Real quick before we dive in: 1. Make sure you're registered to vote. 2. Call your reps and get them to pass the Heroes Act. 3. Call all the Louisville lines and demand justice for Breonna Taylor. Okay, now on to today's thought.
On July 26th the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its thirtieth birthday. NPR's Throughline ran a great segment on it and, after listening through it, and in honor of this milestone, I want everyone to stop for a second and really, REALLY think and reflect on their own actions, behaviors, biases, and assumptions.
First, a little history and context:
Nowadays, my rapid-fire list of his diagnoses, which usually gets people to stop with their "Oh, I have a cousin with Autism! What's your brother have?" tone (more on that in a minute), is: "Autism Cerebral Palsy Kabuki Makeup Syndrome Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome and Congenital Myopathy of Muscle Fiber One." (Imagine me saying that at the same speed as the legal disclaimer at the end of a radio commercial and you'll get the idea.)
I grew up looking after and caring for my brother; he requires round-the-clock care, and that doesn't just mean his physical needs, it also means that someone has to deal with the world around him and adapt it to be more accessible and less discriminatory for him to live in.
Legally, the ADA was the first big step in moving the country in that direction (it's at least one step in a better direction than the systems of eugenics and forced sterilization that this country got into well before the Nazis started slaughtering people because of their disabilities; California even led the pack on that front from 1907-1970 with over 20,000 forced sterilizations). The ADA put the onus on businesses, establishments, and society at large to adapt, rather than expecting, for example, wheelchair users to either just "figure out how to get up and down the stairs" or simply not come in at all.
We reluctantly accept the thing and she walks away on the verge of tears, just so overwhelmed by the experience of seeing a boy in a wheelchair and his brother beside him eating a corndog.
(Also, quick aside, did y'all know that "overwhelmed" means the exact same thing as "whelmed"? Truly, look up the etymology; the "over" bit is entirely redundant. So, the next time someone makes the "can you ever just be 'whelmed'?" joke, you can tell them, "Well, yes, you can, but it would mean that you're experiencing the state of being that you assume you'd be experiencing if you were feeling, by your definition, 'overwhelmed.' Just 'chill,' bruh.")
Okay, this one's less of an anecdote and more of an account of the fact that I've had the exact same conversation about, oh I don't know, ten thousand times in my life. It goes like this:
THEM: That's retarded.
ME: Come on, man, don't use that word.
THEM: Dude, stop being so overly sensitive about everything.
You get the idea.
Okay. So, here are the issues at work here, and this is where I REALLY need y'all to do some introspection:
Would you walk up to a pair of siblings, one of whom is white, the other of whom is, I don't know, Korean, and tell the white one how beautiful it is that they're out in public together?
Would you still, in this day and age, call something "fruity," or "gay" if you didn't like it?
Would you, when introduced to a black person, immediately say to them, "Oh, hi! My neighbor's black, too!"?
I'm'a guess, if you're reading this, the answer to all of the above is, "No." (And if it's "yes," that's something else for you to investigate.)
So, here's the point:
When you treat people with disabilities with pity, and as though it's an achievement to simply be seen outside in public, that's discrimination.
When you lump all people with disabilities together with the "I have a black friend, too!" tone, that's discrimination.
And for fuck's sake, if you are using any variation or permutation of what we call "The R-Word," then in all likelihood, it's goddamn discrimination.
And you'll have to forgive me for getting frustrated here; I've been doing this dance for over 25 years and I truly CANNOT believe that I still have to say this: When you use the R-word as a pejorative expression, you are explicitly stating that anyone with an intellectual disability is undesirable and deserving of ridicule and disparagement (or, gee, I don't know, death or sterilization. See: the bits of American History your AP U.S. class in high school left out). And here's the thing: I know that that's the truth, because all the synonyms that you could replace that word with when you use it in a derogatory way are negative: stupid, shitty, fucked up, worthless, unwanted, disgusting, repulsive, dismissible, etc.
