Shakespeare in the Park (managed by The Public Theater) is a New York City institution, providing free performances of the Bard in Central Park for decades. Not quite as long-lived (but still nothing to sneeze at) are some of its partnerships with corporate sponsors. Delta Air Lines has supported it for four years; Bank of America, for 11. Both have now pulled their funding from a new production of Julius Caesar. The reason? The title character and his wife are staged as strikingly similar to President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump.
Although much art is meant to provoke discussion, and one could fill several pages comparing and contrasting Trump with Caesar (countless college essays on that topic are no doubt being written at this moment), it's that Act 3, Scene 1 that's probably the issue. Enacting the assassination of a deeply controversial president on a prominent stage crosses a line. This raised an outcry from Fox News, Donald Trump Jr. and the president's supporters. Delta quickly made a decision to cut ties: "Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste. We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of the Public Theater effective immediately," Delta said.
Bank of America followed close behind with a statement that it was ending sponsorship of the play (but not of The Public Theater entirely):
We are withdrawing our funding pic.twitter.com/MlaONF82FN
— Bank of America News (@BofA_News) June 12, 2017
Does it matter that, in the play, the assassination turns out to have been a terrible idea for the assassins and indeed for the Republic? Smart PR people immediately know the answer is no. The optics of a moment will almost always trump (ahem) matters of nuance and analysis, and as we saw recently in the case of Kathy Griffin, visualizing violence against a sitting president is seldom considered acceptable—and there's a good chance that your brand doesn't belong anywhere near such displays.
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