Every now and then I get the opportunity to play piano for the Wicked auditions in Los Angeles. I haven’t done it too often, but it struck me this week as I played 16 bars for nearly 200 singers, that the last time I did was a year ago.
A year ago. Election week 2016.
I remember it vividly. I played two days that week. Monday and Wednesday.
When I left on Monday, the mood was exuberant. “See you after we elect our first female president!” I probably said leaving the room, skipping. Everything was possible. I skipped everywhere back in those days.
Sure Hillary wasn’t always a Popular candidate. People feared and mistrusted her simply because of who she was. Some even called her a witch. But though she was guarded, wonkish, and at times inaccessible, one thing she definitely was not is green. She had a lifetime of experience. When it came to running the country, I knew Hillary would be a Wizard and I was so excited to vote for her.
Then Election Night happened. I stayed up til one in the morning to watch the Dark Cloud On the Horizon give his acceptance speech. At some point in my haze of shock and a feeling I could only describe as complete and utter loathing, I remembered that I had to play more Wicked auditions the next morning.
“How?” I thought.
How could I find any motivation to play musical theatre songs when the threat of a literal fascist regime was looming large, and Something Bad was happening to our country. The president-elect treated people like animals, tried to silence dissident voices, threatened to put people in cages, and blatantly discriminated against people because of the color of their skin. Not even the promise of watching a bunch of young, roguish Fiyero hopefuls dance-calling through life would get me through what would surely be One Long Day.
When I arrived that next morning – wearing black – the mood was sluggish and depressive. It was as though a bomb had gone off and we were all muddling through the aftermath.
But a dance call is a dance call, and no matter who the president is, a lot of people want to be in Wicked. And so they came. And they danced.
And as the day went on, I began to feel extremely grateful that on this day of all days I was surrounded by musical theatre lovers, doing beautiful things with their bodies, playing music, telling stories, and puttin’ on a show. Honestly, I’m not a Sentimental Man, but I was putting more emotion into that 14-bar dance arrangement than anyone has ever done before. It became almost cathartic.
I felt in that moment what a lot of artists felt that day – a renewed commitment to my craft and my voice. I began constructing my views on how to fight like an artist in the time of Trump. Yes, my feelings of despair, and fear, and helplessness were very real, but in truth – I’m Not That Girl. No one was gonna hold me down, let alone an orange charlatan trading on populism. I was determined to rise above it.
And so here we are a full year later. This morning I’m getting ready to play those same 14 bars for a Wicked dance call. A lot of bad things have happened this year, but Thank Goodness the resistance is working and the county is starting to fight back. It’s Wonderful to think about all the new people serving our country, running for office, and participating fully in their democracy. It’s equally wonderful to see that No Good Deed done by members of the administration to help Russia interfere in our democracy is going unpunished. So far, anyway.
Ultimately, I take away a reminder that what we do as artists – however small it might feel – is crucial not only to our sanity, but the sanity of the culture. For however long this situation lasts, we must continue to fight to make our voices heard, and to share our work with the world.
Because while our stories may seem fanciful and detached from real life, they are actually direct reflections of our society and our common humanity. Sharing them, holds real power; the power to change minds, to change policy, and to change the world – For Good.