By now, most of us are aware of the story of Hamilton, what happened when Mike Pence showed up, and Donald Trump's tweets in response to it. As a performer, I find the whole story intriguing, particularly Trump's idea that the theater should be a safe space. 

I've been thinking a lot about that idea, actually. Is theater a safe space? Should it be?

The answer to both questions is, "yes and no."

In some ways, performing arts are a safe space. They give their creators a chance to make a point in a way that often feels less threatening than simply stating one's position. As a songwriter, I can say things in songs that I would feel extremely uncomfortable saying at the dinner table. As an actor and singer, I get to show feelings that I experience and that feel very real to me, but for various reasons, aren't always acceptable to express in an everyday context.

Performers also have to trust each other. Sometimes, we have to be incredibly physically and emotionally vulnerable with each other. There are death scenes, highly emotional scenes, crime scenes, sex scenes, rape order to do any of those kinds of scenes with another person, a part of you has to know that you and your scene partner trust each other. It doesn't mean we have to be close friends or even like each other, but you do have to trust each other. Even when there's no personal injury at stake, we still need to be able to trust that the other performers onstage with us will do their part to keep the show running smoothly. If that basic level of trust isn't there, the show could fall apart.

For the audience, the arts can be a safe space to escape or to experience more intense emotions. I've worked for two Halloween seasons as a scare actor at a haunted attraction. Patrons of such attractions pay to be scared, and there are different kinds of attractions that have different types of scares, some more than extreme than others. One thing I'm sure of, though, is that, if on some level, the guests didn't know we were actors playing a role, they wouldn't be paying to get in. If we had real monsters, serial killers, hostile aliens, and deranged clowns running around with chainsaws who really did want to kill the guests, there might be a few daredevil kids who broke in to see if it was real, but there wouldn't be people coming from all over the nation paying to get in. They come in to be entertained, terrified, made uncomfortable, to suspend their disbelief for a bit, but part of it is because on a certain level, even if it's a level they want to suppress at the moment, they're paying to do all of that in what's ultimately a safe environment. 

The arts also give a safe space to explore different ideas. Even if (especially if) they are about controversial topics, if they're done well, they are a safe place to explore those topics mentally and give us a chance to process them rather than immediately jump into real life situations with potentially devastating consequences.

However, I strongly disagree with the idea that performing arts are supposed to be a space where everyone is safe from criticism, controversy, or ridicule. The arts often show us different ways to look at things. Sometimes, in doing so, they question deeply-held beliefs. Sometimes, they portray people we want to admire in a negative lights, or make a hero of someone we want to dislike. They deconstruct our values, make us question what we believe in, make us downright uncomfortable. I believe that's something that needs to happen. If nobody ever makes us think about why we think and feel the way we do or tries to show us a different perspective, we stagnate, both as individuals and as societies. Not all art has to have a serious political or philosophical message behind it, but sometimes there are things that people feel need to be expressed, and doing so either with or in conjunction with art is often an effective way to do it.

In this sense, the theater has never been a safe space. Entertainers have criticized politicians for probably as long as there have been both entertainers and politicians. If it were truly a safe space in that sense, and it truly did not have the potential to be unsafe, there would be no censorship. Censorship exists because someone sees a work of art as a threat, because someone is afraid of the potential of the ideas behind it. If art were truly safe, or truly perceived as safe, there would be no need for anyone to try to silence it.

Performing arts are, ultimately, one of humanity's most paradoxical mixes of safe and unsafe. In a sense, they provide us a safe way to be made deeply uncomfortable.