Theater Controversy

Dallas Shakespeare company gets sucked into dramatic Donald Trump flap

Dallas Shakespeare company gets sucked into dramatic Donald Trump flap

Shakespeare Dallas presents The Merry Wives of Windsor
Shakespeare Dallas' current production is the The Merry Wives of Windsor. Photo by Jessica Helton

A New York production of Shakepeare's Julius Caesar opened with an extra round of controversy that has also hit the theater world in Dallas. The controversy in New York involved the Public Theater's free "Shakespeare in the Park" show, which did an edgy casting of Caesar and wife Calpurnia with actors are styled to look like President Donald Trump and wife Melania.

The play ends with "Caesar" being assassinated by a cast whose makeup includes women and minorities.

That provoked a storm on Twitter and from conservative outlets, and Delta Air Lines and Bank of America withdrew their support. And now the backlash has spread to other theater companies across the country, including Dallas.

According to entertainment website Deadline.com, other groups, especially ones that produce free, classics-based theater in parks, have been receiving threats. Profane, illiterate emails sent to the New York Classical Theatre, which is presenting Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals, called them "mentally ill bastards" and "disgusting scumbags" who should "die a more horrible terrifying death." There is no Trump-like character in that play, which was written in 1775.

Director Stephen Burdman said that he'd been in touch with Shakespeare colleagues all over the country, including Shakespeare Dallas, whose director Raphael Parry said that they'd received over 40 very violent emails, saying things like "we're going to come and rape you."

Shakespeare Dallas just launched a presentation of The Merry Wives of Windsor, a comedy that has no connection to Julius Caesar. Next week it opens Quixote, a play written by Octavio Solis that's based on the novel Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes. According to the press release, Quixote is meant to "celebrate the shared legacy anniversary of William Shakespeare and Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. The performance will be part of an effort to reach North Texas’ Spanish-speaking community, with 30 percent of the performance spoken in Spanish."

Parry told Deadline that they began receiving threatening calls and emails following coverage of the New York Julius Caesar production on Fox News and National Public Radio. Some vowed to contact sponsors to pull their funding; others said they should be "sent to ISIS and killed with real knives." Some were sent to the FBI.

Parry says that they didn't talk about the emails publicly until they realized other production companies were being victimized as well.

"We had been receiving phone calls last week from our patrons asking if the shows were political in nature," he says. "We knew then there was some concern but we are producing two comedies with no political content."

The emails started coming in the day after a story on Fox News and NPR.

"We started getting emails in the afternoon and they came in for about 24 hours," he says. "Some were funny, some ridiculous, and some threatening. We didn't start publicly discussing it until our colleagues from around the country who are also Shakespeare in the Park producers had similar activity. We replied to all of them in a civil tone letting them know that they had incorrectly identified us and that we were the wrong company."

He says that the emails "gave some pause and concern," but then they realized people were just Googling 'Shakespeare in the Park' and their website was coming up.

"We support our colleagues in New York and feel that the vitriol directed towards us even in mistake is completely unwarranted," he says. "It's shocking and dismaying that so much hate is so freely directed towards anyone, especially when it's clear that these people haven't done any research on the topic they're so incensed about."

Perhaps not coincidentally, Shakespeare Dallas' June 17 performance of Merry Wives drew a crowd of 350, and that was for a preview event. "That's unprecedented," says company spokesperson Jennifer Green.