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Trump Supporters Outraged Over Shakespeare In The Park

Posted by on Jun. 19, 2017 at 9:46 AM
  • 17 Replies

CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

Shortly after the presidential election, Oskar Eustis, one of New York’s most successful theater executives, knew what he wanted to do. He would direct a production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” with the title character a provocative but inexact stand-in for President Trump.

Mr. Eustis was not alone. All over the country, from Oklahoma to Oregon, theaters have been staging “Julius Caesar” this year as a way to chew over politics, power, democracy and authoritarianism at a moment when a populist leader with a fondness for executive power has moved into the White House.

Most of the productions take place without incident, but Mr. Eustis’s, which opened Monday night in New York, has been engulfed in controversy ever since a bootleg video of the assassination of Caesar, who is styled and performed to suggest Mr. Trump, began circulating on the internet last week and some who had seen the performance started to complain.

[Read why “Julius Caesar” speaks to the politics of today.]

That prompted Mr. Eustis to devote his opening-night speech to a full-throated defense of the theater’s mission, which he urged audience members at the outdoor Delacorte Theater to record on their cellphones and share. “When we hold the mirror up to nature,” he said, “often what we reveal are disturbing, upsetting, provoking things. Thank God. That’s our job.”

A clash between Trump supporters and an iconic Manhattan arts institution over what kind of art is appropriate was perhaps inevitable in this hyperpartisan age. The proudly iconoclastic Public Theater is the birthplace of “Hair” (the Vietnam-era antiwar musical) and “Hamilton” (the hip-hop musical celebrating immigrants). And Mr. Eustis, the Public’s artistic director, is an unabashedly left-leaning theatermaker who believes in the value of provocative art.

Defenders of the production, including some theater critics, describe the Public’s “Julius Caesar” as nuanced, complex and loyal to Shakespeare’s text — a cautionary tale about the costs of political violence.

But the production is also explicit and graphic, featuring a blond, Trump-like Caesar in a red tie, whose bloody stabbing is seen as offensive and inappropriate to some who have seen it. They, along with Breitbart News and Fox News, have driven a campaign on social media against the Public that has prompted two corporate sponsors — Delta Air Lines and Bank of America — to withdraw their support of the production, and a third, American Express, to distance itself.

Continued in first comment:


Nasty Woman Power


by on Jun. 19, 2017 at 9:46 AM
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NWP
by guerrilla girl on Jun. 19, 2017 at 9:46 AM
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“It was appalling,” Laura Sheaffer said in a radio interview. “Shocking.”Ms. Sheaffer, a sales manager for Salem Media, a conservative-leaning media group, saw a performance on June 3. Three days later she described her dismay over the production in a conversation with the conservative radio host and comedian Joe Piscopo, then voiced her concern again to the media and politics site Mediaite, declaring “I don’t love President Trump, but he’s the president. You can’t assassinate him on a stage.” Mediaite made the most of the story, posting it with the headline “Senators Stab Trump to Death in Central Park Performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.”

The reaction from the artistic community could not have been more different. “It’s an odd reading to say that it incites violence, because the meat of the tragedy of the play is the tragic repercussions of the assassination,” said Bill Rauch, the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is presenting a “Julius Caesar” throughout this year. “The play could not be clearer about the disastrous effects of violence.”

Still, the wheels of conservative media — as well as some other outlets — were already in motion. Breitbart and The Blaze jumped in, citing Ms. Sheaffer, along with Newsbusters, a conservative media watchdog. Television’s “Inside Edition” quoted an unidentified audience member on camera saying, “I didn’t like that they made this person who looks like Trump get assassinated.”

On Sunday, “Fox and Friends,” the Trump-friendly morning show on Fox News, gave the outrage its largest platform, running multiple segments on the story. “Notice, nobody has a problem with it on the left,” said Pete Hegseth, a “Fox and Friends” host who appeared with Mr. Trump during his presidential campaign. “Nobody seems to care. It’s only us talking about it.”

That got the attention of one of the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr., who mused on Twitter: “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?”

That prompted the National Endowment for the Arts, whose funding had been threatened by the Trump administration, to issue a statement denying any financial connection to the production. By Monday, the N.E.A. website had a pop-up disclaimer reading “No taxpayer dollars support Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Julius Caesar.”

The City of New York, by contrast, is sticking with the Public, which it supports financially.

“Threatening funding for a group based on an artistic decision amounts to censorship,” said Tom Finkelpearl, the city’s commissioner of cultural affairs. “We don’t interfere with the content created by nonprofits that receive public support — period.”

The board members play no role in approving the theater’s programming or production choices, but many are on the board because they endorse the artistically risky programming associated with the Public.

On opening night, several prominent artists reiterated their commitment to the theater. Alec Baldwin, the foremost pop culture interpreter of Mr. Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” said that supporters of the Public needed to make up the lost funding. “I called up Eustis and said let’s get a bunch of people together and fill in that hole — get some people who want to raise that gap,” Mr. Baldwin said.

Shakespeare in the Park costs about $3 million a year to run; the Public would not specify where that money comes from, but Bank of America has been the program’s “lead corporate sponsor” for the last 11 years. And runs are limited; the last performance of “Julius Caesar” is scheduled for Sunday.

“We stand completely behind our production of ‘Julius Caesar,’” Mr. Eustis said in an email to the theater’s supporters Monday afternoon, after a day of meetings about the controversy. “We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions. Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy.”

