Can Socially Conscious Theater Make A Difference?

In Power Struggle on Broadway: Escapist vs. Socially Conscious Shows in the 2016–17 Season, a piece I wrote for HowlRound, I point out that there were more socially conscious than escapist plays and musicals that opened during the Broadway season just ended. To which a reader in the comments section replied in effect: What difference does it make?

That’s more or less the question I pose at one point in the video below to Robert Schenkkan, playwright of the new anti-Trump play, “Building the Wall,” which is being produced all over the country — including at New World Stages in New York City beginning May 12th.

Tamara Tunie, who co-stars with James Badge Dale in the New York production of the two-character play “Building The Wall”

Below the video: Shows that have made a direct and tangible difference.

Shows That Have Made a Direct Difference:

Waiting For Lefty, the Depression-era play about a taxi driver strike, by Group Theatre playwright Clifford Odets, was performed all over the country in support of labor unions.

Waiting for Lefty

Fortune and Men’s Eyes (1967) by John Herbert led to the creation of The Fortune Society, which helps ex-convicts find jobs—a success story written up in a recent memoir by its producer, David Rothenberg, entitled Fortune In My Eyes.

The Exonerated by Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank, based on transcripts of wrongfully convicted prisoners on Death Row, is said to have influenced Illinois Governor Ryan’s blanket commutations of the state’s death penalties.

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler inspired a global movement known as V-Day that fights to end violence against women.

The Laramie Project by the Tectonic Theater is said to have helped lead to the signing of the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes bill; the theater company was invited to the signing of the legislation at the White House.

The Normal Heart, when produced in 1985, led mainstream newspapers such as The Christian Science Monitor to mention HIV/AIDS for the first time anywhere in their pages.

The Justice Cycle, six plays including Los Illegals by Michael John Garces, the artistic director of Cornerstone Theater Company, led to a theater troupe of day laborers, Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras (Day Laborer Theater Without Borders), that educates day laborers about their rights.

8 the Play, based on transcripts of the trial that overturned the ban on same-sex marriage in California, helped move the conversation forward, arguably helping to change the American public’s attitude.



Trump’s First 100 Days

Summed up in a single photograph:

April 29th marks the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency. Here are press accounts and comments.

“The tradition of looking to that period as a presidential milestone dates back to 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt focused on his first 100 days in office in order to underscore the urgency of his mission to turn the nation around during the Great Depression.”

Trump’s First 100 Days, How They Compare to Obama’s, Bush’s and Clinton’s, Business Insider

Fact-Checking President Trump through His First 100 Days, NY Times

Winners and Losers from President Trump’s First 100 Days , Washington Post

19 Photographs That Defined Trump’s First 100 Days, Time

Donald Trump’s First 100 Days, in Tweets, CNN

Trump’s First 100 Days, Ranked (The best and the worst), Politico

President Donald Trump: The First 100 Days, The Wall Street Journal

A Hundred Days of Trump, The New Yorker

First 100 Days of Donald Trump’s Presidency, Wikipedia


In Trump’s First 100 Days, A Resistance Network Digs In, NPR


Watch Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s Speech on Broadway


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked New York for making Canadians at home by supplying “snow banks,” during an address to the audience at Come From Away, after he and some 600 other Canadians and their guests (including more than 125 ambassadors to the United Nations)saw a performance of this musical created by  a Canadian couple about the generosity of the residents of Newfoundland towards the passengers and crew of 38 planes grounded during 9/11.

He praised such “an extraordinary crowd to celebrate this story of friendship during extraordinarily difficult times between individuals between countries” and spoke about “the close relationship between the United States and Canada” on this, Canada’s 150th anniversary.

“The world gets to see what it is to lean on each other and be there for each other,”

Signs (and #SNL Skits) of #Resistance

From magazine and newspaper covers to posters and cartoons to Super Bowl commercials and Saturday Night Live skits — and in a sign at my local bodega – there is a growing graphic protest against Trump and his policies, much of it since the Muslim ban involving the Statue of Liberty.




the uncensored 84 Lumber commercial, deemed too controversial to air in its entirety at the Super Bowl:

#OrwellyanneConway – Orwellian Comments from Kellyanne Conway


orwell_1984-book-coverSales of George Orwell’s novel “1984
reportedly have soared after Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, talked about “alternative facts.”

The novel pictures a dystopian society where the Ministry of Truth is emblazoned with three slogans: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

It’s not her first Orwellian comment.  Here are the two most notorious (so far), in context (with links to the transcripts):

1.  Heart, Not Mouth

Conway: “Why don’t you believe him? Why is everything taken at face value?”