THEM: "But– But– But–"
No. No "buts." That's what you're doing whether you realize it or not. And it's discrimination. Period.
That said, here's where it gets dicey.
Bonus Anecdote 3: Satire.
Satire is a tricky world. When done effectively, it skewers those who are abusing their power like literary or journalistic surgery. And, again, when done effectively, the conscious use of slurs can be extremely effective. Note: the CONSCIOUS use (i.e. Season 1, Episode 21 of the show Speechless).
When done sloppily, however, satire can act like a kid with a sawed-off shotgun in a candy shop; sure, the kid is gonna hit their target, but they're also gonna hit a lot of bystanders who had nothing to do with anything (i.e. Tropic Thunder, Something About Mary, Mean Girls, this list goes on forever).
Why the flying fuck would anyone need to perpetuate its use this way? To what end? Why did the creator of this image NEED to adjacently disparage people with disabilities? Why was it necessary for the satire to include "libtard"? Wouldn't "liberal snowflakes" have worked just as well and NOT used an already marginalized group as cannon fodder? How was it necessary to think, "Well, the r*****s won't get up in arms about this, and even if they do, who cares? It's fine! We can dehumanize them adjacently while trying to satirize the white nationalist right"?
Hang tight, I'm gonna answer the question for you:
No one thought that. Because the creator of this image didn't think for one second about its impact on the disabled community. That's how. That's why. Whoever it was who made this image did not even register the fact that "libtard" is a portmanteau that inherently degrades, dehumanizes, and dismisses the basic human worth of people with disabilities.
This sloppy, inadvertent, ignorant lateral bullying of the disabled community HAS. TO. STOP.
It's as simple as that.
Stop the pitying looks.
Stop the teary admiration for the "bravery to be seen in public."
Stop dismissing someone's needs just because they're different than yours.
Stop using disabled people as a foil for all things you don't like.
And for all the gods' sakes STOP. USING. THE R-WORD.
"Retard," "fucktard," "libtard," "if you're not a freakin' tard" (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog), I don't care what variation on the theme you pick, just stop it.
(And a quick side note: I brought this up to the friend on whose Facebook wall I saw the image. She and I had a really great discussion about it.)
So. To sum up:
The ADA has been around for thirty years now. In that time, a lot of progress has been made. Hell, Obama even signed Rosa's Law in 2010 which states that any federal documentation that has previously used the term "mental retardation" be changed to "intellectual disability," and the same new terminology be used going forward.
But there is SO MUCH more progress that is needed.
And it starts with individual people.
It starts with the way you and your friends think, speak, act, and interact with others.
So, please, truly, take some time and reflect. If you've done any of this stuff in the past, that's innocent ignorance rearing its head. It's okay. Don't beat yourself up. You can't go back and change what's done.
But going forward, there's just no excuse anymore.
Catch yourself in the act. Work to reprogram your vocabulary and assumptions. And if one of your pals blurts out that something's "retarded," call them out. This community needs real allies, now more than ever. And much in the way that communities of color have been screaming, "stop making us do the emotional labor to correct your (white people's) behavior," the disabled community – those with disabilities as well as their parents, children, siblings, care providers, family, and friends – cannot be expected to do all the work.
Happy Birthday, ADA. Here's hoping the next thirty years see these changes continue.
Since Congress is taking a nice long paid three-day weekend while allowing our fatally necessary unemployment assistance to lapse, I feel like it's a good time to make this statement. I got rather fired up for the first time in a long time last week and wrote this out. Consider it an open letter to Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, and every other congressional "leader" who has decided that our lives are disposable. And whether you read it or not, particularly if you're in a red district or state, but even if you're somewhere blue, call your reps, call McConnell, call the Republican congressional leadership, and demand they extend these relief payments. All the phone numbers are clickable on my advocacy page, so it truly couldn't be easier. Alright, here's what I have to say:
- - - - -
I am an artist.
And as such, I have had to learn how to survive.
