I moved to NYC in May 2008 and my very first job was working as an usher for the Public Theater, Shakespeare in the Park. It was a magical summer. I was working in my favorite theater, seeing live performances every night, and occasionally getting mistaken for world-class actors. Those first months in New York felt like a Sex and the City dream…I was dating the wrong men and working security at opening night parties attended by Cynthia Nixon.
Sure, my job sounded boring- guide people to their seats and stop them from taking photos- but working at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park was such an adventure. Anything could happen! One night I became best friends with Jonathan Groff for 10 minutes! Another night Hillary and Bill Clinton attended the show, sat in my section, and shook my hand and personally thanked me! These are all true stories! Then there was the time I smoked a doobie with the man who wrote Hair: The American Tribal Love Rock Musical!
These were amazing experiences (and blog posts!) for a 22 year old new to New York. So needless to say
The Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park has a significant place in my NY lovin’ heart.
They’re part of my origin story, part of this blog’s origin story (I lampoon my usher training in my very first post)! I look forward to going to Shakespeare in the Park every year, I’ve never missed a summer! Yes, I’ve waited at 5AM in the infamous line but I also know all the ways to avoid the wait. It’s been amazing to see The Public grow from the my first awareness of them in 2007 (a phenomenal production of Romeo and Juliet) to the cultural zeitgeist responsible for Hamilton.
I adore the Public Theater and even though I only worked there one summer, they are a part of me and my NYC story.
So it’s been really, really strange to watch them be attacked viciously all this past week. See, The Public opened their season of Shakespeare in the Park with a painfully current take on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
The title character is styled in every way to draw parallels to the current president of the United States. (Granted, Gregg Henry who plays Caesar is significantly younger and more attractive then most white men in the White House these days, with hair that does not demand to be cartoonified and a physic that does not scream heart-attack-warning.) With the suits, the overly long ties, the boorish arrogance, and the Slavic trophy wife, there’s no question what director Oskar Eustis was going for.
A video of Caesar’s death (SPOILER: the title character dies a grisly death in a Shakespearean tragedy!) was leaked to conservative media on Monday.Outrage from conservatives hasn’t stopped since. Cowardly sponsors like Bank of America and Delta have pulled their funding because of it. As most of the general public, regardless of political beliefs loathes studying Shakespeare in high school, it’s safe to assume none of the angry mob know anything about the play.
They don’t know that Eustis’ production includes a large ensemble that really embodies them- an angry mob. (If you’re an actor in NYC, you know someone who landed that ensemble gig and you’re probably jealous.)They don’t understand that everything about the text of Julius Caesar condemns assassination rather than condoning it. “You don’t understand Shakespeare! You don’t understand art! YOU HAVEN’T EVEN SEEN THE PLAY!” I want to scream through the safety of my screen. “You don’t know Shakespeare in the Park! Stop attacking this thing I love, damn it!”
“I actual saw it! Look I have photographic proof! So my opinion is more valid because I ACTUALLY EXPERIENCED IT FIRST HAND!”
The idea to cast the play Julius Caesar to reflect current political events is anything but original. It’s been done to death, you could say. Still, it brings heightened relevance to an old, old story. THAT IS WHAT THEATER IS ALL ABOUT. I want to scream that too.
But mostly I just want to scream HOW PROUD I AM OF THE PUBLIC THEATER. As scary as it is to watch the media frenzy around this, it’s also kind of awesome to see live theater stirring up conversation, provoking thought and debate, inspiring passionate emotions.
Yes I’m proud damn it. Even the trolls Twitter trolls got that one right.
There are only 5 more performances of Julius Caesar and thanks to this buzz and all us proud NYC art-supporting liberals…I imagine it’s going to be near-impossible to snag one of those tickets. But hey, you really should get up at 5AM to wait in line so you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about.
Read more about this drama drama:
From the NYTimes: How Outrage Built Over a Shakespearean Depiction of Trump
When I said “attacked viciously” what did I mean? This Deadline article show actual email examples: Free Theaters Threatened In Fallout From ‘Julius Caesar’ As Supporters Plan Rally
This is the official statement The Public released:
And some awesome theatre nerd satire from the Washington Post: ‘Julius Caesar’ should go, and all of these, too