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Oskar Eustis: From "Hair" to "Hamilton": The Promise of The Public Theater

01 JUN 2018 New York

Oskar Eustis, artistic director of The Public Theater, discusses his role in creating some of the most influential shows in modern history, from Angels in America to Hamilton, and why storytelling can be “the great equalizer.”   

On the unifying power of theater: “Stories are the great equalizer and I think we've all experienced this in our lives and I hope you’ve experienced it in the theater. I experience it with Shakespeare all the time. Kids can enjoy Shakespeare just because they're following the story. Just because of what happens next to Romeo and Juliet. Audiences in prison who have no education can follow Shakespeare just by following the story. They don't understand 90% of the words. They don't understand all the poetry... but they can understand a guy who wants to be king so badly that he'll do anything to do it. And that's what stories do for us, they equalize everybody.”

On the impact of Angels in America: “The reverberations just immediately went out across the country... It was landing just at the moment that actually everything was starting to change about what it meant to be gay in America and you could feel that the play wasn't causing that, but the play was part of that. The play was high culture expression of that in a way that just felt thrilling.”

On the diverse casting of Hamilton: “What we [were] saying is ‘America belongs to immigrants.’ And how do you say that? You cast it with immigrants and descendants of immigrants. That’s what the show is [about]... There’s a moment right in the beginning... where the entire cast just walks down stage and stands in a line. And it’s very deliberate. That’s not a choreographic necessity for that song. That’s a choreographic introduction to the show and saying, ‘Look at us. We are telling the story of America.’... It’s a thrilling moment because it’s not conscious in the audience. I don’t think you go, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re making a statement.’ But you feel it in the audience. You feel the sense of this is saying the story of America is ours to tell. It’s not just your property, it’s our property.”
 

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