American theaters bearing William Shakespeare’s name have reported a surge of abusive messages from members of the public, following rightwing protests over a New York production of Julius Caesar in which the doomed title character was dressed to look like Donald Trump.
The Public Theater’s Trump-esque Caesar was scheduled to be assassinated for the final time in Central Park on Sunday night, having appeared on stage for a month. On Friday night, two protesters interrupted the performance, adding to a swirling social-media storm.
Amidst sustained pressure from infuriated conservative activists and media, the New York company lost major sponsors. Such anger appears to have radiated outwards – with a loss of focus on the way.
In Lenox, Massachusetts, an all-year Shakespeare festival received around 40 abusive messages, the Boston Globe reported. One reportedly wished Shakespeare & Company “the worst possible life you could have and hope you all get sick and die”.
In Texas, meanwhile, Shakespeare Dallas artistic director Raphael Parry reported the receipt of around 80 messages including threats of rape and death and one suggestion, referencing the fate of Shakespeare’s Caesar, that theater staff should be “sent to Isis to be killed with real knives”.
“We just got slammed,” Parry told the Globe. “It’s pretty amazing the vitriol, the wishing we would die and our family would die. A whole lot of them say that we should burn in hell.”
Directors said they were surprised by the threats, which Parry thought were most likely generated by a toxic mix of partisan anger and basic web analytics.
“They’re just doing a general Google search,” he said. “When you google ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ in the Texas region, our name pops up first and they just go to town.”
In a week in which a Republican member of Congress, an aide, a lobbyist and a police officer were shot and wounded at baseball practice, debate over the Public Theater’s Trump-like Caesar fed national concern about the effects of rising partisan division and heated political rhetoric.
Shakespeare & Company’s artistic director, Allyn Burrows, told the Globe: “We’re in an environment now where the verbal gloves are off.”
Speaking to the Washington Post, he said his company was always ready for strong reactions to its productions.
“If you’re an arts institution and you want to create conversations, it’s going to come in all forms,” Burrows said. “And don’t be horrified if people have emotional reactions to stuff. That’s where we’re at.”