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​“Awakening a Revolution”

Millennial Artists Fighting Back in the Trump Era

Social progress takes the commitment and support of our communities: local, national, and global. Art needs that same passion and sense of connectivity to survive. And theatre is nothing without the network of deeply passionate people fighting for change. I spoke with three of my theatremaker friends—Stephen Gordon (musical theatre performer and graphic designer, NYC), Laurie Hochman (writer and current student in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at the Tisch School of the Arts (NYU), NYC), and Naomi Ibasitas (director, stage manager, and member of the Fort Point Theatre Channel, Boston)—about the new administration’s impact on their art, their political activism, and their hopes for the future.

Robin: What are you currently working on, or are planning to work on within the year?

Stephen: Audition season is upon us here in NYC, so my main priority is being ready for that. It’s crazy, but can be a lot of fun. Definitely easier to shrug the bad ones off and keep moving forward.

Laurie: I have a musical premiering in Austin, TX in August, and I'm working on another that focuses on the interplay between hereditary traits, mental illness, and cyclical addiction. That one's more fun than it sounds, I promise. After that I’ll be writing another musical for my graduate thesis project. Hopefully that will lead to other projects when I finish school.

Naomi: Very soon I will be stage-managing a new work, The Women Who Mapped the Stars, with Poets Theatre. I am personally working on a new project centering on Asian American culture.

It’s clear from the very deep division of this county that we have lost our ability to listen to each other and respect each other… I’ve always believed in the power of theatre to make audiences leave a show with a new perspective or a different idea.

Robin: Is there a particular issue you feel most strongly about, or that informs your work?

Stephen: I feel strongly about many human rights issues, but one that hits a massive nerve in me is gender norms and finding ways to shatter them. I think in theatre (and life, of course) gender roles play an important and defining part, but there’s a time and a place for them, and pushing that envelope where appropriate is something that interests me. Not everyone fits that mold. And I’m interested in seeing the power of a piece’s meaning when someone of a different gender tackles it. What does it change? What is stronger? What message does this convey that the piece didn’t convey before?

Laurie: I fixate quite a bit on the idea that we’re all people… I think that idea has gotten stronger in my work over the last few months, through the election season and its aftermath. I think if I can focus on it more, I might stand to create something that an audience can hold on to as we batten down the hatches for the next four years.

Naomi: I have always been extremely proud of my heritage. My parents are both immigrants from the Philippines and I am a first generation American. I think roots are very important; I believe that is what makes us unique as people and what makes us unique as a country.

Robin: How has the election and its aftermath affected you personally and creatively?

Stephen: The good thing—presumably the only good thing—coming from this election is awakening a revolution. There’s a fire inside me that was not there five years ago. I remember telling a friend of mine in 2011 that I “would probably never fight for marriage equality.” It just wasn’t something that mattered all that much to me, as I didn’t plan on ever getting married at that time. Over time that changed, as I learned about what that fight was really about. Suddenly we were cooking with gas. And the election was the spark that set it aflame. I attended protests and rallies (including the Women’s March on Washington, DC) and am continuing to be an active member of the brewing revolution.

As an artist, I think most of the best material out there comes from people understanding injustice, pain, heartbreak, etc… Suddenly shows like Cabaret, Urinetown, West Side Story, Parade, Hairspray, Rent, and countless others are extraordinarily and frighteningly relevant (I see you, Hamilton). These incredible pieces are so powerful in their bold and shameless stances on political and social issues, and there will be more to come.

Laurie: It’s made me more afraid for the future, both as a woman and as an artist, especially now that Trump has expressed interest in ceasing the funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Naomi: This election has made me think more about empathy. It’s clear from the very deep division of this county that we have lost our ability to listen to each other and respect each other. Understanding doesn’t mean agreeing, but it’s crucial in building a peaceful, progressing society. I’ve always believed in the power of theatre to make audiences leave a show with a new perspective or a different idea. That is what I’ve always wanted to achieve and now I believe we need that more than ever.

Robin: Has the outcome of the election changed the course of one of your projects, or spurred you to start something new?

Stephen: I’ve been working on a show called Motel Rasdell the last several years, and have recently helped the writers adjust the show to fit a more relevant concept. I think it’s gonna be good!

Naomi: The individual project that I’m working on is meant to inspire our common humanity. In light of recent events, I have become more inspired to continue working on my project.

Robin: Has your political activism grown or changed in response to the new administration?

Stephen: Entirely. It’s skyrocketed. Before I knew and cared very little (then again, much of my conscious life has been under Obama’s time in office). Now I’m calling my representatives, rallying, and trying to invoke change.

Naomi: My political activism on a whole has increased. But on a day-to-day basis, this election has encouraged me to read more and to be informed and educated about current issues and events. I have been making the effort to read articles from all different sides and avoid confirmation bias as actively as I can.

Photo by Fibonacci Blue.

Robin: Do you feel it’s your duty as a creative person to add your voice to social and political conversations?

Stephen: Yes, absolutely. We are often the ones with the biggest voices.

Laurie: I do, but I think it’s a double-edged sword. The more creative we can be in adding our voices to the movements, the more fulfilled and active we feel. But it’s the most accessible art that will reach the greatest number of people, so the more intellectual projects might get overlooked or picked apart.

Naomi: I feel that it is my duty as a citizen of America to be an active voice in these conversations. We don’t live in a true democratic system; with a nation like this, that would be impossible, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t fight back. It does not mean we have to lie down and take what is force-fed to us. It does mean we have to be patient and we will have to be vigilant. We will have to listen and be open-minded because there is not only one golden solution to all of our problems. But our country can still hold true to the core of a democracy and our voices will be heard.

Robin: How do you hope the theatre/performing arts communities—those where you live and the larger national/international communities—will respond over the next few years?

Stephen: I hope they continue to stay active. The Women’s March and the Ghostlight Project were great and beautiful, but they’re just a warm-up. A rally before the actual fight. This is gonna be a hard, long fight.

Millennials have a reputation of being whiney, sensitive, and entitled. We’ve all had so many rights handed to us. And now they’re being threatened. And it’s our chance to join the generations before us in fighting for what’s right.

Laurie: I hope that women, LGBTQ individuals, and racial minorities will continue on the path toward equal footing, equal pay, and equal promotion as straight, white men have always gotten. We’ve made so much progress in just the last two or three years that it’s just heartbreaking to think we could lose that ground (plus a million miles) during this administration.

Naomi: As a young child, the theatre community had been like a pair of welcoming arms to me: willing to accept me as I was, and I watched as it accepted others with the same warmth. As I grew up within the theatre community, I found that they are a group of people whose art thrives on the abilities to think creatively, work collaboratively, and perpetuate open minds. My only hope is that we work to continue that and make it better. There is always room for improvement and always ways to enhance and encourage inclusivity.

Robin: Anything else you’d like to add?

Stephen: Fight the patriarchy!


Keep fighting. Make your art. Take care of each other. Stay connected to your community. Join the revolution.


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It’s very helpful to hear these 3 artists grapple with thedifficult concept of art and politics. These two have always been intertwined.Figuring out how to use theatre as a way to amplify voices or ask questions issomething that has been on my mind and even more so with the hostile politicalenvironment in the United States. All three artists thought about the issuesthat matter to them—heritage, gender norms, shared humanity—and considered how they may want their work in theatre to reflect their concern. Stephen Gordon’s realization that hit shows like West Side Story and Hamilton made strong, relevant, political points stood out to me. How can we continue to create theatre that asserts humanity in all its diversity?

Your thoughts about elections, empathy, and understanding - well said Naomi! Great discussion, clever poster in the photo.