I just caught one of my favorite movies on cable: Pump Up the Volume. If you haven't seen it, rent it. You'll love it. It's about a high school kid (Christian Slater) who starts his own pirate radio show. And the message of the film (at least for me) is twofold. First, that none of us is really alone. We all suffer the same insecurities, the same fears, the same loneliness. It's just that nobody ever says it out loud. But there is a cure: connecting.
It's what most of my favorite shows are about -- Sunday in the Park with George, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, High Fidelity, Bat Boy, Company, Hair, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Passion, yes, even Assassins...!
But Pump Up the Volume is also about finding your voice and, having found it, Saying Something. Those of us who make theatre have been given the greatest gift of all -- a voice with which to tell the truth. But we must not waste that voice. Why do you think live theatre still survives after all these centuries, largely unchanged? People need us. We have the power to make people think and feel. We can tell the truth and be listened to. This is a great gift but also a great responsibility. That voice must be used, not wasted, not trivialized. People will try to control the voice. People will find the voice threatening if it really speaks the truth.
That's why the Republicans are so angry right now. They are terrified of this truth-teller Obama, because everybody seems to be listening to him! And now everything's going to change!
And so I challenge my fellow theatre artists: don't waste your voice on the trivial or the shallow, don't offer us the easy and the comfortable, don't believe the lie that people only want escape; instead trust your audience, believe in their intelligence and depth, believe that your voice has value to them and purpose in our world. Say Something.
There is no nobler profession than storytelling. It is how we bond, how we record our history, how we pass on our culture and philosophy, and how we chart the human mind and heart. It is absolutely necessary to the health and well-being of a civilized society -- even more so today, in an ever increasingly complex world.
Let's set the bar as high as we can imagine it, and let's take our audiences on an adventure every time they come to see us. What could be more fun than that?
Long Live the Musical!