Chris Cuomo: “Because it doesn’t stick to the facts.”

Conway:…”You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this, and he’s telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”

January 9, 2017 CNN’s “New Day”  (about Trump’s denial that he mocked a disabled reporter)

2. Alternative Facts

in Inauguration outfit

in Inauguration outfit

CHUCK TODD: “I’m curious why President Trump chose yesterday to send out his press secretary to essentially litigate a provable falsehood when it comes to a small and petty thing like inaugural crowd size. I guess my question to you is why do that?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: “Chuck, the president did many things yesterday and the day before that are very meaningful to America….” (A couple of paragraphs later) “And on this matter of crowd size I think it is a symbol for the unfair and incomplete treatment that this president often receives….” A couple more paragraphs:

CHUCK TODD: “…you did not answer the question, why did the president send out his press secretary….for the very first time in front of that podium to utter a provable falsehood?”

Conway: “Chuck, I mean, if we’re going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms I think that we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here….”

you did not answer the question.


I did answer–


No you did not.


–your question.


You did not–


Yes I did.


–answer the question of why the president asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood? Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office–


No it doesn’t.


–on day one.


Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What– You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point remains–


Wait a minute– Alternative facts?


–that there’s–


“Alternative facts?….Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”

KELLYANNE CONWAY: “Chuck, do you think it’s a fact or not that millions of people have lost their plans or health insurance and their doctors under President Obama?….”

January 22, 2017 NBC’s “Meet The Press”

3. Bowling Green Massacre

“I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.”

February 2, Hard Ball with Chris Matthews

There was no Bowling Green Massacre, and no Obama ban on refugees.

4. Shop Trump

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I’m telling you….This is just wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully—I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

February 9, 2017. Fox and Friends, speaking from the White House

5. Flynn’s Delayed Resignation

On the Today Show, Conway was asked repeatedly why, despite reports that the Justice Department told the White House last month that Flynn had misled them and even put himself at risk for blackmail, he continued to retain the president’s full trust.

“That’s one characterization,” Conway said. “But the fact is that General Flynn continued in that position and was in the presidential daily briefings, was part of the leader calls as recently as (Monday) … and as time wore on, obviously the situation had become unsustainable.”

Today Show, February 14, 2017

6. Of Course I Don’t Have Any Evidence

suggested that the alleged monitoring of activities at Trump’s campaign headquarters at Trump Tower in Manhattan may have involved far more than wiretapping. “What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other…You can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets — any number of ways…microwaves that turn into cameras…We know this is a fact of modern life.”

March 12, 2017 Bergen Record



Surely, thanks in part to Kellyanne Conway, a stage version of Orwell’s 1984,  originally produced in the UK, will open at Broadway’s Hudson Theater in June.

Scenes of #Resistance

People across the country, including New York artists, have gathered in myriad ways this month to declare their support for threatened American values. Click on the photographs below to see them enlarged and learn the details.

Watch: #GhostlightProject

My 101-second video of the Ghostlight Project, in which people gathered in theaters in all 50 states to create light for dark times ahead. I focus on the small, moving ceremony outside the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village, which ended with the recitation in both Spanish and English of “The New Colossus,” the Emma Lazarus poem (inscribed at the Statue of Liberty) that ends:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Anti-Inauguration Plans. Hamilton Star Casting? The Week in NY Theater


The story of Inauguration Day, which arrives this Friday, has become almost as much about culture as politics. The list of performers who declined an invitation to perform at official Inauguration ceremonies certainly exceeds the list of those who accepted – and several, including Tony winner Jennifer Holliday and Springsteen tribute musicians the B Street Band, first accepted and then, after getting flack for their decision, reversed themselves and withdrew.

Meanwhile, artists are behind many Anti-Inauguration activities, such as the Writers Resist demonstration sponsored by Pen America in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library. Theater artists are most prominently involved in the Ghostlight Project on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. outside theaters in all 50 states and Washington D.C.


Today is the start of Broadway Week, two tickets for the price of one.

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Laura Osnes and Will Swenson

Laura Osnes and Will Swenson

Blueprint Specials

In the first public performance of the four surviving musicals commissioned by the U.S. Army during World War II to boost morale among the troops, “Blueprint Specials” could not be more deftly staged, from the creation of a pop-up theater on the hangar of an actual World War II aircraft carrier (the Intrepid, now a museum) to the casting of both bona fide Broadway stars (Will Swenson, Laura Osnes) and active duty military officers and Armed Forces veterans.


