By now, most of us know the story of the New York Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar. It features a Trump-like Caesar, being assassinated, as Caesar is wont to be. It caused what can best be described as a hysterical explosion of orgasmic pants-shitting by the conservative news media, with FOX News leading the charge. It has led to some fairly significant corporate sponsors — Bank of America and Delta Airlines most notably — to pull their sponsorships.
It’s so much nonsense. But I’m not really here to write about these events. Those were beautifully and articulately summed up by Victoria in her piece yesterday, wherein she eloquently explains why this isn’t actually an attack on him. And she’s very right in this. You can read the Public’s official response here.
But what the outcome has been is an attack on art. And that is perhaps the most tragic result of this backlash. We live in a time when art — in all its mediums — may be more important than ever, just as it is more in danger than ever. President Trump* has on more than one occasion voiced his hatred for the NEA, and he’s backed by a Congress that would love nothing more than to obliterate the NEA — which comprises a whopping .003% of the Federal budget — and continue the inexorable journey into mass cultural stupidity and ignorance. It’s something that we all should fear, and things like this — like a simple Shakespeare in the Park production being unfairly slammed and protested — are how it all starts.
And of course, most of you know this. But I’m here to talk more specifically about this particular theater because, quite frankly, it’s special to me. Despite not being a New Yorker, I’ve been to the Public a handful of times because my sister has directed a number of plays there. She’s had a longstanding relationship with the theater and its wonderful artistic director, Oskar Eustis, a man who has overcome all manner of personal and professional obstacles. He keeps the Public alive through unbelievable hard work, and it thrives. It’s the source of some of the most important plays of our time — it’s where Hamilton got its off-Broadway start, and it’s also where Eclipsed, the eventual Tony-nominated Broadway play that my sister directed (the first ever to star and be directed by all women of color), also first got its start. But on top of all that, they also present their annual Shakespeare in the Park productions at the Delacort Theater for free, every year. They are literally giving art away for free to the world.
These are the kinds of institutions that are under fire now, and these are the things that we are fighting for. As is often the case, I don’t know that I have a solution to this — fighting against companies like Delta and Bank of America seems like a hill too big to climb. But so what. Climb the hill and take a stand, however you can. Boost signals. Tell your ignorant uncle what’s what. Argue, protest, write. Give money (if you can and are so inclined, the Public needs and accepts donations).
Art is important. It is vital to our collective social consciousness. It’s how individuals express themselves, and it’s also how a culture and society lives and breathes. Our art, in all its many forms, is a reflection of who we are. Its death would be the death of our nation. It is worth fighting for.