I have trained my body to do things I was warned by professionals were impossible.
I have studied languages, texts, and history beyond any mere institutional requirement.
I have strengthened my voice to reach notes it was never biologically meant to reach.
I have endured heartbreak, betrayal, bigotry, and hate, and smiled in the face of it.
I have leaped off of towers, swum with sharks, and crafted stories and songs from thin air.
I have managed schools, fielded petty sales calls, slung tacos, been Elmo, sung, danced, fought, been stabbed, broken my body, willingly shattered my heart, and weathered what for an ordinary person would be unendurable levels of resistance all in order to survive.
And I am only one.
We artists are many.
And we are unfathomably well versed in survival.
So, if you think that your hate is going to break us...
If you think that your willful ignorance,
Your selfishness, racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia,
Or your truly pernicious lack of empathy for those in need –
Who you, through your actions and inaction, put in the position we're in –
If you think for one second that you're going to break us...
You have no idea who you're messing with.
Your economy is so precious to you, is it?
So, tell me...
What would it be without television?
Billboards? Commercials? Packaging on products? Music? Books? Magazines?
Hell, the fucking ticker tape at the bottom of the screen or the microphones capturing the sound of the disinformation and hate spewed on Fox "News"?
Because those? They were all made by us.
And you know... Now that I think about it, I have in mind a better use for what we do.
I will make a weapon of my art.
My body will break your resolve.
My words will pierce the heavy armor into which you've encased your followers' minds.
My songs will resound so loudly that they will rattle apart your barricades, your fences, and your walls.
I will draw...
Sing, dance, write, rise, fight, resist, compose, endure, persevere, and persist far longer than you'll even be alive.
Because, make no mistake: not your money, not your hate, not your selfishness, bigotry, God, nor anything else can hide you from Death.
He comes for us all, and once he does, no power can stop him.
And all of us will be naught but memories; footnotes in peoples' minds, remembered as whatever we have proven ourselves, in life, to be.
So, go ahead.
Make your last stand.
Because when you are dead and buried and only remembered in the history books for what you are: the toxic last vestige of the hateful, cankerous, diseased corpse from which this country was wrought...
I'll still be here.
All of us will still be here.
And we will erase every despicable mark you ever made on this world.
Because when it comes down to it, the survivors write the history books.
And no one knows how to survive like artists.
“70% of whatever the wages you were making prior to being unemployed.” -Mark Meadows on what the Republicans in Congress have finally decided is what they can stomach.
Their rationale for not wanting to extend the $600/week? They don’t like that some people have been making more than they could by working.
They “DON’T LIKE IT.” That’s their rationale. So, here we go...
PART 1: Math
Average US unemployment insurance weekly amount: $37
Additional weekly Pandemic Emergency Assistance: $60
Weekly income on this current unemployment insurance: $97
Average Monthly income, therefore: $4,157.14 (weekly, divided by seven, times 30
Average annual income on this relief: $50,578.57
Is that more than I’ve made some years? Hell yes it is.
Is that more than I made last year? Shockingly, no.
Know why? Because I hustled my ass off. Wrote three books, wrote and produced and directed two original children’s musicals, learned and performed in two tourist trap shows, booked and performed a union theatre contract, toured an elementary school show, and filled in the gaps with headshot photography, voice over work, and over a dozen other one-or-two-off jobs (for reference, I worked for more separate and individual entities last year than in any other year of my life; it was in the ballpark of 25 individual employers, mostly 1099’d as an independent contractor).
And you know what I did, even in March as this pandemic was literally killing off my entire industry? I paid my f***ing taxes.
That’s right. I sent the government money. In March. Right around my birthday, in fact, not for nothing.
And now… Now they’ve decided that they “don’t like” that people are potentially making more from the unemployment insurance than they could by working, and they want to “compromise” by giving us “70% of whatever the wages [were] prior to being unemployed.”
Homies, YOU GONNA DO THAT MATH?