Mata Hari

We first see Mata Hari in a French prison condemned to death for espionage. The most surprising aspect of her situation in this work is not that her jailer is a nun, Sister Leonide, who swears and smokes. It is that the title character, portrayed by Tina Mitchell, doesn’t sing. That seems unusual for an opera,


Secondary Dominance

“Secondary Dominance” is a compelling example of my long-held belief that nearly any endeavor, no matter how awful it sounds in theory, can wind up wonderful if it’s done well enough by passionate, creative and talented people.

Sarah Small calls her piece a “multimedia concert in 13 micro movements.” It is an hour long, without a discernible plot or point, without even discernible words in English, and filled with enough familiar avant-garde tropes to keep your newly arrived hipster happy for months…


Latin Standards

“Latin Standards,” which is Marga Gomez’s 12th solo show — and, she tells us, her “final farewell concert” — is a hilarious memoir, part of this year’s Under The Radar festival. “I’ve been under the radar for 30 years,” she says, after introducing herself as Cuban, Puerto Rican and lesbian: “I don’t want to surprise any out-of-towners….Mike Pence could be here.”

But more than a stand-up routine of topical humor, the show is a coming-of-age tale that pays touching tribute to her father, who went by the stage name Willy Chevalier. A singer, songwriter, impresario, and comedian, Chevalier (born Willy Gomez) was a fixture in the Latin nightclub circuit in New York of the 1950s and 60’s.


Time of Women

“Time of Women,” a play in the Under the Radar festival based on the true story of three women journalists and activists imprisoned by the Belarusian dictatorship for protesting the fraudulent presidential elections of 2010, differs from most of the previous works by the Belarus Free Theatre that I’ve seen in New York. There is no extensive dance-like movement or elaborate use of theatrical metaphor… But in its own way, “Time of Women” is just as powerful, or even, given the timing, even more so.

Week in New York Theater News


The Tony Awards, held at the Beacon Theatre last year, returns to Radio City Music Hall for the June 11, 2017 broadcast. Nominations will be announced on May 2.

James Monroe Iglehart

James Monroe Iglehart

Genie comes to Hamilton! James Iglehart, Tony winner for (and the best thing about) Aladdin,  will play Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson starting in April.



Meanwhile, in the Chicago production of Hamilton, Wayne Brady has been cast as Aaron Burr, prompting Chicago Sun-Times critic Hedy Weiss to write:

“It’s not as if the show — like many productions playing on Broadway in recent years — needs a celebrity to generate interest or boost ticket sales. …Why did the show’s producers and creative team shift the balance in this show by introducing a high-profile actor into an airtight ensemble of performers who are superbly talented yet far from household names? And why, given all the talk about how much they admire the Chicago theater scene, have these same people not drawn on Chicago’s fine stable of actors for any major role?”


RIP Broadway and ballet photographer Martha Swope, February 22, 1928 – January 12, 2017

(L-R) Director Hal Prince & composer Stephen Sondheim in a rehearsal shot fr. the Broadway musical "Merrily We Roll Along".

(L-R) Director Hal Prince & composer Stephen Sondheim in a rehearsal shot fr. the Broadway musical “Merrily We Roll Along”.

15 pictures by Martha Swope from 1957 to 1994.

Jennifer Holliday singing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" in a scene from the Broadway production of the musical "Dreamgirls".

Jennifer Holliday singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” in a scene from the Broadway production of the musical “Dreamgirls”.

Lisa Kron and Daniel Zaitchik have been awarded the 2017 Kleban Prizes for writing in musical theater. … Kron, 55, the book writer for the Tony winning Fun Home, won for most promising musical theater librettist. Zaitchik, 36, won for most promising musical theater lyricist.

NYC is giving $2 million to increase diversity to 11 theaters and theater organizations. Recipients: BAM, BRIC, Epic Theatre Ensemble, Harlem Stage, MTC, New York Theatre Workshop, Roundabout, Teatro, TBTB (Theatre Breaking Through Barriers), TDF

Khris Davis and Will Pullen as friends who wind up in prison.

Khris Davis and Will Pullen as friends who wind up in prison.

The Sweat Broadway cast will be largely intact from Off-Broadway (Only one of the nine may not b come along in the transfer.) The play opens March 26


Tyne Daly to star in Jerry Herman’s 1969 musical Dear World (based on Madwoman of Chaillot) Feb 25-March 5, York Theatre.


