By Molly Smith,

This month, after Vice President-elect Mike Pence took in the award-winning hip-hop musical “Hamilton,” President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to say: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place.”

This may be one of the few things with which I agree with the president-elect: The theater is a special place.

I also believe that the theater is a place to take risks, to challenge the status quo, to promote new and diverse voices, to speak truth to power. The theater is and must remain a place to exercise our right to free speech.

In the months leading up to the election and since, I’ve seen how the incoming administration has ripped up the media — discounted them, lacerated them and told the public that whatever the press says are lies and fabrications.

As the free press goes, so go the rest of us. Plays and musicals produced at Arena Stage, at theaters across this region and around the country involve a search for truth, not the hiding of it; a critique of power, not the exercise of it; an invitation to conversation and insight, not a shutting down of dialogue.

[The real winner of the ‘Hamilton’ scrap]

As the media become threatened and reviled, so do we when we speak out in meetings, on social media, by marching in the streets or in the theater.

Now, the American theater of honesty and introspection about our society and its dreams is being threatened. We’re the next ring out from the press, along with other language-based artistic disciplines. The theater is the place where playwrights speak their minds through characters to a community of audience members who for two hours or more come together to listen to another perspective.

I’ve traveled to Eastern European countries and to Russia and have seen what repression of language does to an art form and a people. I’ve seen how subversive ideas have to be embedded in productions so only those “in the know” get the message.

At Arena Stage, we focus on American voices, American plays and American artists. Our America in play form ranges from great American musicals such as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” to “Intelligence,” a new play by Jacqueline Lawton about a covert operator whose cover is blown by the U.S. government.

There has to be a diversity of voices to represent all of our views. Think about Lorraine Hansberry and “A Raisin in the Sun” or Lillian Hellman and “Watch on the Rhine.” Think of Tony Kushner and “Angels in America” or August Wilson and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” And yes, think of Lin-Manuel Miranda and “Hamilton.”

Imagine what stifling these voices through government constraints would mean. Free speech and a free press are important rights we hold in a democracy — without fear of reprisal (other than people not buying newspapers or tickets to our productions).

We’re currently being tested as a democracy. We must not be intimidated or bullied.

[Trump thinks artists owe him respect. They don’t.]

Founded in 1950 as the first integrated theater in Washington, Arena Stage has a long history of speaking up for what we believe is just. We do that today by producing powerful plays that explore a seminal moment or political figure in American politics. Plays such as “All the Way,” depicting President Johnson’s efforts to maneuver members of Congress to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or “The Originalist,” about one of America’s most brilliant and polarizing figures — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Or next year’s production of “Roe,” Lisa Loomer’s new play about the 1973 landmark case legalizing abortion.

What we do in the theater is bracing. It’s bold. And it’s powerful. It’s been our job since jesters needled kings. We stand with the cast members of “Hamilton” and their First Amendment rights, and we hope that Pence and Trump will return often to the theater, seeing it as a place for the free exchange of ideas to relish, not to revile.

We are the ones as Americans who need to resist, speak out and push back when we see these rights being questioned, knocked around or threatened. Because when we speak out, others will too.

We are not alone.

The writer is artistic director of Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.