COLUMN: Stage of our Nation

By Michael Shutack, Staff Writer

By Michael Shutack, Staff Writer

Julius Caesar was murdered by senators. This past summer, Donald Trump was murdered by… theatre nerds? That’s right. New York’s Public Theatre created a Trump-inspired production of Shakespeare’s historical drama, “Julius Caesar.” This staging of the play quickly became infamous because, of course, it featured an assassination scene of, what I am calling, “Julius Trump.”

While some less educated critics were quick to call the show treacherous and unpatriotic, anyone familiar with Julius Caesar would know that Brutus pays the price after the former ruler’s death. The whole point of the show is that any attempt to save democracy using undemocratic methods is moot and could ultimately lead to its destruction. However, some protesters overlooked this lesson and were hell-bent on fighting the theatre company’s interpretation. Their presence made everything hilariously complicated. The show featured several scenes with actors dressed in black, placed throughout the audience, protesting Caesar. After his death scene, real protesters dressed in black and from the audience started protesting the performance. The police were eventually called and showed up moments before actors dressed as police entered on stage for a scene. This was a classic example of life imitating art imitating life.

I am overjoyed to share that artists are using their craft as a weapon. Already there are original plays performing in New York which address issues such as healthcare, deportation, and “The Wall.” A staged production of the novel “1984” was created to address the outrageous ‘alternative facts’ from the Trump administration.  In Chicago, well-known companies (Second City, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, etc.) are deliberately putting on more defiant productions that feature voices from minorities as part of the resistance. Even better, not-so-well-known companies (comedy clubs, community theatres, college theatre programs, etc.) are taking part in protest performance too.

While it is great to stay current with the news, you’d be surprised by how much you will learn from watching a piece of theatre; from watching our reality applied to fictitious (or historical) situations. Our nation has many lessons to be learned in the years to come and theatre is on the forefront of discovering those lessons.