The day before its opening night, Shakespeare in the Park had two corporate sponsors pull support over the modern staging of the classical play “Julius Caesar.” Delta Airlines and Bank of America took issue with this year’s version, specifically the fact that the Julius Caesar character, who — spoiler alert! — is assassinated, resembles the current president of the United States.
“Its depiction of a petulant, blondish Caesar in a blue suit, complete with gold bathtub and a pouty Slavic wife, takes onstage Trump-trolling to a startling new level,” Jesse Green wrote in The New York Times review of the play published on Friday. The show has been in reviews since May 23.
The two companies, which made their announcement after Fox News reported that the play “depicts president’s murder,” insist the play crossed a line and does not align with their values.
“Bank of America supports art programs worldwide, including an 11-year partnership with The Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park,” Bank of America said in a statement issued on Sunday night. “The Public Theater chose to present Julius Caesar in such a way that was intended to provoke and offend. Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding from this production.”
“No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of ‘Julius Caesar’ at this summer’s free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values,” said Delta. “Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste.”
One of the reasons companies could withdraw their support is so that they do not appear to be leaning in particular direction and draw criticism from the other side and potentially the White House.
Delta wants “to be perceived as apolitical,” said Americus Reed, a marketing professor at The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. However, supporting only art that plays it safe could change what gets created. “The content that’ll be out there is the type of content that doesn’t take chances. That isn’t edgy.”
The Fox news segment also caught the eye of president’s son Donald Trump Jr., who tweeted: “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech and does that change things?”
I wonder how much of this “art” is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does “art” become political speech & does that change things? https://t.co/JfOmLLBJCn
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 11, 2017
In addition to being funded by corporate sponsors such as Bank of America, Delta and The New York Times, which said it would not withdraw its support, the Public Theater is funded through individual donations. According to a statement issued by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency that issues grants for art projects, no grants have been given to this particular show.
The Public Theater did not respond to request for comment, but in an email to patrons, said that it stands “completely” behind the production and recognizes that its “interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions.” In the header of the email, the theater included a “Support us today!” button and a hashtag #Weareonepublic.
The theater also mixed politics and art earlier this year during its run of Joan of Arc: Into the Fire. The show, which ran from February to April, began with a huge banner hung across the stage. On it, was a quote from Senate’s majority leader Mitch McConnell regarding Senator Elizabeth Warren: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
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