And if you are, HOW?
Because, surprise surprise, I’m not the only gig worker in the US. In fact, According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 36% of US workers were involved in the gig economy as of 2017.
THIRTY SIX PERCENT.
And just to drive this home, 42% of young people freelance.
Nearly HALF of folks my age and younger, and over A THIRD of the COUNTRY are working paycheck to paycheck for multiple employers with no fixed salary or wage and the Republicans want the already understaffed, overwhelmed, and unwieldy EDD’s and Social Services across the country to somehow calculate 70% of each of these people’s “wage” from before we were unemployed?
WE. DON’T. HAVE. WAGES. TO. CALCULATE. FROM.
Y’all are behaving like the economy still works the way it did in 1929! Spoiler alert: IT DOESN’T.
Calculating percentages of gig income for over a third of the country’s work force is a mathematical impossibility given the resources we have. Look at Wisconsin! I have friends there who filed for unemployment in April and they still haven’t seen a cent! Here in California, too! I saw a video of a friend weeping when she was finally just APPROVED for her unemployment claim LAST WEEK. IT’S LATE JULY, MOTHERF***ER! She filed in MARCH.
So the Republicans have decided to whine and whinge about “I don’t WANNA let people have enough money to live on” and their solution is to propose providing a percentage of a nonexistent sum for over a third of the people who pay their congressional salary.
Ready for the thesis to this math lesson?
Nonexistent Sum = $0
70% x $0 = ….You ready?… ZERO F***ING DOLLARS.
So, no, McConnell and Meadows. This plan WILL. NOT. WORK.
Okay, PART 2: Ethics
You don’t “like” it?
YOU DON’T “LIKE” IT?
You know what I don’t like? Not being able to even audition or be considered for work because my entire industry is shut down until 2021 at the earliest (and yes, even the Greenhouse Theater Center in Chicago has finally, apparently, cancelled their run of “Judy & Liza” which opened last week and earned them and the actors involved a one-way ticket out of the actors’ union for life).
You know what I don’t like? Not knowing if I’m going to have enough money to pay my rent because I can’t work ANY of the gigs I used to do.
You know what I don’t like? The fact that we’re STILL in lockdown going into MONTH FIVE of this while every country with capable and sound leadership nipped this in the bud back in April or May.
Let’s be very clear about one thing: WE. WOULD NOT. NEED. THE MONEY. IF OUR GOVERNMENTAL LEADERS. HAD DONE. THEIR F***ING. JOBS.
Trump had every opportunity to stop this pandemic from wreaking the havoc it has. He could have said back in January or February, “Shut everything down for four weeks, everyone gets the equivalent of 80% of what they made for that much time in 2019 automatically, and then we’ll evaluate the safety of reopening.” (Gee that sound familiar… Oh yeah, that’s because that’s what New Zealand did and they get to have Summer 2020.)
But that’s not what happened. Instead it took until July 21st for Trump to even acknowledge that wearing a mask will help slow the spread of this thing.
Meanwhile we’re up to 149,000 dead (it was 145,000 the last time I went on one of these rants LAST WEEK, y’all…) and he’s still minimizing the impact that the disease itself is having.
So you want to talk about what you “don’t like”? Quit your jobs. All of you Republicans. Quit. You do not deserve to represent the American people. You are absolute monsters if your rationale for trying to take away our literal only means of survival is that you “don’t like it.”
And on top of all of that, the reason you want everyone to be forced back to work? Because you want the economy to reopen. While the pandemic still rages. So even your reason behind you reason for wanting to take this money away is to threaten our lives. It is FATAL to go back to work. God, look at the pictures of Karen and her friends at brunch while her poor server looks like an extra off the set of Contagion. THAT is what they want for a third of the work force of America. They want us risking our lives so Karen can get her mimosa on a patio. And they’ll kill anyone and everyone they can with absolute impunity via this death by a thousand cuts to our unemployment along the way.
