EXCLUSIVE: Yesterday’s press release promoting New York Classical Theatre’s production of The Rivals, a comedy dating from 1775, promised
“It is not controversy, but comedy. It is not Shakespeare, but Sheridan. It is not Julius Caesar, but The Rivals. There is no Donald Trump, but there are wonderful Equity actors performing this renowned classic. It is free in Central Park like its Delacorte colleagues, but it is a couple of stops further uptown on the C train.”
Director Stephen Burdman tells me, however, that controversy has in fact come to the troupe that’s performing about a mile north of the Delacorte Theater. His 18-year-old company has been receiving threats and denunciations in the wake of the Public Theater’s politically charged production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Burdman is the founder and artistic director of NY Classical Theatre, which promotes itself as “New York’s only all-free off-Broadway theater,”
“This is the spill off,” Burdman, who staged this all-pro production. “We’re supporting our sister classical theater companies. Every theater expects criticism, but we don’t expect attacks. People are Googling Shakespeare in the Park, and we come up on the list even though Shakespeare isn’t in our name.”
Some samples provided by Burdman (asterisks by Deadline; all other spellings original):
Subject: F*ck you!
Date: June 12, 2017 at 6:14:32 AM EDT
Go f*ck yourselves! Every last discusting one of you. I curse every one of you. May you each die a more horrible terrifying death! Rich you all!!!
Date: June 12, 2017 at 7:33:35 AM EDT
How dare you put in that play about Trump F*ck you and hope hell comes to you all who supported this may You be on ISIS list you disgusting scumbags
Subject: Death of Trump
Date: June 12, 2017 at 12:07:09 PM EDT
Hope you mentally ill bastards are defunded out of existence.
“We’re in touch with Shakespeare colleagues all over the country,” Burdman said. “Shakespeare Dallas received over 40 very violent emails, like ‘we’re going to come and rape you.’ And they’re doing Quixote.”
Raphael Parry, the executive & artistic of Shakespeare Dallas told me that in the wake of Julius Caesar coverage on Fox News and National Public Radio, the company began receiving threatening telephone calls and emails. “It began about two days ago,” Parry said. “Some were just telling us ‘I will write to your sponsors to pull your funding,’ or to go to hell. But others said they hoped we’d all be sent to ISIS and killed with real knives.” Parry confirmed the rape threat and said that a board member of the veteran company has been sending the most explicit and threatening emails to the FBI.
Parry said there had been 60-70 of them to date. “The staff is apprehensive,” he said. The season opens tonight with the Shakespeare comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor, with Quixote adding to the mix next week. An off-duty policeman helps with security at the 1,000-seat Samuell Grand Amphitheatre, where the company performs.
“It’s really very scary,” Burdman said. “These are vile. My father who is very conservative called me, to warn me. My bigger concern here is the violence being spewed toward us and the Public. I don’t know what public opinion will be for the arts, whether this has done some serious damage. We provide our artists with health care, and theater for people who can’t afford it. We have tons of young families in the audience.”
The company performs in a pop-up space in the northern part of Central Park, as well as other Manhattan parks, and in Brooklyn. It’s modest $425,000 annual budget includes funding from city, state and federal agencies. “We need the public support,” Burdman said, “for our mission of creating and reinvigorating audiences for live theater.” Their next production is Macbeth.
Supporters of Free Shakespeare in the Park and the production of Julius Caesar are planning a rally tomorrow near the Public Theater’s East Village headquarters. They plan to protest the moves by corporate donors Delta Air Lines and Bank of America. Delta denounced the production and pulled its sponsorship as the nonprofit’s official carrier, while BOA said that none of its money could be used for the production, while maintaining its 11-year commitment to the company. The National Endowment for the Arts also released a statement distancing itself from the production.