When you tell a historical story in the theatre, the expereince of the past becomes the audience's present, and they in turn become part of that story's living history. There are two original works running on Broadway at the moment; and both not only give the audience a chance to connect personally with what are often fleeting references in a history book, they do it in a way that marks a critical turning point in the timeline of American Theatre by who does the telling.
"Hamilton" has rocked the world of art and politics simultaneously, with Lin-Manuel Miranda's brazen and poetic depiction of the Founding Fathers. It was impossible not to feel revelation on every level as I sat in the theatre and felt the fusion of forms wash over me: traditonal musical theatre conventions rebelled against, and then embraced by contemporary hip-hop rythms, dance that spanned from Fred Astaire to Martha Grahm, to Stomp, and language that was as much William Shakespeare as it was Marshall Mathers. It was a culmination of all that's been discoverd about making theatre up to this point employed by an unprecedented diverse group of performers, and designed to show a new way forward for the American musical. The story's subject matter points our focus to some forgotten lessons from history- ones we would ignore at our peril were we not engaged by a fresh approach, and gutsy experimentation. We need contemporary artists to show us our past through the lense of the present so that we can take a good look at where we once were, and who we are now, so that we can choose where we want to go from here.
"Allegiance," though less revolutionary in terms of style, is just as important a reflection on our past, and it is vital that it be told in a live theatre. It tells the tale of the internment of the Japanese in WWII, and it is about time we acknolwedged the Asian-Anerican population in a meaningful way in the American Theatrre with a company of performers who are shamefully under-represented on our stages. No one would be talking about the Internment if there wasn't a new musical to force it into the spotlight. In a day and age full of wars and refugess, we must not ignore what happend not so long ago to Japanese-Americans as we struggle with the modern fears that plague us surrounding integration .
Both of these plays are moments where contemporary playwrights created work that empower marginalized groups in society to claim their rightful place in history. They assert their influence both on the way forward as a society, and on the form that theatre will take in the future. Now more than ever we need to learn from the past, and we need new work to help teach it.