Oh, and just as the cherry to this section: these congresspeople make $174k/year. That’s 3.5x the calculated annual income for anyone collecting the average unemployment benefits right now. If any of us “making more than [we] would by working” is so repulsive to these Republicans, gee, I don’t know… maybe the change doesn’t need to come from the way we’re supporting these hustlers and go-getters, maybe the change needs to be at a foundational level that could shift the distribution of wealth in this country so that $50k/year doesn’t seem like, “HOLY SHIT I’VE NEVER MADE THIS MUCH MONEY NO MATTER HOW MANY 90 HOUR WEEKS I WORK!”
Because that’s not a sustainable economic plan.
PART 3: Conclusion
1. The economy does not function like it did in 1929 with the majority of the work force in 9-to-5 salaried or hourly jobs; over a third of the country works gig to gig and to deny that is to blindly ignore fact and instead, choose to believe (and legislate based on) a fantasy.
2. Republican Congresspeople “not liking” that some people are making more with this assistance than they would by working is not a valid reason to take away the ability of Americans to survive. Period.
3. The problem isn’t that some people are making more on unemployment than they would by working, the problem is that Americans have found it so impossible to even make a living wage in this country that making more on pandemic unemployment is a possibility at all.
Without that additional $600/week, homelessness is going to skyrocket like we’ve never seen (a 45% increase according to a Columbia University study). That’s an additional 250,000 people without permanent shelter. On top of the 568,000 already homeless as of January 2019.
And the pandemic is still creating a new 65,000 cases and 1,000 deaths per day.
And meanwhile, those of us in the performance industry can’t go back to work, even if we’re stupid enough to want to.
So: CALL YOUR REPS.
Call them. You can email, too, but call them. All of the numbers are on my advocacy page and instagram, so it’s super easy to find and do.
Because without this money, at minimum a third of America is absolutely screwed.
P.S. And to you, Madam “Find Something New,” I’m glad to hear you’ve never watched a single minute of television, never listened to a single song, never once turned on the radio or Spotify, and certainly never once set foot inside a theatre or performance venue of any kind. Oh, what? You have? Gee golly, Mrs. First Lady, I didn’t realize you didn’t know that those were actors you were watching…
If you read this, do not click like and move along. Do not comment and move along. Your help is needed. Right now. Today. If you read no further than the next four lines and then you go to my advocacy page and start clicking phone numbers and making calls, then great! But don’t read this post and not make the calls. This is life and death. So, please... PLEASE... here’s your homework for today (and remember, DC is three hours ahead of we Californians, so try to make these calls early, at least before 2pm PT):
1. Call your Senators and oppose Operation Legend
2. Call your Senators again - make it a separate call for logging purposes - (and the Republican Congressional Leadership) and demand they extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance packages - particularly the additional $600/week
3. Call the Louisville lines and demand the men who killed Breonna Taylor are fired and charged.
(And for bonus points) 4: help the protestors in Portland
Now, lemme see if I can take this ugly bag of snakes and lay em out straight for you… (Dan Aykroyd, Evolution, 2001)
I’ve already explicated ad nauseam the myriad reasons the PUA is necessary, so I’m not going to waste space on it today. Scroll down to my post from yesterday (July 22) if you need it, though.
As for Operation Legend and Breonna Taylor… This is weedy, so bear with me (please also now imagine that there's a bear with me).
Trump has now sent federal troops into Portland with the stated purpose of “protecting federal property.” That’s the “why” as to why they were sent. What they have done in practice, however, is abduct American citizens who were peacefully protesting, arrest them without probable cause, shoot them in the head with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets, and terrorize them, all while using unmarked cars and wearing unmarked military-style uniforms.
As of now, Trump has also sent federal troops to Kansas City, and is deploying them to Chicago and Albuquerque, under the banner of Operation Legend, with the stated purpose of working to “restore public safety, protect our nation’s children, and bring violent perpetrators to justice.”
That’s the talking line: restore public safety.
