Dear fellow artists and concerned citizens,
I have been preparing for this all my life. I just didn’t know it.
After all, I have produced and directed plays written by Havel in response to the Communist regime, plays by Ionesco in response to fascism, plays by inmates at Terezin during the Holocaust. I know what protest looks like, through the eyes of a playwright. I have channeled it. Yet somehow I didn’t ever expect to be on the front lines.
The time has come.
Like all of you, I do not know what exactly the Trump years will be like. But we have strong indications, and they are all pretty terrifying. We know that he is a con man and a liar, that he is drawn to strongmen and dictators, that he is thin-skinned and motivated by petty revenge. It’s just a question of whether America is resilient enough to survive.
What do we do in such times? For me, it is artists who are leading the way for me, above all Václav Havel and his principal of Living in Truth. It is easy to be angry; I am angry. It is easy to want to shout; I want to shout. But in the end, the shouting and the anger just mounts from all sides, and it is hard to find sanity within it.
For a long-term, sustainable resistance, one needs something else. A clear, quiet, insistence on nothing but the truth. Point out the lies, rely only on verified facts. Insist on consistency in ourselves, even when that consistency does not come from our opponents. Never excuse our own bad behavior because others are behaving worse. In resistance, every act is a moral act, especially a show of love and respect to others. Even those who do not deserve it.
It is easy to become overwhelmed; I am overwhelmed. There is too much, too many lies, too many offences against basic decency. I fear every day for the values of my country. I fear every day for the safety of those I love and for the world.
I am an artist. What I will do is create art. It is not the only thing I will do, but it is where my greatest talent lies. I have no illusions. My art is a drop in a wide, wide ocean. But if it is filled with truth, I hope that my art leads towards the light. And I know it is not my efforts alone, but my efforts as part of a much greater whole that will lead us back to our path.
And experience joy. That too is an act of defiance. The stunning thing about the plays and songs I have seen written by the inmates of Terezin is the ability to find a moment of joy in the art. Sometimes it is political. Sometimes it is escapism. Always, it was a matter of survival, a fulfillment of human need like food and water. They were starving, but they didn’t let their souls starve. In the words of a folk song written a century ago, “It is bread we fight for but we fight for roses too.”
And take heart. Often the world is taken over by madness, more often than we wish to admit. But each moment is just a phase in history. I do not know the next phase, or the ending of this one. But I do know that we can only face each day with courage. Havel’s slogan was “Truth and Love Must Prevail over Lies and Hatred.” His work was banned. He was put in jail. And yet, one day, those words came true. The world turned, and as it turned it changed. That time, for the better.
I have been preparing, but no one can be prepared. History may give us a guide, but it never repeats in the same way. Be ready not only to question other people’s assumptions, but your own. Life is one long improvisation. The best we can do is find the truth in each moment and allow each other to love and feel joy whenever possible.
Above all, never fall for the propaganda that cruelty, bigotry, or bullying equals strength. Kindness, gentleness, and empathy for others are the true acts of strength. Never lose yourself personally in the fight for what is political. In a time when a thin-skinned bully has ascended to the highest office in the land, every act of kindness is also an act of resistance. It is a reminder of the power of basic decency.
Humans are capable of great ugliness and evil, as we know. As is being demonstrated both here and around the world, in devastating ways. But on an individual level, I truly believe that most of us still long to be good and decent people. That is not a small or negligible truth. It is an important and powerful truth. It is possibly the truth that can save the world.