Black Shakespeare(ans) Database

John Douglas Thompson

Artist Profile by Gideon McCarthy


John Douglas Thompson came to acting in his late 20s, when he auditioned for and was enrolled in the Trinity Repertory Conservatory in Providence, Rhode Island. He first received notice for his work in the New England theater scene, working at institutions such as the American Repertory Theater and Shakespeare and Company. Notably, he gave a performance of Othello at the Trinity Repertory Company after attending their conservatory.

He attained success in New York in the early 21st Century, quickly becoming one of the foremost classical theater actors in the world. He made his Broadway debut as Flavius in a production of Julius Caesar starring Denzel Washington. He won a Lucille Lortel Award and an Obie Award for a 2009 performance of Othello. He played Joe Mott in The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2012.

He delivered a much-acclaimed performance in 2014 for his performance in the one-man show Satchmo at the Waldorf, receiving a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for the performance. He reprised his role in The Iceman Cometh in New York in 2015, receiving a second Obie Award for the production in conjunction with the titular role in Tamburlaine, Parts I and II

In 2017, Thompson received a Tony Nomination and a Drama Desk nomination for his performance as Jim Becker in August Wilson’s Jitney. That summer, he starred as Cassius in Shakespeare in the Park’s much-discussed production of Julius Caesar, receiving a Drama League Award nomination for the performance.

Thompson has appeared in numerous on-screen productions such as Michael Clayton, The Bourne Legacy, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, 21 Bridges, and Mare of Easttown.

Full Interview Transcript


McCarthy:  So I think that, so I was going to ask a question that I’ll try to ask in some form, I was gonna ask about sort of, when you start crafting a part, the way that a production sort of is adding its own cultural reflection, I was going to think a little bit about, you know, the production of Caesar that we did, which is, I think, sort of unique, in how specific, the like, it’s like responding to a completely-

Thompson:  A specific human moment. 

McCarthy:  And I think that and so I was gonna sort of ask, like, when you’re involved in production that does sort of center itself in such a specific cultural moment like that, how does that affect your preparation or how you conceive of a part? But I guess I wonder, too, like, maybe that’s actually just the wrong question to be asking. And, and every production that’s worth its salt sort of should be doing that. So I guess I’m just sort of wondering, when you approach it, or yeah, basically, is my question bad?

Thompson:  It’s, it’s a very valid question. On one hand, it was a general approach. And sometimes when something is that specific, the production that we worked on with Julius Caesar, sometimes there’s a shift in the approach, but it’s still ultimately, the same thing. The idea that I’ve always wanted to get across to people is that the play happens in the room, like a director’s job is to say, “Hey, I want to do this play, I’ve cast this play. Here’s some of the ideas. This is the archi- this is the architecture of my idea, and how I want to see it played out. This is what I think the scenes can be about. Here’s the set, here’s the costume.” So you have these kinds of what do you call them? Things that are pretty much these parameters that have already been set, before you even get to rehearsal. So the actor’s job is essentially to then create with- within those parameters, if you will. But those parameters are all explored, or whatever the actor is going to do is going to all be explored in the room with other actors, right? So the play what I mean by the play happens in the room, I mean that. Because the play doesn’t happen in your shower, because you came up with some great idea about what a character is going to do, because it may have nothing to do with the people that you’re playing with.

McCarthy:  Right. 

Thompson:  The approach that I’ve always taken is letting what happens in the room inform me, and so I’ll give you a good case in point, particularly Julius Caesar, you know, the whole thing where I started to run around with it with the with the pink hat. 

McCarthy:  Yes, yes. 

Thompson:  Which is that was an idea. But then it was supported by what was happening in the room because Oskar [Eustis], the director, wanted, my character, as Cassius, he’s kind of like, rousing people up running around the town, rousing people up, you know about this storm and what’s going on, because you know, revolution is coming, change is coming, and you can feel it in the air, nature is representing it. And I’m trying to get that message across. And what better way so as we’re doing it in the room, I was like, Oh, I could be running around with a pink hat. And that is a cultural symbol to something that’s happening in our culture right now. So that will work in the play, and it will work outside of the play, particularly for the audience. So that was just something that happened from working in the room. Other choices of, I remember, as Cassius, I would walk over the body of Julius Caesar, because that was Cassius trying to make the statement that like “This man means nothing to me, he should have always been at my feet. This is how I should be encountering Caesar, walking over him as I’m going to the next thing.” That came from being in the room, the position of Caesar’s body, what we all went through in the process of trying to take Caesar out and how Cassius felt in that moment with all the other conspirators and trying to pull Brutus aside to have a conversation. Brutus was on one side of the body. I was on the other side of the body. I’m not going to walk around Julius Caesar, not in that moment. I’m going to step over his body. Now, another actor may have made another choice that happened in the room and walked around the body. But my choice was to walk over. It was a quick, a) it was my statement. And b) it was the quickest way to get to Brutus. 

McCarthy:  Right. Right. 