Operation Legend – this Trump-declared “surge of federal law enforcement into American communities plagued by violent crime” – is named for LeGend Taliferro, a four-year-old Kansas City boy who was shot and killed by a stray bullet while sleeping in his home.
In the press briefing, Trump was quoted as saying, "No mother should ever have to cradle her dead child in her arms simply because politicians refuse to do what is necessary to secure their neighborhood and to secure their city. Every American – no matter their income, their race, or their ZIP code – should be able to walk their city streets free from violence and free from fear." (July 22, 2020)
Okay, now while on the surface that seems like a noble and righteous thing to say, context is EVERYTHING.
He said this while:
1. the US coronavirus death toll surpasses 145,000,
2. he only FIRST stated that masks “have an impact” on Tuesday (July 21, 2020),
3. he’s mandated that hospitals stop informing the CDC of their cases and, instead, send that information directly to a private firm contracted by the White House,
4. and while the men who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in the middle of the night in her home (March 13, 2020) still walk free, two of them still with their jobs as gun-carrying police officers.
Y’all, look… at this point, it is both willfully naïve and actively short-sighted to ignore the parallels here.
LeGend Taliferro is killed by a stray bullet in his home Kansas City, Trump sends federal troops into Portland, Kansas City, Chicago, and Albuquerque…
Breonna Taylor is killed by at least eight bullets fired by three plainclothes police officers after they broke into her home in Louisville, and… nothing.
Meanwhile, Trump declares that every American “should be able to walk their city streets free from violence and free from fear”?
Homie, I can’t take my trash to the curb without encountering at least three motherf***ers walking by without masks on, and all it takes is for one of them to be covid-positive and to sneeze for me to catch it, spread it to my girlfriend and roommates, for them to spread it to their partners, who’d spread it to their roommates, who’d spread it to… YOU SEE WHAT I’M SAYING.
That’s FEAR, a**hole.
And it is not being created by accident. As recently as July 19th, Trump said of the coronavirus, “It is what it is.”
“IT IS WHAT IT IS”??? 145,000 people dead and “it is what it is.”
And as for the “communities plagued by violent crime”? Let’s do some math:
From 2013 (TWENTY THIRTEEN) through the most recent data available for 2020, the total number of homicides in Chicago, Kansas City, and Albuquerque COMBINED equal 5,699. That’s a SEVEN YEAR total. In 2020 by itself, that number is 499.
Meanwhile, also in 2020 alone, Covid-19 has killed 145,000 Americans.
(And just for the sake of full comparative context, the most recent data I could find for total homicides in the US was from 2017: 19,510. But mind you, that was for a 12-month nationwide span, and data for 2020 January-July is difficult to come by yet.)
So, to sum that data up into something digestible:
499 deaths: “surge of federal law enforcement.”
145,000 deaths: “it is what it is.”
LeGend Taliferro killed by a stray bullet: “we will be there with full force.”
Breonna Taylor killed by police officers: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
None of this is to discount the pain and suffering of LeGend’s family, or any of the families or friends of those who have been killed by homicide in this country. Obviously. Every single one of those deaths is a tragedy.
However comma: as I just said, EVERY one of those deaths is a tragedy. EVERY. So when the administration USES *some* deaths as an excuse to send an incursion of armed forces into US cities while dismissing *other* deaths like that of Breonna Taylor, excusing her murderers, and ignoring the severity of the pandemic that has now quantifiably ravaged our country worse than anywhere else on the planet, no one can afford to sit idly by and hope someone else will do the work.
EVERYONE. NEEDS. TO MAKE. SOME DAMN. CALLS.
Do not take this “surge of federal law enforcement” into our cities lying down.
Do not lose steam in the fight to bring Breonna Taylor’s killers to justice.
Do not relax in the fight against Covid-19.
