credit: theplaylist

credit: theplaylist

Many years ago–I can’t recall the exact year, but Johnny Carson was hosting the Tonight Show–A young Tom Selleck was his guest. If memory serves, he was then starring in Magnum, P.I. Carson asked Selleck his opinion on a political matter, and Selleck replied with wisdom, humility and common sense, something obviously lacking in a current generation of actors and other “entertainers.” He replied something like this: “I’m an actor. My job is to act as well as I can. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to know my opinion on politics.”

Again, if memory serves, the audience burst into applause. It was a different America then. Now, we have this, as the Guardian reports:   

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The US vice-president elect, Mike Pence, was booed by a theater audience when he attended the hit hip-hop musical Hamilton in New York on Friday night – and then had a message about protecting diversity delivered to him from the stage after the curtain call.

The “message” was a divisive screed aimed at further inflaming an audience that had already booed Pence. President-Elect Trump was not impressed, and in several tweets, noted the actor’s harassment of Vice President-Elect Pence:

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It was not clear whether Pence heard the whole address or made any response. On Saturday morning, [actor Brandon] Dixon replied to Trump’s call for an apology: ‘conversation is not harassment, sir,’ he wrote on Twitter. ‘And I appreciate [Mike Pence] for stopping to listen.

There was no ”conversation,” but a group of actors taking advantage of Mr. Pence’s grace and kindness to hector him under the guise of unity. On Fox News Sunday a few days later, Pence was equally gracious, demonstrating the class Dixon and many members of the Hamilton audience lack, generously declining to respond in kind (see this too, from Powerline).

Since my early teenage years, I have been intimately involved in theater and musical performance of all kinds. I’ve acted lead roles, done all manner of tech work, played in pit orchestras and directed them, done musicals, performed before hundreds of thousands in Daly Center in Chicago, and even played Lincoln Center in NYC. In all those years in show business, one vital lesson was always foremost in the minds of every professional with whom I worked: do nothing to damage the illusion, to keep the audience from the willing suspension of disbelief.

Actors work very hard to create the illusion of reality that is theater. If they do it well, the audience is willing to suspend disbelief, to ignore the fact they are sitting in a theater, watching a play. Instead, they willingly penetrate the fourth wall and enter the world of that play, dwelling therein until the final curtain. Even after the curtain, professionals dare not call out and harangue any member of an audience. Not only is it unprofessional, it’s a direct insult to people who paid good money to see the play, to make it possible for theater to exist. It distracts from the illusion, in that such bad behavior discourages others from supporting not only that production, but all productions.

Circa 2016, theater-quality entertainment is available at home far less expensively, and with far less effort than a trip into a city to take in an expensive play. Anyone involved with any production that does anything but work to make that experience as pleasant and entertaining as possible is figuratively cutting their own throat, and the throats of every other actor, producer, playwright, and everyone else involved in live theater.

The behavior of Brandon Dixon is also rude–plainly bad manners. Having Mr. Pence at a disadvantage, knowing he could not respond, using the theater PA system, and the hatred of many audience members, he indulged his juvenile scorn. He intended no conversation, and he engaged in no conversation. For progressives, “conversation” invariably means “I insult and belittle you; you shut up and take it.”

Dixon and his compatriots were apparently raised by wolves, or perhaps conceived in test tubes. Obviously, they never had the advantage of mothers that taught them manners, else they would not have behaved in such an uncivilized and arrogant manner to a guest–a paying guest–in their theater.

Sally Kohn, billed as a lawyer, liberal commentator and community organizer had this to say:

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Post-election, anger, hatred, and violence are indeed happening, but as always, they’re the province of progressives, not conservatives. It is no coincidence Dixon’s “conversation” was no conservative message.

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A man does not take advantage of the good nature and adult behavior of others. He particularly does not abuse others in front of his family–Pence’s family attended the play with him–or in front of a hostile audience. This is not manly. This is not courage. It does not display good intentions, and it is inherently cruel and childish.

Brandon Dixon could learn a great deal from the example of Tom Selleck, who on that night many years ago, earned a fan that has enjoyed all of Selleck’s work since. Brandon Dixon? His 15 minutes of fame happened the night he treated a decent man with cruelty. He’ll be remembered–for that.

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