Thank you for amplifying and contextualizing this. As someone who started out in the theater, I can attest to how profound and necessary it is for us to gather in the same physical space and tell our stories. Like music, theater is one of our oldest forms of communicating with each other. It is communal and present – the opposite of the self-isolating digital echo box. It’s a place where we are free to confront our shared truths in both their beauty and ugliness. It is the confluence of both freedom speech and freedom of assembly.
The best theater, like the best music, cannot exist when it is constrained by the fear of those holding the purse strings. Sure, Delta and Bank of America are not obligated to donate to a not-for-profit theater. But by so publicly removing their support in reaction to the vocal dissent of right-wingers who have not even seen the play, they are sending a strong message that the arts should be punished for taking risks.
It is the PURPOSE of art to provoke at the risk of offending. We cannot access the truth and challenge assumptions otherwise. And for those who think that art should stay out of politics, you’ve got it wrong. ALL art is political, insomuch as every artist is working from his or her own experience and point-of-view, which is either consciously or subconsciously political. Life is political. And it is the artist’s job to “hold a mirror up to nature”, as Shakespeare so eloquently taught us in Hamlet.
I think it’s pretty amazing that a play which is over four centuries old has remained so relevant and controversial. That’s what makes the best art immortal – its grasp on the universal aspects of humanity are so true that we never tire of returning to it. Shakespeare took risks. Kings and Queens raided and shut down his theater. He could have gotten tried for treason. But he persisted, and the groundlings couldn’t get enough. He spoke truth to power, and that’s why his work is still with us today.
Finally, I wanted to share with you the statement that the Public Theater sent to its supporters today. It’s nobility and courage is inspiring. An organization that has bringing free Shakespeare to the public for decades knows a thing or two about integrity and class:
A NOTE ABOUT JULIUS CAESAR AT THE DELACORTE
The Public Theater stands completely behind our production of Julius Caesar. We understand and respect the right of our sponsors and supporters to allocate their funding in line with their own values. 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. Our production of Julius Caesar in no way advocates violence towards 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.
I’m grateful that the Public Theater exists. And I’m grateful for all the artists past and present who have not cowered in the face of fear.