There’s a lot happening. And that’s not an accident or a mistake. Keeping us all off-balance and disoriented is a tactic and it’s working. It exhausts the left, it causes the centrists to tap out completely, and it energizes the conservative (particularly rural) right by playing into their confirmation biases. This is Psych 101 and Business 103. (Hell, it’s a play straight out of The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of War.)
Take a breath.
Now let it out.
One more in…
Okay. Now: go back to this page, use the links, and call your senators and the Republican Congressional leaders.
I know it’s daunting and can feel scary. But let me assure you from personal experience, the people on the other end of the line are human beings just like you. They put their quarantine pajama pants on just like you and I do. Be polite, be courteous, but be firm.
1. Operation Legend is a violation of states’ rights, and our American civil rights.
2. Extend the PUA; without that $600/week, people will go homeless.
3. Fire and charge the men who killed Breonna Taylor.
4. (Bonus: help the protestors in Portland; lots of links here)
Go get em.
Okay, I don't *hate* Hamilton, but this is a touchy subject and, as with a lot of what I've posted recently, I'm betting I'm not the only one who feels this way. There are industry-wide issues, as well as some deep personal pain associated with this, so bear with me.
Let's start out with why I love the show because that part's easy to explain: it's fucking amazing on, like, six hundred levels. I'm not going to spend a ton of time on this bit, but suffice to say, Hamilton is a bomb-ass musical and it has revolutionized the way theatre can be done in this country, and who's allowed to do it. There is no denying the positive impact that the show has had and will, I'm sure, continue to have.
That said, here's the reality for us musical theatre makers of color:
Karen: [Knows or finds out we do musical theatre] "Oh, really? I just loved Hamilton! Why aren't you in that?"
Even well-meaning family and friends do this. A lot.
Let's start with the surface annoyance...
PART 1: MUSICAL THEATRE HISTORY
Back in the early 2000s and 2010s if you were a musical theatre person (MTP), and a non-musical theatre person (NMTP) wanted to talk musical theatre with you, the conversation would go like this:
NMTP: "Oh, I love musicals!"
MTP: "Really? What's your favorite?"
NMTP: "Wicked! And CATS!"
MTP: "Any others?"
Having your entire career field reduced to the most palatable, crowd-pleasing shows is obnoxious all on its own. It strips away any sense of nuance and detail from the entire genre and turns it into a CW Wednesday night version of itself.
So, already, most people are NMTPs (which is absolutely fine). So, most people have a very limited knowledge of what exists out there, which means that they have likely absolutely no idea of the *belligerently* racist history of the industry, which can be boiled down like this:
All the roles are for white people, mostly white men.
In the Heights. Hamilton. Allegiance. Hadestown. There are specific shows that are starting to pop up, many off the back of Hamilton's success with white audiences, but historically, characters of color have been A. often played by white people either doing or not even bothering to do brown face, and B. historically stereotyped roles with little to no impact (certainly not positive impact) on the story (you wanna talk about Bloody Mary and Liat in South Pacific?).
So, immediately, all MTPs of color (MTPOCs*) are relegated to a handful of roles, mostly offensive bit parts, and even those can be taken by white performers. Of course, there are exceptions, like when a director decides to make a "bold choice with casting" (which sometimes works, but often is just offensive in a new way. And we're not even going to go into "colorblind casting" because none of y'all can afford my consultant rate to hand-tutor anybody on that issue), but for the most part, there are a couple of shows amid the vast pantheon of white-white-white-white musicals that are ours and that's it.
Now, along comes Hamilton and it blows the doors off of the American Theatre community. Here's a show where producers are contractually disallowed from casting white performers in any but one of the roles. And all the characters are historically white! The show, in and of itself, is an act of revolution.
But it's an act of revolution that has caused exclusion on a scale heretofore unheard of.
PART 2: AT WHAT LITERAL COST?
