Actors' Equity Slams Delta, Bank of America for Pulling Sponsorship of 'Julius Caesar'

Joan Marcus
'Julius Caesar'

"While Delta's motto is to 'keep climbing,' the company's actions this week have taken theatre everywhere down a peg," said Actors' Equity Association president Kate Shindle.

Though Delta and Bank of America have pulled their sponsorship of New York's Public Theater over a Donald Trump-themed production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Actors' Equity Association has voiced its support of the staging.

The play, which is directed by the Public Theater's artistic director Oskar Eustis and runs through Sunday at Central Park's Delacorte Theatre, features characters in contemporary costumes and such unconventional casting as Elizabeth Marvel in the key male role of Marc Antony. The chief talking point, however, has been its portrayal of Caesar, played by Gregg Henry, who sports yellowish blonde hair, a Trump-style suit and an extra-long red tie, with his wife Calpurnia styled as a sleek Slavic beauty. The play features the title character's bloody assassination. 

Delta recently stated that the adaptation "crossed the line on the standards of good taste" and that the play "does not reflect Delta Air Lines' values," and Bank of America commented that the show "was intended to provoke and offend" and that had "this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it."

Kate Shindle, president of Actors' Equity Association, on Tuesday released a statement, stating the organization's stance on the controversial staging and slamming Delta and Bank of America: "The Public Theater has a long tradition of producing thoughtful work that is in keeping with one of our most important traditions — the free exchange of ideas under the First Amendment. Julius Caesar has always been a provocative piece of theater that asks the audience to think as well as to feel. Many, many modern-dress productions have used contemporary politicians and public figures to drive home the storylines that Shakespeare wove into his play. It's surprising that this has become so deeply offensive to Delta Airlines, considering that in 2012, Delta sponsored a season in Minneapolis in which the Guthrie Theatre staged a Julius Caesar which featured the killing of an Obama-like figure.

"All this pearl-clutching really just indicates how profoundly people are missing the point," Shindle continued in the statement. "Julius Caesar is a cautionary tale about the dangers and consequences of a mob mentality against a ruler. The play actually goes out of its way to make the argument that violence and assassination are not the answer to political problems in a democracy. Delta and Bank of America may, of course, choose to fund — or not fund — anything they want. But while Delta's motto is to 'keep climbing,' the company's actions this week have taken theater everywhere down a peg. I hope our 51,000 members will remember this episode when choosing where to put their own hard-earned money."

Beau Willimon, Carrie Coon and Amber Tamblyn are among those in Hollywood who have voiced their support of the production. Another corporate backer, American Express, released a statement distancing itself from the Julius Caesar production while keeping its sponsorship of the Public Theater in place.

At Monday's opening night, Eustis shared his take with the audience: "Anybody who watches this play tonight — and I’m sorry, there’s going to be a couple of spoiler alerts here — will know that neither Shakespeare nor the Public Theater could possibly advocate violence as a solution to political problems, and certainly not assassination. This play, on the contrary, warns about what happens when you try to preserve democracy by non-democratic means, and again, spoiler alert: It doesn’t end up too good. But at the same time, one of the dangers that is unleashed by that is the danger of a large crowd of people, manipulated by their emotions, taken over by leaders who urge them to do things that not only are against their interest, but destroy the very institutions that are there to serve and protect them. This warning is a warning that’s in this show, and we’re really happy to be playing that story for you tonight."