Mr. Eustis added: “Our production of ‘Julius Caesar’ in no way advocates violence toward anyone. Shakespeare’s play, and our production, make the opposite point: Those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.”

And, even as some corporations backed away, other key donors, and the artistic community, remained supportive.

“It’s an upsetting play, but if there’s a production of ‘Julius Caesar’ that doesn’t upset you, you’re sitting through a very bad production,” said Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. “It’s clear that the corporate sponsors who pulled out are just being cowardly and caving in to a lot of cranky right-wing people because Breitbart and Fox News told them to.”

Jennifer Goodale, a program director at the Jerome L. Greene Foundation, which gave $250,000 to support the production and was described by the Public as the program’s “lead foundation sponsor,” said that her foundation would continue to back Shakespeare in the Park.

“Theater provokes a discourse, and we accept that — not every theater piece can please everybody,” she said.

The New York Times, which has sponsored Shakespeare in the Park for 20 years, also continues to back the program. “As an institution that believes in free speech for the arts as well as the media,” The Times said in a statement, “we support the right of the Public Theater to stage the production as they choose.”

Ms. Sheaffer, whose impromptu stage review helped kick off the controversy, said on Monday she had no regrets about challenging the Public. “I grieve for the theater, but the reality is there has to be consequences,” she said.

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Jun. 19, 2017 at 9:49 AM
2 moms liked this

A couple of years ago a production dressed Caesar like Obama.

Don't they read books? This is SHAKSPEARE for God's Sake...

This kind of reminds me around the outrage by the far right of the Lorax kids movie a few years back....

Do they even know how old that book is?

Or that it was a book? 

Nasty Woman Power


PamR
by Ruby Member on Jun. 19, 2017 at 9:50 AM

Like all art, you have the right to like it or not, and to see it or not.  Don't like it, don't buy a ticket. 

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Jun. 19, 2017 at 9:53 AM

Agreed.

These protesters choose to come and tried to shut it down by shouting over the production.

This is about free speech and the arts and some who would like to shut that whole thing down when they don't like the idea presented.

Doesn't this complaint seem all too familiar?

Quoting PamR:

Like all art, you have the right to like it or not, and to see it or not.  Don't like it, don't buy a ticket. 


Nasty Woman Power


Rhodin
by Bronze Member on Jun. 19, 2017 at 9:56 AM
I didn't even know dressing Caesar like a sitting president was a thing until a few days ago. Usually, they dress him like an old Roman guy.

People have been increasingly touchy about politics. Even if Hillary had won, they'd likely catch flack for making Caesar a woman.

Quoting NWP:

A couple of years ago the production dressed Caesar like Obama.

Don't they read books? This is SHAKSPEARE for God's Sake...

This kind of reminds me around the outrage by the far right of the Lorax kids movie a few years back....

Do they even know how old that book is?

Or that it was a book? 

LGAll65215
by Gold Member on Jun. 19, 2017 at 10:06 AM
Here in a theater in Minneapolis they adapted Julius Caesar also except it was made to look like Obama a few years ago---nobody protested that adaptation. No big surprise

I bet there are a lot of posters at CM who would cheer that production and not care about an assasination of the black guy with big ears whom they still think was born in Kenya and is a secret Muslim.
Right?
🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄
Bookwormy
by Ruby Member on Jun. 19, 2017 at 10:08 AM
That was in Minnesota, lol.

Quoting NWP:

A couple of years ago the production dressed Caesar like Obama.

Don't they read books? This is SHAKSPEARE for God's Sake...

This kind of reminds me around the outrage by the far right of the Lorax kids movie a few years back....

Do they even know how old that book is?

Or that it was a book? 

Bookwormy
by Ruby Member on Jun. 19, 2017 at 10:09 AM
This isn't like Gifford. I think the hype is over the top. However, Baldwin has the right idea.
Mommy_Bee_
by Member on Jun. 19, 2017 at 10:11 AM
There actually was a production back in 2015 where Caesar was depicted as a woman, likely Clinton.

Quoting Rhodin: I didn't even know dressing Caesar like a sitting president was a thing until a few days ago. Usually, they dress him like an old Roman guy.

People have been increasingly touchy about politics. Even if Hillary had won, they'd likely catch flack for making Caesar a woman.

Quoting NWP:

A couple of years ago the production dressed Caesar like Obama.

Don't they read books? This is SHAKSPEARE for God's Sake...

This kind of reminds me around the outrage by the far right of the Lorax kids movie a few years back....

Do they even know how old that book is?

Or that it was a book? 

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Jun. 19, 2017 at 10:14 AM
2 moms liked this

IDK. We can only go with experiences. Nobody protested when Ceasar was dressed like Obama.

The play was performed in contemporary dress. 

I will give you this though. For all the talk and complaints of "snowflakes" by the alt right, they sure get uncomfortable it they don't have their own safe-space. 

Quoting Rhodin: I didn't even know dressing Caesar like a sitting president was a thing until a few days ago. Usually, they dress him like an old Roman guy. People have been increasingly touchy about politics. Even if Hillary had won, they'd likely catch flack for making Caesar a woman.
Quoting NWP:

A couple of years ago the production dressed Caesar like Obama.

Don't they read books? This is SHAKSPEARE for God's Sake...

This kind of reminds me around the outrage by the far right of the Lorax kids movie a few years back....

Do they even know how old that book is?

Or that it was a book? 


Nasty Woman Power


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