A lot has happened this year. We have seen, in many parts of the world and sadly in my two home countries of Britain and America, a radical shift in terms of how we look at people who are different to us. We voted in large numbers, but thankfully by very close margins and certainly not in any way that could ever described as a landslide. But put simply, the majority of people who voted decided they wanted to be (or were fine with being complicit in), less compassionate to those who were not like them. To block them from crossing their borders, to remove them if they were already here. And of course, the problem with that idea, as we have seen again and again throughout time, is where does it stop? At the moment, it's immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, call them what you will - we basically mean people who do not look or sound like us and who we are scared of because we don't understand them. Since the US election and the Brexit vote, I have felt very out of touch with a large swathe of the population in both countries that I thought I understood. They equally do not understand me. I am not like them. I do not think like them. I do not sound like them. I do not look like them. Do you see where I am going with this?
Earlier this month I performed a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, based on the exhibition that is running there of the German artist Max Beckmann. Initially I thought I had very little in common with Max. He was a painter and in 1937 his works in public galleries were seized and he was labelled a degenerate artist by the Nazis. The following year he fled for Holland. I had been thinking about the show for many months and during that time the US election happened. Shortly after, in response to the Hamilton cast making a curtain call speech to the Vice President Elect who was in the audience, Donald Trump said he thought the theatre should be a 'safe space'. I have never thought of the theatre as a safe space. I think it is a place of ideas, a place to provoke, to protest, to challenge and to educate as well as to entertain. So now, the future leader of America is issuing edicts about how he thinks my line of work should be perceived. I am an immigrant, I am a very vocal opponent of Mr Trump, I have a platform that I use to express my views, I am different , I am queer, I am - in the opinion of a great many of his supporters - degenerate. I wonder how soon it will be before people like me are made to feel, as Max Beckmann was, that life would be easier to live somewhere else?
In September this year I visited Lebanon and met many people who were displaced by the conflicts in Syria, and also Iraq. Through no fault of their own and certainly not through choice, they had become refugees. For me this was the most pivotal moment in all of 2016's maelstrom of conflict and chaos. These people are like us, they are certainly like me. They are scared of the same things we are scared of, they have the same needs. They just want to go home and get on with their lives and live in peace. Talking to them and witnessing their sometimes desperate situations could not have been a more striking contrast to the rhetoric I was hearing back in the West - rhetoric that had no shame in its total abandonment of compassion, empathy or kindness, indeed of the very basic human traits that, in spite of everything, I still believe we all share.
This holiday season, I know there are a lot of options for donating or giving. But if you are so inclined, please consider donating to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.org.
You will be doing something that it seems we have all forgotten, or are being encouraged to forget - the most basic and purest act of kindness: giving back to people who are - again through no fault of their own - homeless, displaced, lost, hungry, cold, without hope.
Thanks for reading and Happy 2016.