NEW YORK CITY — To safeguard the delicate feelings of conservative politicians, theater groups are now prefacing plays with “trigger warnings” if there are themes involving social justice.
The precautions are being taken out of concern that leaders may suffer serious emotional harm – or even a full-blown panic attack — if exposed to controversial subjects such as freedom of speech, race relations, poverty, or gay rights.
“The last thing you’d want to see is the Attorney General fleeing up the aisle wild-eyed and gasping for breath midway through a stage production of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’” explained veteran Broadway stage manager Diane Lentowsky. “Everyone understands why panic in a crowded theater is dangerous. And even grunts of discomfort or audible sobbing can distract the performers and fellow theater goers.”
The move was sparked when cast members of the hit Broadway show “Hamilton” told incoming Vice President Mike Pence during their curtain call that they were concerned that the new administration might not protect the rights of Americans and hoped “this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us.”
President-Elect Donald Trump, furious that the incident might have embarrassed and upset the new Veep, went on Twitter to demand an apology.
“The Theater must always be a safe and special place,” Trump tweeted. “The cast of ‘Hamilton’ was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”
Chastened theater companies took his words to heart.
“Mr. Trump is 100 % right,” acknowledged Lentowsky. “The theater is supposed to be a safe space, where an audience member’s personal values are never challenged and they aren’t exposed to ideas that make them uncomfortable, or god forbid trigger some kind of emotional collapse.
“You wouldn’t, for example, want a congressman who’s just passed a transgender bathroom bill be subjected to ‘Angels in America,’ the marathon seven-hour play about gays and AIDS!”
The warnings, printed on playbills or made in verbal announcements just before the curtains rise, give politicians a chance to make a hasty exit. Some theaters are posting the warnings on websites where tickets are sold, so officials can avoid attending offensive plays in the first place.
There won’t be trigger warnings before all plays. Some, like a revival of the beloved musical “The Music Man” would be deemed safe after a careful review of all the dialogue. But a play like “The World of Suzy Wong,” about an interracial relationship, or “The Crucible,” seen as an allegory for the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s, would be proceeded by a heads up.
“We’ll be putting on ‘The Sound of Music,’ which might seem innocuous, but we plan to post a trigger warning just in case, because in it the Von Trapp family must flee a totalitarian government,” Lentowsky said.
Copyright C. Michael Forsyth