The Greatest Show on Earth will be no more. Ringling Bros Barnun and Bailey Circus is shutting down in May after 146 years.


The Big Apple Circus, the 38-year-old non-profit that has provided family-friendly entertainment on tour around the U.S. has announced it will be selling off its assets.


“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory “is part of an ambitious theater slate at WB, which includes a brewing musical version of “Beetlejuice” — recently seen in New York in a reading directed by Alex Timbers and starring Chris Fitzgerald (“Waitress”) — as well as a “Night Shift” musical and a play adaptation of “Dog Day Afternoon” penned by Pulitzer-winner Stephen Adly Guirgis” – Variety

Humans 2

The Humans ends its run in NY . Thanks Stephen Karam and cast for proving a straight play that matters can make it on Broadway

Reading List

Inside The Front Page state-of-the art look (words, photographs, videos) of what it takes to put on The Front Page each night. – The Washington Post

Breaking records ... The Lion King, Wicked and Hamilton.

Broadway Blockbusters: Why Theater’s at an All-time High – The Guardian

Five Predictions for the Theater in 2017 – . (e.g. 3. Introspective Theater Is Out, Political Theater Is In) – Theater Mania

Originality versus the Arts

“In the last century, originality has killed one once-flourishing art form after another, by replacing variation within shared artistic conventions to rebellion against convention itself.” – The Smart Set

Northern Kunqu Opera TheatreÕs Victory on Luding Bridge, part of the 2016 Shanghai China International Arts Festival.

Northern Kunqu Opera TheatreÕs Victory on Luding Bridge, part of the 2016 Shanghai China International Arts Festival.

Bridging Cultures at China’s Shanghai International Arts Festival – American Theatre Magazine


Time of Women Review: Belarus Free Theatre Vs. Tyranny

“Time of Women,” a play in the Under the Radar festival based on the true story of three women journalists and activists imprisoned by the Belarusian dictatorship for protesting the fraudulent presidential elections of 2010, differs from most of the previous works by the Belarus Free Theatre that I’ve seen in New York. There is no extensive dance-like movement or elaborate use of theatrical metaphor, as in such works as “Trash Cuisine,” which was presented at La MaMa in 2015. But in its own way, “Time of Women” is just as powerful, or even, given the timing, even more so.

Belarus Free Theatre was founded in 2005 in Belarus, a former part of the Soviet Union that is now widely viewed as the most repressive and backward nation in Europe. Many consider the members of Belarus Free Theatre to be heroes for standing up to the dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, whose regime arrested and eventually banned the troupe. Though the husband and wife founders Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada have been political refugees in England since 2011, they continue to oversee productions that have toured 42 countries – and that continue underground, in private apartments, in Belarus.

It was in Belarus in 2014 that “Time of Women” debuted, which may be why, in the 40-seat Shop Theater at the Tisch School of the Arts, the setting is a simple apartment, where the actresses depicting  Irina Khalip, Natalya Radina and Nasta Palazhanka gather for a holiday reunion. There is a Christmas tree near the couch. But the most prominent pieces of furniture in the apartment are a three-tiered bunk bed whose bottom “bed” is the floor, and an office desk. The bunk bed represents the prison where the women were confined, and their everyday activities – drying hair after a shower, baking a cake – mix uneasily with their recollection of their time imprisoned, which they relate (in Russian with English surtitles) but also relive, lying on the bed in a strained and strange light, unable to separate their past from the present, the living nightmare of the confinement with their daily waking life.

After a while, a young man passes through the apartment and sits at the desk. He is Orlov, the bureaucrat who interrogates them one by one, as he casually slurps instant noodles and tries both the carrot and stick approach – if they only sign a statement, they can be released instantly, and be back with their ailing mother or their husband, beaten up during a peaceful protest. If they don’t sign, their ovaries will rot in prison, and they will never be able to have children. At times, he sounds reasonable; at times, he yells in their faces, making ugly threats. But his paroxysm of angry shouting is nowhere as terrifying as the final, desperate scream by Nasta.

“Time of Women” feels like an accurate depiction of the surreal life under a capricious, power-hungry head of state, and Belarus Free Theatre offers a role model for creating art in the face of authoritarian opposition.

Time of Women was presented for six performances through January 15, 2017.

