I’ll be honest – I really didn’t want to post anything this week. The horrific news from Orlando yesterday, and the appalling state of our national discourse in general, warrants something more substantial, more meaningful than a mere blog post on some actor’s website. I can’t think of anything to say right now that wouldn’t come across as frivolous, and to really grapple with what’s going on in the world right now, I’d need more space, and a hell of a lot more time, to do any sort of justice to the theme.
But I’m committed to this whole post-a-week thing, and I’m primarily writing about a life in the arts, and the arts are supposed to be the means by which we cope with the world around us. Besides, here in the world of New York theater, last night was sort of a big deal. And so, looking for entertainment and inspiration, I sat myself down and Tony Awards. For once, it was a genuinely entertaining telecast. Sure, it would have been nice to have seen real excerpts from the non-musical plays (somebody like me says this every year), but the musicals seemed genuinely inspired, the people were all delighted to be there, and unlike some awards shows we could mention, the diversity and vitality of our community was obvious and visible for all to see. And it all culminated in the awards triumph of Hamilton, a labor of love which has reclaimed the American narrative for all of its citizens, breaching demographic walls and breaking records in the process. Surely, an inspirational night all around.
So naturally, I was depressed as hell.
The thing that had me depressed was Hamilton – and specifically, the production chronology of the show. As we all learned last night (because really, they talked a lot about that show), Lin-Manuel Miranda made the momentous decision to read the Chernow biography about Alexander Hamilton right after his Tony win for In The Heights, in 2008. Given that he’d been writing and workshopping the piece continuously after that, this means Hamilton took eight years to create.
Eight years ago. That’s a two-term presidential administration. (Specifically the rather eventful administration of the president who introduced the Hamilton clip last night.) That’s enough time to get a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree (and maybe a PhD too, depending on your program). That’s a little more than one tenth of the average American’s life span. That’s a rabbit’s entire life span. That’s a large chunk of time, is what I’m saying.
Obviously, it takes a long time to develop and hone one’s craft, whatever it may be. And nothing with the depth and complexity of what appeared on that telecast last night can be thrown together in a day. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the origins of Hamilton, the show of the moment, took place in that long-ago world where most people hadn’t yet heard of Sarah Palin, but knew who Heidi and Spencer were. These things take time.
The question is, do we have that time?
Because at the rate 2016 is going, an awful lot of us won’t. And there’s an inevitable conflict between the urgent need to say something now about the madhouse around us, and the length of time needed to develop an artistic response to that madhouse. It’s depressing to think about, especially since there’s no guarantee that when we go through our own individual process and create our response, that anybody will elect to listen to it. Or that there’ll even BE anybody around to listen. If it takes me eight years to see a production of the election-themed piece I'm working on now, or a response to religious extremism or our environmental woes, will it matter to anybody? Or will it already be too late?
We have to somehow press forward anyway, hoping against hope that the apocalypse won’t arrive until sometime after we’ve finished that novel or staged that play. We have to maintain that hope at all costs, believe that the long odds of our creation helping to stave off that apocalypse are worth seeing our visions through, worth not giving up our shots.
Posted on June 13, 2016
by Michael C. O'Day