shakespeare – Cultivating Culture http://www.cultivatingculture.com Thinking and writing about culture around the world Sat, 13 Jan 2018 00:08:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 50009989 Sponsors Pull Support for ‘Julius Caesar’ Amid Trump Controversy http://www.cultivatingculture.com/2017/06/26/julius-caesar-controversy/ Mon, 26 Jun 2017 19:00:59 +0000 http://www.cultivatingculture.com/?p=5360 “Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?” asked Donald Trump Jr. in a tweet. He was commenting on Public Theater’s new production of “Julius Caesar,” one of the William Shakespeare’s historical drama plays. When does “Julius Caesar” become political? It was political long before it was even written. It […]

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A picture of a Shakespeare book.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

“Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?” asked Donald Trump Jr. in a tweet. He was commenting on Public Theater’s new production of “Julius Caesar,” one of the William Shakespeare’s historical drama plays.

When does “Julius Caesar” become political? It was political long before it was even written. It is, after all, about democracy, tyrants, revolt, and mob rule. In the words of Gregg Henry, it’s mostly about a leader who is “drunk with ego, drunk with power, drunk with ambition and the belief that he and he alone must rule the world.”

It doesn’t seem forced at all to cast it starring Gregg Henry as a faux-blonde bellicose Caesar with a fearful, Slavic Calpurnia and a senate of women and minorities to stab him to death. Forced? No. But controversial? Yes.

The Public Theater of New York City opened their spring production of “Julius Caesar” with a blatantly obvious Trump administration themed cast and staging on June 12, 2017. As could be expected, criticism erupted from the conservative right. Critics immediately demanded to know who was paying for the Shakespeare in the Park production (which is free to the public) and went after their sponsors.

In response, major corporate donors Delta Air Lines and Bank of America pulled their support.

“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,” said a Delta representative on the evening before the play was set to premiere. This marked the end of an 11-year relationship between the airline and the theater.

Oscar Eustis, director of the performance, was livid about the blind nature of the response.

Anyone familiar with the play will understand that it does not endorse assassination or undemocratic means of defending democracy. The entire play is about how badly that can go.

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Politically Incorrect or Historically Accurate? http://www.cultivatingculture.com/2015/08/21/incorrect-or-historical/ Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:11:57 +0000 http://www.cultivatingculture.com/?p=4062 Widely renowned theater director Trevor Nunn has been criticized for choosing an all-white cast for his latest Shakespearean production, The Wars of the Roses. Actors’ union Equity has slammed the play as well as the Arts Council England for the play’s lack of diversity. Nunn says that the all-white casting was done deliberately as an […]

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Trevor Nunn

Trevor Nunn | Image: Telegraph UK

Widely renowned theater director Trevor Nunn has been criticized for choosing an all-white cast for his latest Shakespearean production, The Wars of the Roses. Actors’ union Equity has slammed the play as well as the Arts Council England for the play’s lack of diversity. Nunn says that the all-white casting was done deliberately as an artistic choice intended to represent the reality of historical theater, in which all actors were white.

Nunn says that he believes in the movement to “cast, whenever possible, according to the principle of diversity,” but adds that “the connections between the characters, and hence the narrative of the plays, are extremely complex… Hence, I decided that, in this instance, these considerations should take precedence over my usual diversity inclination.” For this particular play, those “considerations” meant excluding actors of color in favor of an authentically historical production in which it would be clear how the characters are related to one another.

But Equity raises an important question: “Whilst wishing every individual actor in the production well, can it be acceptable best practice in 2015 to cast a project such as this with 22 actors but not one actor of colour or who apparently identifies themselves as having a disability?” Ignoring the race of an actor is an increasingly common practice among stage casting, and Nunn’s decision, though made for the ease of audience understanding, does seem unnecessary, and Nunn has been criticized for “whitewashing” history.

So what, then, is the most important factor in casting for a play like The Wars of the Roses? Is it enough simply to understand that historically people of color either were not cast in plays, or that history resists acknowledging people of color, without having to see the reality of it in 2015? Is there merit to the “historical verisimilitude” Nunn’s work seeks?

Nunn has also claimed that the play is “very inclusive in a number of ways,” stating that “the event will surround the audience and come through the audience and it cries out for that wonderful communal experience, but it’s also going to be communal as well in that some students and local people will also be involved in the battle scenes. There will be a community ingredient.”

Though Nunn’s work does focus on audience engagement and understanding, some are likely to balk at the play’s boasted ingredient of “communal experience.”

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