CMU School of Drama

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Musical Theater Can Create Political Action, Right?

Clyde Fitch Report: In a moment when Americans are looking for means of resistance in all aspects of political, cultural and daily life, musical theater seems like, well, one of our less effective weapons. Yet the musical is often referred to (perhaps disparagingly) as a populist art form. What, then, are the possibilities for musicals to harness the power of the people? How effective are musicals at, for example, documenting contemporary, real-life stories? Can they stir audiences to take direct action? Can they organize communities? With a team of writers, musicians and composers, I’m developing and directing a new project that I believe will explore the potential of musicals to meet us where we are.


Sasha Schwartz said...

Musical theater definitely has a reputation of being “fun”, “family-friendly”, and, perhaps most importantly, “money- making”. I know very few people who don’t enjoy going out to see a fun, joyful, catchy musical on a Friday night to escape from reality a little bit and just watch talented people dance and sing in shiny costumes on a big scaffolding. This idea for me stretches all the way from my crappy high school musical productions (which were always chosen depending on how much money from ticket sales we needed to make that year to stay alive) all the way up to big-name Broadway musicals which almost always seem to be geared towards the average family tourist as opposed to the political/ social climate of the time (there being quite a few exceptions of course, such as Fun Home and Hamilton). It’s these glimmers of hope in the river of empty cotton-candy musicals which make me believe that musicals can be just as impactful, if not more impactful, than politically charged straight plays.

Zak Biggins said...

RIGHT! There has definitely been a shift in Musical Theatre in the last ten years. Musicals used to be light and entertaining (which some still are- and those do serve a great purpose in our industry) however, in recent years there have definitely been changes in the way a musical should make you feel. Hamilton for example created a huge wave of political engagement amongst the theatre community. I've noticed the goal of many musicals have changed from making you feel good to making you feel accountable. Ragtime did an excellent job of making me feel uncomfortable with the way my friends of color have been treated and are still treated (and even that show is still told through the eyes of the white oppressor.) I think it is so important that we as artists use our voices to inspire/create change and I definitely have seen more and more stars do just that.