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Anaïs Mitchell, Aleshea Harris, and Over 100 More Theatre Writers Call on Biden-Harris Administration for Arts Support

11 min read
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Special Features  

Anaïs Mitchell, Aleshea Harris, and Over 100 More Theatre Writers Call on Biden-Harris Administration for Arts Support

Playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists have joined a letter campaign advocating for the creation of a Department of the Arts and substantial COVID-19 relief for artists.

As part of its Arts Works United: 100 Days of Art and Activism program, the Be An #ArtsHero initiative has launched a letter-written campaign to the U.S. President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Penned by playwrights, lyricists, librettists, and more, the missives call for the creation of a Department and Secretary of Arts, in addition to funding to support the industry after nearly a year of shutdowns (Broadway was shuttered March 12, 2020).

Among those urging the new administration are Anaïs Mitchell, Aleshea Harris, Heidi Schreck, Lynn Ahrens, Robert O’Hara, Adam Gwon, Andrew Lippa, Bess Wohl, Jaclyn Backhaus, Jeremy O. Harris, Sarah Ruhl, Theresa Rebeck, Madhuri Shekhar, John Weidman, Jonathan Tolins, Robert Schenkkan, Emily Mann, V (formerly Eve Ensler), Rick Elice, and Hunter Bell.

Be An #ArtsHero: Arts Workers Unite


Be An #ArtsHero: Arts Workers Unite

Michaelah Reynolds


“In our country, the arts exist not only as the soul, the very conscience of the nation, but as a crucial economic engine as well,” says Doug Wright, president of the Dramatists Guild of America. “Currently, they face an unprecedented crisis due to the global pandemic. [We are] only too happy to work with Be An #ArtsHero to offer the visionary words of some of our greatest authors, whose letters prescribe a future that restores the arts to the proper place in our culture and ensures their vitality for generation.”

The letters set the stage for Inauguration Day (January 20), with 100 Days of Art and Activism subsequently mirroring the first 100 days of the new administration. The campaign is the latest in a string of calls to action by the non-profit to engage the nation with legislation, hard data, and initiatives to make the arts and culture sector a top priority.

Below, Playbill has compiled some of the cohort’s myriad messages. Complete letters are available to read at BeAnArtsHero.com.

ADAM GWON (composer, Ordinary Days)

“We work hard for each paycheck and worry about making our rent and affording health care like any other labor force. We are artists and technicians, administrators and educators, custodians and construction workers. We are a working class. It’s time we’re represented as such in the federal government.”

JEREMY O. HARRIS (playwright, Slave Play)

“Let’s not take this moment as a cue to meet those who only have the worries of wealthy white men and women at the forefront of their agendas ‘in the middle.’ As I said before, this is white supremacy. I hope that as a party and an administration this moment is used to mobilize and truly set in action legislation that will help the most Americans who voted for you, those Americans being young earners of less than $100K, who are primarily people of color.”

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Heidi Schreck


LYNN AHRENS (lyricist, Ragtime)

“‘Your sword can be a sermon, or the power of the pen.’ Thankfully, ‘the power of the pen’ is now in your hands. And I hope with all my heart that you will use it for the good of our devastated, courageous and irreplaceable Arts community. Make them hear you: Recognize the importance of an industry that pumps hundreds of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy each year.”

ANDREW LIPPA (composer, The Wild Party)

“Mr. President and Madam Vice President, you can raise the arts in America to a cabinet-level position. Heck, I’d even lead it for you. You can do this. YOU. I want you to know I am standing in support of this with thousands of colleagues, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and millions of Americans who look to music, theater, visual art, literature, film, poetry, photography—all the countless ways we as humans express ourselves to find meaning in our lives, to find pride in our communities, and to find purpose in our national life.”

MIKE LEW & REHANA LEW MIRZA (librettists, Bhangin’ It)

“This is a story of survival. We are all the heroes and heroines in this story. And we must all do our part to write it. Now that we have seen the true value of science, can we recognize that the arts need to be valued equally? Will you tell a story that saves and prioritizes the arts?”

