Two major sponsors, Bank of America and Delta Airlines, have withdrawn funding from the Public Theater over a Shakespeare in the Park production of “Julius Caesar” that clearly invokes the Trump administration — and the entertainment industry responded with vocal support of the Public amid concerns about free speech.
“Now I know where not to bank & who not to fly with,” tweeted Beau Willimon, the “House of Cards” creator who got his start as a playwright. “Actions like this create a culture of fear. We must support free expression, not punish.” He then initiated an online campaign to donate to the Public, the venerable New York nonprofit that has been the breeding ground for influential Broadway shows, including “Hamilton” and “A Chorus Line.”
Actors Carrie Coon and Denis O’Hare, two TV faces who have strong ties to the stage, were also among those going public with their support of the Public. “Thanks to the Public Theater, we have ‘A Chorus Line,’ ‘Hamilton,’ ‘Fun Home,’ and ‘Hair,'” tweeted John Cohen, a producer of “Despicable Me” and “The Angry Birds Movie.” “Those are four great reasons to support.”
The production, directed by Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis, clearly equates the title character with the president (and Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, with Melania Trump), and, in keeping with the storyline of the play, depicts Caesar being assassinated. In the wake of critical coverage in right-leaning news outlets including Breitbart and Fox News, Bank of America and Delta pulled their support.
Bank of America, which has been a major donor to the Public for 11 years (and gets significant credit for keeping Shakespeare in the Park free for most audience members), withdrew funding from the production itself, but not from the overall activities of the Public,
“The Public Theater chose to present ‘Julius Caesar’ in a way that was intended to provoke and offend,” Bank of America said in a statement. “Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production.”
Delta, on the other hand, said publicly it would revoke its support from the Public Theater entirely. “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. “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.”
So far, the Public Theater itself has remained silent in the face of the controversy. The production of “Julius Caesar,” starring Gregg Henry as the Trump-like Caesar, opens tonight.