'Hamilton': Brandon Victor Dixon on Registering Voters and Performing on Election Night (Q&A)
"People talking about making America great again? America's never been great. The greatness of America is in its pursuit of greatness. ... The second we decide that American exceptionalism is the definition of patriotism, our republic fails."
Though the majority of Broadway shows will go dark for Election Night, the cast of Hamilton will steadfastly light up the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Tuesday. As creator Lin-Manuel Miranda recently joked on Saturday Night Live: “[Hamilton] is such a nice escape from all the craziness in our world right now. It’s about two famous New York politicians locked in a dirty, ugly, mud-slinging political campaign. Escapism!”
Brandon Victor Dixon, who currently plays Aaron Burr in the hit musical, tells THR of joining an inherently political show in an election year, urging discouraged people to cast their vote and what people can do to really make America great again.
Hamilton’s voter registration drive has been held between Wednesday’s two performances. Has that been exhausting?
Yes, but this is a complicated election season. It’s good that we’re registering people, and making sure people are fully informed of the process and recognize the importance of being involved in that process. Particularly during the primaries, there was a great deal of voter engagement among youths, but people became very disillusioned and disenfranchised about the process: how it works, and who gets a seat at the table and who doesn’t. The veil has been lifted — people are seeing that no matter what the philosophy is behind our voting system, it is not specifically built for inclusion; it is not built to hear the voices of everybody.
People have felt there were a lot of things happening in our electoral system that they didn’t understand, or that ran contrary to the philosophies and ideals of democracy that have been taught to them in schools. As a result of your frustration, the response isn’t to look away or give up on the process, but to dig in deeper, to go further, to make sure that the next time around, all the voices are heard. To make sure that everybody feels confident in the fact that they really are participating in a fair election. Whether or not your candidate wins, the crucial importance is the integrity of our voting system. You have to engage in the process in order to change it.
Though Hamilton is based in politics, did you anticipate that you’d be getting involved in this way?
Personally, I’m fairly politically active anyway. And [while I was in Shuffle Along] I saw from across the street that they were very active. Lin’s father has served for many years, so he’s very politically involved, and the people behind the show follow that.
Will the show do anything special onstage during Election Night?
Not to my knowledge. But I’m sure the TV downstairs will be on: if the crew has seen fit to have football games on Saturdays and Sundays, I’m sure they’ll see fit to have the election on while we’re performing. And I’m sure if there’s a result that people are happy about and proud of, that energy will carry out.
What do you hope Tuesday’s ticket holders get out of the performance?
I doubt they even thought about the election when they bought tickets! But I hope they get what everybody gets. You’re watching a story about these people we’ve mythologized, as if they were these glorious, incredible people who descended from the sky and founded a perfect republic. But [onstage,] you get to see the truth: they were intelligent, selfish, arrogant traitors who won and then founded a republic on the backs of indigenous people and people they took from other lands.
It’s OK that these people were flawed — you can still love your country and what it seeks to represent, even though it was created by flawed people. There’s nothing wrong with being honest about what you are. They recognized that what they were creating was imperfect, so they created mechanisms for it to change, to evolve, to grow.
When people talk about America, they need to remember that America is not about the greatness of what it is; it’s about what greatness is possible. America was founded on ideas and ideals, and it’s about a multitude of different and imperfect people who come from all over, like these founders, and seek to form a better, more perfect union. That is the goal. People talking about making America great again? America’s never been great. The greatness of America is in its pursuit of greatness. And the moment we get complacent, and we decide we can’t be honest about the flaws in our education system or our health care system, or we can’t look at other systems around the world that have had greater success in certain areas than we have, the second we decide that American exceptionalism is the definition of patriotism, that’s the moment our republic fails and we begin to descend. We have to look honestly at ourselves and recognize the positives, the negatives and the challenges we can overcome. That’s what makes America great: not what is, but what’s possible.
What are you doing after Tuesday’s performance?
I’m running right around the corner to MTV Studios to close out their election footage with an original song of mine called “We Are” and a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”