Defend The Public Theater: Take A Stand for Art & Free Speech

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus, AP

The Trumpian era is turning into a dangerous time for freedom of speech and the arts. Delta Airlines and Bank of America have pulled their sponsorships of New York City’s Public Theater — early home of Hair, A Chorus LineHamilton: An American Musical , and Dear Evan Hansen, among other Broadway classics — over The Public‘s new Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar. The reason: The play features a Caesar who looks, sounds, and acts like der Trumpenführer. If you are well-versed in Shakespeare, you know what happens to the title character in the play. Trumpists and right-wing media outlets are not pleased, moving the cowardly corporations to pull their sponsorships, which leaves the eminent arts organization in potential financial trouble.

For me, The Public is as much a mother church as Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. And as an artist and journalist, free speech is everything to me. So, of course, I will boycott Delta and BoA — and any other firms who decide to hurt The Public. So is music industry insider and publisher of The Lefsetz Letter Bob Lefsetz, who graciously allowed us to share his essay on the subject.

The great bifurcation has begun. All that hogwash about the corporation being your friend, all that b.s. about getting Amex and Citi to sponsor your tour… They are not on your team and you’re corrupting yourself by making that deal. The role of an artist is not to get rich, BUT TO SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER!

Come on, we hated United and the stock went up. We’ve got such short memories. We pray at the altar of money, but now there’s even something richer at play, FEAR!

Everybody’s afraid. Say anything against our President and your inbox will go berserk, your Twitter feed will start scrolling, because that’s one thing the right does the left does not, which is endless gotcha, endless pushback. And if we’re waiting for the Democrats to get their act together, we might as well give up. It’s time FOR US TO LEAD!

Time to call the corporations out.

Or, as we said back in the sixties…WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?

This is art folks. This is not the Koch Brothers spreading false information about climate change, this is not polluting, this is not killing, this is people using their brains to make a statement. It matters not a whit whether it’s right or wrong, that’s their prerogative. And, of course, it’s the prerogative of corporations to pull sponsorship, but are we now equating art with O’Reilly’s sexual harassment? No one was standing up defending Bill, but the New York Public Theater, which premiered Hamilton?? One of our most august arts institutions? This is what the division in our country has come to, that blue chips have to run scared, be worried about what they present?

And the weasels who run the corporations are clueless, so far removed from the rank and file they don’t know how to behave. And the dirty little secret is it doesn’t take many complaints for them to be scared and take action. TV networks get A COUPLE of complaints and they go into a tizzy, cancel shows, kick people off. That’s the power of speaking up. And you need to speak up about this, because they’re coming for you next, that’s right!

As for all you right wing wankers complaining about free speech on campus… The inability of extremists like Coulter, Milo and Murray to speak, what have you got to say about this? Oh, you’re gonna say no one’s stopping them from mounting the play, but the truth is this is gonna put a huge dent in the Public Theater’s ability to continue.

They call this a chilling event.

Our whole nation is chilled. Because Agent Orange is coming after you, and if it’s not him it’s his minions, the rich and disadvantaged who would rather have you starve than pay another penny in taxes, give another cent to welfare.

Taxes? They pay for roads and infrastructure.

Welfare? Give people a leg up and they don’t rob you and they become model citizens benefiting society. When did it all become about mine for me?

But the point is artists and corporations were never on the same side. An artist may be anxious about a statement, but that does not mean they pull back, they put it out there. And oftentimes what you’re worried about most resonates, happens to me all the time, I think I’m gonna be excoriated and my inbox fills up with hosannas. But that’s assuming you’re playing at all, that you’re not too scared to take a risk.

But everybody’s scared. Everybody’s playing it safe. Especially these corporations dominating the world, run by overpaid nitwits convinced they know better.

They don’t.

I know better than them because I’m hearing from thousands of people all the time. Believe me, my inbox would horrify and elate you all at the same time.

That’s what happens when you’re on the front lines.

Reporters are faceless, they’ve got no idea what’s going on.

And neither do the CEOs.

But we’ve got boots on the ground. Which is why Twitter and other online resources are so important. That’s where I found out about this aberration. From Beau Willimon, the creator of “House of Cards,” whom I respect.

Who do you respect?

Follow them, encourage them, push them to take a risk. And support them when they hang it out there. Because we’re about to lose freedom of speech not through law or protest but through the chilling effect of the Administration’s blowback.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

And if you think I’m kidding, you’re a nincompoop without a backbone who never took a stand.

That’s the question of 2017…WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?

I am on the side of The Public Theater, which released the following statement after the cowardly corporations caved in the face of Trumpist complaints:

The Public Theater stands completely behind our production of Julius Caesar. We understand and respect the right of our sponsors and supporters to allocate their funding in line with their own values. We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions.

Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy. Our production of Julius Caesar in no way advocates violence towards anyone. Shakespeare’s play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.


Add Your Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.