Shakespeare in the Park is supposed to be a fun frolic through The Bard’s best-loved pieces of work. It’s not supposed to drum up national outrage and a series of harsh headlines that cause sponsors to pull out of the production. But that’s exactly what’s happening to a production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”
According to multiple sources in and out of the media, in the pivotal assassination scene, the “Caesar” character bears a striking resemblance to President Trump. According to these reports, the play, being put on by the nonprofit Public Theater, portrays Caesar as a blond-haired man wearing a business suit and an American flag pin (of course). And, Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, is played by a woman putting on a Slavic accent and wearing designer dresses.
Now, big ticket advertisers Delta Air Lines and Bank of America are pulling out, dropping financial support due to angry calls and strong reactions after the “Trump as Caesar” portrayal. Delta was very clear about why they were removing their financial support of the production after four years: “…artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste…”
Bank of America has been a financial partner for 11 years, and it is withdrawing support over the portrayals. Bank of America spokesmen said, “(The Public Theater) chose to present Julius Caesar in 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…”
Those who read the original billing for the play may have seen this coming, and it certainly seemed like The Public Theater knew what it was trying to do. The playbill read, in part, that the play “never felt more contemporary” … while defining the Caesar character not as a Roman potentate but as a “magnetic, populist … bent on absolute power.”
In its review, the New York Times described the play’s lead characters thusly: “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.”
Art is often meant to provoke, but partnerships with big brands put these brands in the crosshairs when consumers decided to vote with their pocketbooks. While the playhouse might enjoy trolling, and their audience may love it as well, that doesn’t mean the millions of Americans B of A and Delta depend on will be as magnanimous in their support. That put brands in the position of deciding whether to appease their customers who oppose the production or those who support the production … a tough, but necessary, call.