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Robert O’Hara


ANAÏS MITCHELL (composer-lyricist, Hadestown)

“Coming up as an indie folk musician, and later in the competitive world of New York theatre, I’ve seen artists struggle through all kinds of hardship. No one does it for the money; it’s too hard. We do it because of a passion for creativity that can’t be denied. Creativity—the desire to make something out of nothing, a new thing out of an old thing. A beautiful thing. A better thing. How do we ‘Build Back Better?’ We need creative thinking to approach this question. We need artists at the table of this conversation. The establishment of a cabinet-level agency would go a long way toward recognizing the vital importance of this sector/community, and allow us into the ‘writer’s room’ of the healing of the nation.”

BESS WOHL (playwright, Grand Horizons)

“Now I think about the children—including my own—who can’t experience watching live performance at their school, in their community, or in the professional theatre during such important, formative years. How many budding artists have we already lost to Zooms and virtual reality? What is the cost to the future of the arts in this country? You can and must lead us into a new, more inclusive and more robust future for America’s Arts Sector. Our souls depend on it.”

MADHURI SHEKAR (playwright, Queen)

“Artists are workers. We are workers who overwhelmingly voted for you. Please do not let us down in our time of dire need… Believe me—we WANT to help the government work better. We would use our skillset to change the narrative of government in America—to help bring public services to those who need them the most.”

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Sarah Ruhl


ROBERT SCHENKKAN (playwright, All the Way)

“It is not a coincidence that when every repressive regime arises, be they fascist or communist, they first seek to stifle the arts. That is because the Arts give a powerful voice to all peoples and all communities. And they do so, not just through criticism and protest but even more importantly by providing humor, compassion, tolerance, and above all, Hope.”

HEIDI SCHRECK (playwright, What the Constitution Means to Me)

“We cannot achieve a full economic recovery without the recovery of arts and culture. Beyond that though we need art for a different kind of recovery. We need art because… Well because we’re human. We need art to delight us and to make us laugh. We need art to remind us of our mortality. We need art that doesn’t do anything useful at all. We need art that tells us the stories of our ancestors and art that helps us imagine our futures. We need art that shows us how the hell we ended up in this terrifying predicament. We need art that reminds us that who we are now does not have to be who we become.”

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Madhuri Shekar


MARJORIE BICKNELL (playwright, The Boys Club)

“Artists are not selfish. They are among the most generous and hardworking people in the land. They give much, ask little. They tell our nation’s story. They help us make sense of tragedy, and provide joy, and then they contribute hundreds of billions to the economy. Can’t the country give something back?”

NIKKOLE SALTER (playwright-performer, In the Continuum)

“I initially wrote a letter speaking capitalist language as a means to demonstrate the arts worker’s value to American life, since that seems to be the only case that politicians are willing to respect and support. ‘Look at all the ways in which we get the money to flow!’ But I resent that reasoning now. Arts workers and the arts industry are not valuable because we help money circulate. That’s just a byproduct of our actual worth. We are valuable because we speak to the soul of the nation. We are valuable because we get people to reflect on who they are, and to consider who they want to be. We are valuable because our job is to seek Truth on behalf of us ALL and to provide spaces for empathetic healing. That is what we offer our society drowning in lies.”

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Aleshea Harris


JACLYN BACKHAUS (playwright, Wives)

“These are desperate times. All of us need joy. We need beauty. But we also need art that helps us to engage in the pressing issues that our country faces: division, racism, inequity, intolerance. We artists stand at the ready. We just need financial support—for ourselves, for our arts and cultural institutions—so that we can do what we do best: CREATE.”

TINA SATTER (playwright-director, Is This a Room)

“The arts are imperative to the very fiber of our nation and the people in it—and the modeling of new worlds, ideas, and possibilities that arts singularly offer has always been true and clear—but never more than ever after the recent and systemic degradation of intellectualism, arts, and discourse under the past administration has it been necessary to underline this with codified support and logistics that a Cabinet-level position and a mandate to make arts & culture workers a legislative priority.”

ROBERT O’HARA (playwright-director, Bootycandy)

“We are an $877 billion dollar industry. I live and work in New York, where I know each of you have enjoyed the richness of my industry’s talent and its commitment to giving the world stories and truths and diversions and catharsis. We have brought laughter and tears to the world. Yet we are no longer laughing and trying not to cry as many of us have been forced to leave this profession altogether.”

