A raucous, rousing Trump protest show plays to a sold-out L.A. audience
As the house lights dim at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, a lone voice in the darkness shouts, “Impeach!” There are cheers. Then another person shouts, “Lock him up!”
This is the beginning of a sold-out benefit on Tuesday titled “E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One,” presented by the activist theater group Artists Rise Up Los Angeles, which executive producer and director Sue Hamilton formed after the 2016 presidential election.
Where others take to the streets, Hamilton decided she would challenge her fellow creative artists to take to the stage.
Hamilton put out a call to action on Facebook the day after Hillary Clinton’s stunning defeat in the presidential election. Four days later, more than 60 people showed up for the first meeting at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre in L.A. Membership has since topped 100, and a sister organization is called Artists Rise Up New York.
“We’re starting a discussion through song, dance, spoken word and poetry. We’re saying, ‘We’re not OK with this.’ We’re saying, ‘We matter, all lives matter, we need to be equal, we are human beings,” Hamilton says of this night’s program: nearly 30 short scenes, monologues, films, dances and songs, including a number staged by two Broadway cast members of “Hamilton” who flew to L.A. for the event.
She sits in the lobby before the show while a line of guests coils out the front door. Some of those already inside the 320-seat theater make a last-minute dash to the bar. This is a night for drinking. Electricity is in the air, a sense of unpredictability too. Anything could happen. There is also a touch of sorrow. You can hear it in voices as people chat loudly with one another. This is the beginning of a long slog.
Once the program begins, it becomes apparent that this is not an ordinary theater audience. There are cheers and jeers and the occasional shouted exclamation. Applause comes in long, loud, rowdy rushes. Add a veil of cigarette smoke, hard liquor and two more years of the current administration, and one can imagine these shows, which Hamilton says the group plans to do quarterly, beginning to resemble the famously lewd, satirical and politically subversive cabarets of Weimar Berlin.
In terms of content, this is the ultimate echo chamber. People aren’t here to have their minds changed, but rather to experience the catharsis of seeing their fears and hopes embodied by the performers onstage in pieces that bounce from comical to tragic and points in between.
“I can’t watch any more news, and instead of just going out to get ice cream, this will hopefully make me feel the way I did when I went to the Women’s March, a sense of camaraderie,” says Stephanie Lehrer, a retired first-grade teacher, before the show. “I’m all by myself tonight. But not really. We’re all one.”