Written by Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada
Director Nicolai Khalezin

Cast: Maryia Sazonava (Iryna), Maryna Yurevich (Natalya), Yana Rusakevich (Nasta), Kiryl Kanstantsinau (Investigator)



Anti-Inauguration Schedule: Artists in Outrage

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Below is a list of Anti-Inauguration activities — some of the events initiated by artists to turn the feelings of shock at the outcome of the Presidential election into a a show of solidarity and protest that is intended as prelude to ongoing resistance:


Writers Resist: #LouderTogether

2 p.m., January 15

Steps of Main Branch of the New York Public Library

PEN America’s literary protest on the steps of the New York Public Library will bring together hundreds of writers and artists alongside thousands of New Yorkers on the birthday of Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. Broadway Kids Against Bullying sing “I Have a Voice” (More than 90 other Writers Resist protests are scheduled at the same time throughout the U.S.)


The Resister Project

January 4 to 15

Kraine Theater

A variety show, put together by The Dirty Blondes theater collective,  featuring 10-new plays, stand-up comedy, music and poetry. Proceeds donated to the American Civil Liberties Union.


 The Ghostlight Project

January 19 at 5:30 p.m.

Many locations throughout the nation and the city

Inspired by the tradition of leaving a “ghost light” on in a darkened theater, theaters in (as of this writing) 43 states (around 50 in New York City alone) have agreed to hold some kind of ceremony at 5:30 p.m. (in each time zone) “to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone-regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” They ask you to bring a light.

(The photographs above of theater artists holding posters “I am….I fight for” is part of the Ghostlight Project.)

List of participants


J20 Art Strike

January 20

More than 100 visual artists and critics have signed a petition calling for cultural institutions to close on Friday, January 20.

“We consider Art Strike to be one tactic among others to combat the normalization of Trumpism—a toxic mix of white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, militarism, and oligarchic rule. Like any tactic, it is not an end in itself, but rather an intervention that will ramify into the future. It is not a strike against art, theater, or any other cultural form. It is an invitation to motivate these activities anew, to reimagine these spaces as places where resistant forms of thinking, seeing, feeling, and acting can be produced.”

This has not gotten much traction, according to an article in the New York Times.

“The struggle is long, and I would say it is not our role to close,” said Tom Eccles, the executive director of Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies. The Whitney Museum, for one, will remain open, but will implement pay-what-you-wish admission.

The Hillary Speeches

January 20, noon

Streamed online

A concert of two of Hillary Clinton’s speeches set to music, and sung by such Broadway performers as Chilina Kennedy of “Beautiful.”


Concert for America

January 20, 3 p.m.

Town Hall and Facebook.

concert4americaaA concert featuring a parade of Broadway stars — Betty Buckley, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jessie Mueller, Javier Munoz,  Kelli O’Hara, Billy Porter and on and on. The proceeds for “Concert for America: Stand Up, Sing Out”  will be donated evenly to Planned Parenthood, NAACP, Sierra Club Foundation, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the National Immigration Law Center. While the concert is reported to be sold out, it will be streamed live on Facebook as well.  It’s intended to be the first in a series of monthly benefit concerts and will be streamed live on Facebook.

“Hate comes from a lack of love, so we can’t fight it with more of its own toxicity, we have to fill it with love,” Jessie Mueller told the Associated Press. “There are really big things at stake. Things we can’t save or solidify or safeguard alone. We have to think bigger, we have to ask for help, we have to reach out to one another and band together. I hope this concert can be an example of that.”


The Sanctuary Project

January 20 – February 17

HERE Arts Center

“The Sanctuary Project opens on January 20th with an Inaugural Ball” (at 8:30 p.m.) “and continues with a full month of work by more than 50 different artists from a wide range of backgrounds. The schedule includes new theater works; panel discussions with major arts leaders; and a variety of dance, concert, and other non-traditional works.”  A play entitled “Radical,” by Sergio Castillo, presented on January 25th, “imagines a world where American Fascism has become the law of the land.” Another play, by S.P. Monahan, presented on January 26, is entitled “The Persecution and Assassination of Hillary Rodham Clinton as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.”


The Women’s March on Washington

January 21,, 10 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.

Washington D.C.

Though not artist-organized, it would be difficult to omit what promises to be the largest protest march around the Inauguration. The march “is for any person, regardless of gender or gender identity, who believes women’s rights are human rights.”


There are local chapters, such as the New York City chapter of the Women’s March on Washington , so that people can travel to D.C. as a group. There are also Sister Marches being held throughout the country and abroad (370 as of this writing.)