First of all, "Hamilton tickets" as a phrase has become synonymous with "prohibitively expensive." I was fortunate enough to win the Hamilton ticket lottery here in LA a couple of years ago (which made me feel stupidly lucky for a day), so I have had the chance to see it. But I only got that chance because the tickets were $20 apiece and I had a phone and a cellular plan at my disposal, plus the scheduling freedom to clear a night to go to the show. That's a lot of privilege to get the most-discounted-as-possible tickets that exist to see a show for which people were paying upwards of $800 (one CNN report shows even as high as $9,997) per seat.
This is not a show for people of color, it's a show for white people, *starring* people of color. And anybody working or middle class, and obviously anyone living paycheck to paycheck, is excluded from admission simply by the price of the ticket.
So, this brings us around to another frequent experience for us MTPOCs: voyeurism.
Karen: [Having just seen a show with an all- or mostly-POC cast] "Oh, I just love seeing you people's culture up there!" (Or something along those lines. I've been told I was "spicy" by old white people in lobbies more times than I can count.)
I'm all for increasing the number of shows that we MTPOCs can do, but you have to understand that there is a very real and very painful emotional cost to enduring these conversations over and over and over. It feels very much like we're on display and it's not a fun feeling.
Obviously, this is not what all white theatregoers do. But it is what *a lot* of white theatregoers do, and it is dehumanizing and exhausting to deal with.
And that exhaustion brings us to:
PART 3: WHY I HATE HAMILTON
To reiterate... Karen: "Why aren't you in Hamilton [or In the Heights, or the West Side Story movie, or insert-any-other-high-profile-brown-thing-here]?"
Look, I'm in the business of being rejected. It's 99% of what I do. And 99% of said rejection rolls right off my back. I'm a big fan of the "submit and forget" mentality. I submit for a role, maybe one-in-a hundred turn into an audition, I prepare like a madman, I do the thing, and maybe one-in-a hundred of those turn into a callback. That's how the process goes. And 99% of the time, I never hear back from them again and I forget that the entire experience even happened.
But when you really want it...
And when there are only a handful of shows that would be a safe haven for MTPOCs the way that Hamilton and Heights are...
When you get shot down...
Or, more often, when you can't even get seen...
And then when well-meaning Karen dismissively asks, "Well, why aren't you in it?" or says, "If you want a thing badly enough, don't let anyone tell you no," guess what?
It reinforces all of the second-guessing and the "othering" and the "you're just not good enough" that's already happening inside our heads and, meanwhile, it has absolutely no impact on Karen. We take all of the pain and emotional labor on ourselves, and we try our best not to internalize it, but sometimes, we just can't help it. Sometimes it gets in there and it sticks. And it turns something that ought to be unabashedly wonderful, like Hamilton, into a source and reminder of that pain.
So, yes, I am elated that Hamilton is being released on Disney+. It means that, at last, Part 2 is being circumvented for a lot of people. And it really is a fantastic show, so if you haven't seen it, it's well worth a watch and, particularly, a listen. It's a remarkably important show, and it's just plain good to boot.
And I obviously love that the show exists and all of the positive changes it has helped to usher into our theatre community.
However, for me, and I imagine for many MTPOCs, it's charged. Heavily.
When everyone's favorite show is one of only a small handful of shows that racially and ethnically reflect so many performers of color, there are a very limited number of seats at that table, and the rest of us can't get one (yet).
You better believe that I'm going to keep auditioning for the show. Just like I'm going to with Heights. And just like I'm going to with Man of La Mancha, Little Shop of Horrors, Avenue Q, and Frozen. Because we MTPOCs never give up, and we never surrender.
But remember: there is an injury to our sense of self-worth from the constant rejection from shows like Hamilton and Heights, and to reduce it to something dismissible with a "Why aren't you in that?" only rubs salt in the wound.
Am I going to watch the Disney+ recording? I haven't decided. If I do, it won't be just yet. But I have decided this: I am going to go out for the show the very next time auditions are being held. You better believe it. Because like the titular character, I am not throwing away my shot, not this time, or the next time, or the time after that.
*I made up all those initialisms. They just made life easier. They're not real things.