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Adam Gwon


JONATHAN TOLLINS (playwright, Buyer & Cellar)

“The pandemic has given us all a crash course in what life without a communal culture feels like. We miss laughing together, crying together, being astonished together. For those things to return, and to thrive, will require all of our commitment and your leadership.”

EMILY MANN (playwright-director, Having Our Say)

“I would like to ask you to consider a large relief package to our profession, but I would like you to consider going further. We need a Department of Arts and Culture. Since your administration will most resemble FDR’s, I hope, I wonder if you would also consider doing what he did and renew the WPA. Hallie Flannagan got American artists working again in service to the country and some of the most extraordinary plays and productions were created under her watch. Nothing short of a bold move will save the American arts sector and bring it not only back to life but give it new meaning in a new age, an age dedicated to economic and social justice under your leadership.”

SARAH RUHL (playwright, The Clean House)

“Without more help from the government, many of our beloved theaters across the country will close. Our workers will be hungry, and also without a purpose, a moral and artistic task for which they are trained and ready. This will mean the loss of those theaters and also their education departments; and we know that children who are in plays learn how to be in dialogue with one another and with an audience from a young age. It’s also clear that Americans are losing the ability to be in dialogue with one another. There aren’t many places to train to be in dialogue with others—the theater is one storied place. We also have, apparently, a scientifically measurable loss of empathy in our nation. And theater is an empathy training machine. While the transportation industry has received help from the government during COVID while continuing to fly planes, the entertainment industry has received nothing, although we transport the human spirit.”

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Jaclyn Backhaus


THERESA REBECK (playwright, Bernhardt/Hamlet)

“Our leaders still seem to think that the arts are extra-curricular, except for military bands. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are the beating art of every major city, and small city, and small town in America. We are in the schools and the churches and the community centers and the prisons. We are everywhere, helping people understand history and community and themselves, and helping them spend their money, too.”

JOHN WEIDMAN (librettist, Assassins)

“Your administration represents an opportunity, long overdue and without question ignored for the last four years, to recognize the central role which not just theater artists, but all artists, play in driving our nation forward, economically, intellectually, and spiritually. America’s artists were never going to be centered in a Trump/Pence administration. It is my fervent hope that America’s artists will find themselves centered in a Biden/Harris administration.”

AUDREY LANG (playwright, You Have To Promise)

“How do we foster compassion, understanding, and, more than tolerance, an embracing and welcoming of people of different identities than our own? The answer is art. Young people involved in arts education are 40 percent more likely to have friends from different racial groups. When children have friends of different races, their school culture improves, and so does their academic and social development. Kids who can see difference but not judge negatively based upon it have an enormous potential to grow into less racist adults, and that goes for difference of any kind. When a child or teenager takes part in arts education, they are 50 percent more active in their communities, and nine out of 10 kids say that the arts increase their connection to their community.”

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Anaïs Mitchell


ALESHEA HARRIS (playwright, Is God Is)

“Sixty-three percent of arts workers are unemployed right now. Forty-one percent of arts venues are in danger of being lost, and nearly every arts worker has suffered loss of income. Unfortunately, those who feel the greatest burden of these losses are doubly impacted as members of vulnerable communities including Black, Indigenous and other folx of color along with members of the LGBTQIA community. Without sustained and thoughtful relief, we will not survive.”

RICK ELICE (playwright-librettist, Peter and the Starcatcher)

“Young people need activities where they learn to collaborate in creating something greater than themselves. Sports, yes, but also music, dance, debate, speech, theatre, film, video. I teach young people, and I despair at so much isolation (pre- and during COVID quarantine) and its effect on young people: depression, social anxiety, low self-esteem, and a lack of ambition or desire for independence. This can be mitigated if we return to funding live, collaborative arts from pre-school onward.”

HUNTER BELL (librettist, [title of show])

“Arts and culture lead to economic prosperity. Arts & culture lead to connection, empathy, understanding, respect, collaboration, and humanity. Bedrocks of our democracy. Not far from our nation’s Capitol, which bore the recent horrific attempted coup, there is a quote from President Kennedy etched in glass at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that reads, ‘I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.’ I hope you both agree and will show up for us. We artists will continue to show up.”

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