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"To Hold a Mirror Up to Rupture" - Theatre Arts in the Reign of Populism

By: Terri Bourus  

In the Fall of 2016, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre staged "Tug of War: Civil Strife", based on Shakespeare's Henry IV, 2 and 3 and Richard III. The character of Jack Cade was clearly a parody of Donald Trump--a Ringmaster with all the dark undertones of the carnival barker and all the finesse of a flamboyant game-show host. In the Spring of 2019, I saw another Shakespeare character interpreted as a Trump-type in the Goodman Theatre's "The Winter's Tale", where director Robert Falls, envisioned Leontes as a misogynistic, narcissistic, viciously cruel dictator, demanding absolute loyalty from his family and his court. The audiences at both stagings could not help but be acutely aware of who was in the person of the character on the stage. Two major Chicago theatres were using their stages, as stages have always been used, to promote, not only their interpretations of the plays' relevance to today but to reach in the most intimate ways possible, the people in the seats. But whereas Irish audiences rioted in response to "Playboy of the Western World" and "The Plough and the Stars", and French audiences rioted in response to "Coriolanus", these theatrically powerful acts of resistance to Trumpism had no discernible effect. Why not?

Theatre, Politics, Trump, Brexit, Audiences, Democracy, Populism, Audience, Voting
2020 Special Focus - Against the Grain: Arts and the Crisis of Democracy
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session



Terri Bourus

Professor, Theatre, Florida State University, United States
United States

Terri Bourus is a Professor of Theatre and English at Florida State University where she teaches English and Irish Drama in performance and on the page. She is one of four General Editors of the four-part New Oxford Shakespeare. Her monograph, Young Shakespeare's Young Hamlet, delves into the textual and staging quandaries of the First Quarto of Hamlet. Bourus has published on Shakespeare's stage directions, the performance of religious conversion, Shakespeare and Fletcher's Cardenio, the role of Alice in Arden of Faversham, and Middleton's female roles, to name a few. She is an award-winning teacher, equity actor, and director.