I Guess We Need to Talk About the Julius Caesar Thing

Et… all of us.

Photo credit: Liz West, CC BY 2.0.

So I saw this tweet last night, and I immediately thought “somebody thought it would be a good idea to do a Julius Caesar about President Trump, didn’t they.”

Yes, my first response was not “wow, Bank of America sure is being a jerk,” but “come on, doing Julius Trump or Donald Caesar or however you want to construct it is a terrible idea.”

It doesn’t inform Shakespeare’s text with any particular insight on either Caesar or Trump. Yes, part of the play addresses the fact that removing a single politician from office doesn’t solve a nation’s problems. (On that subject, I need to call my senators today and ask them to push for a public discussion of the currently-being-written-behind-closed-doors AHCA bill.)

But… putting Gregg Henry in an extra-long red tie is a gimmick. It’s a cheap way to draw attention to your production rather than draw attention to the play, and it worked.

Trump-like 'Julius Caesar' assassinated in New York play. Delta, Bank of America pull funding.

Delta Air Lines pulled its funding of the theater group on Sunday in response to mounting criticism. Soon after, Bank of America pulled its sponsorship of the play but will retain its funding of the theater.

“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,” Delta said in a statement Sunday night. “Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste. We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of the Public Theater effective immediately.”

Look. The Public Theater could have done Julius Caesar without mentioning Trump at all. It would have been really easy to write up a Director’s Note wondering aloud at Shakespeare’s ability to understand that you can’t blame a nation’s systemic problems on a single leader—and you certainly can’t fix those problems by forcibly removing the leader. (Or, alternatively, a Director’s Note about political ambition leading to poor decision-making.) We would have got it, okay?

And, just so we’re absolutely clear on this, the gimmick of making Julius Caesar a current president has been done before.

Delta doesn't pull funding from theater that depicted Julius Caesar as then-President Obama

But Delta offered no such admonition of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, which mounted a production of the Shakespeare play that depicted Julius Caesar as Obama [in 2012]. According to Kathy Kukielka, director of Institutional Giving at the Guthrie, the airline was donating anywhere from $100,000 to $249,000 to the theater annually at the time of the production. It continues to donate to the theater at this level.

Still, I wouldn’t worry too much about Delta and Bank of America. After all, there’s a new source of theater funding out there:

To Invest in Your Child's Theater Dreams, First Invest in the Theater

As with practically everything in New York, especially the insular world of Broadway, connections mean everything. Being a child of an investor in a show doesn’t secure a part or even an audition, but it can create opportunities that open doors.

“Getting to know a director and having the opportunity to observe a rehearsal or a script reading to get a deeper understanding of the business, that is a definite advantage,” said Pippin Parker, a playwright and the dean of the drama school at the New School in New York City.

That was what I was going to write about today, before I saw the BofA tweet. Now, we can discuss both.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.