who hail from the world of the arts and love it warts and all, are not happy at all that such an event happened regardless of the forgiving graciousness of the Vice President-elect. The hospitality that the liberals
among us claim to espouse was not on display. There is no excuse for that.