Thompson:  He was like five feet away from me. Why should I walk around? So things happen in a room, all the stuff that happened with Mark Antony, and all the citizens. How Mark Antony, how how beautifully Elizabeth, Elizabeth Marvel took advantage of the citizens, a lot of stuff happened in the room. And what happens in the room then becomes the play. Shakespeare’s words are then just guideposts in a sense, because you’re building the play out of community. So that’s what I started to see change, at least for me, and helped me create character better, because then my character is created off of what’s happening in the community. I have some guidelines, okay? Cassius is a hothead. He’s a hothead, he’s fiery, okay, I get those ideas, how do I bring that into a community of people, I just can’t do it for the sake of doing that, because it’s suggested that I’m fiery, I have to get that from the community, they have to, they have to give me that they have to give me that level of respect of who they believe Cassius is to them so that I can then play in that world. So, I’m, my job of creating character, and the way in which I create character, the homework that I’ll do is fairly academic at first, then it goes into memorization. But that doesn’t even start until I’m working with a community of actors, building the play. And as I’m building the play, what happens is, my imagination gets tapped, right, and you start to imagine things in this world, that you’re building with this community. So the only thing I do prior to working with community on building a play, is doing some academic work on comparing text, comparing analysis, reading about the play, reading about the character, maybe studying some other productions that may have happened, not too much, just a little bit. And that’s what I bring into the first day of rehearsal, then the first day of rehearsal is just working with the community of actors, meeting all these new faces, listening to their new voices, what they think about the text, how they interpret, what their intonation is, what their perceptions are, and then I just play off of that. So my character is essentially an amalgamation of all the other people that I’m working with in that community. 

McCarthy:  No, I love that. 

Thompson:  Because too much too much prescribing, and this is what I’ve learned over time. And this happens too, with productions, people prescribe it. “This is going to be this because this is what I think the play means.” And then you get in a room with people, and they’re doing something else. And the director doesn’t let that process go, the director’s like “No, you know, we can’t do that. We have to do this, what I prescribed the play is about,” whereas you’re much better off letting the play happen in the room and saying, you know what, all this shit that I prescribed about the play really doesn’t make any sense with this group of people. So forget that. We’ll build something new. 

McCarthy:  Right, no, completely. Just, just the last thing you said about sort of like the tyrannical director who can’t let go their own idea? Yeah. It made me think a lot about this. this. You know, we watched a video, a taping of Keith Hamilton Cobb’s play American Moor    with 

Thompson:  Oh, yeah, I saw. I know, Keith. 

McCarthy:  Yeah. Which I just thought is like, so fascinating. And so profound. So I guess, just your last comment makes me think of sort of two questions we can tackle together or sort of one after the other, which are like, sort of when you get into a room with a director who thinks they know everything, and doesn’t, how does that, you know, how do you approach that? And then also, I guess I’m wondering how that intersects with this question of representation. Because I was looking at the book, I was looking at Shakespeare in Sable. And I just leafed through for a couple of seconds. And I saw these three pictures of Ira Aldridge as Othello, as Aaron, and as King Lear.

Thompson:  As King Lear, yeah.

McCarthy:  And I think that and those are all three pictures I’d seen before. But seeing them sort of in such close proximity to each other, was really interesting to me, and makes me think about sort of, I guess, how this notion of representation interacts with some of Shakespeare’s plays that sort of are built upon difference. There’s obviously some that are built on gender difference, particularly those that are built upon racial difference, I think, I guess I’m wondering kind of about your own experience, but also sort of when you look forward and into the next 20 years of creating the American Shakespeare, how, and again, you don’t need to, I’m not looking for a manifesto but I am curious, just sort of, when you think about those plays, such as such as Titus or Othello, sort of, you know, what do we do with those in a more representative world where community is the focus, and it’s sort of built on building up? Yeah, it’s about building up and not just a director sitting there being like you two hate each other because of your racial differences.

Thompson:  Right, right. I mean, I’ve had to tackle the first question, you know, the whole thing with American Moor that Keith Hamilton, did, you know what, what it so clearly did for those people that really wanted to see it, and listen, and really take it in and be open to what Keith was actually exploring on stage was this idea of, you could almost take the race- well, obviously, it was a race thing, because it was a white director and a black actor, and a white director trying to tell this black actor how to be black, if you will, to where what should have just happened is that director should just accept what that actor’s actually working on and not deal with it in racial terms, but deal with it in emotional terms, here’s an emotion that is a universal emotion, not just an emotion that comes from a black person, or, or is segregated to a black emotion, there’s segregated white emotions. No, we have the same emotions. But so let’s, let’s explore that emotion, as opposed to this director saying, I think I know what this is. And I’m going to tell you how to be a better you how to explore this aspect, this black aspect, I’m going to tell you how to do that, from my white perspective, my white gaze, if you will. So obviously, that was a mistake. You look at a director like that and say, well, that director should just be more open to the dramatic, dramatic scenes.

Editor’s Note  [Here Mr. Thompson received a phone call. We pick up after the break]

Thompson:  He was being discriminatory. 

McCarthy:  Yeah.

Thompson:  In a way that didn’t have a lot to do with the play, and obviously, something like that would really upset an actor. I remember, I always felt, and I don’t know if I told you this before, but sometimes for that particular play, one of the better people to have directed os a woman. Whether that woman is white or Black. To me, it doesn’t necessarily matter. But that’s the way to go. Because if you have a white male director, which is typically what happens, is that white male, is, for the most part, not really going to understand the character of Othello, but will really understand the character of Iago.

McCarthy:  Yes.

Thompson:  Because it becomes so attractive and engaging. And so there’s more directing into that, than there is into the role of Othello, that creates this imbalance where whoever the actor is playing Othello just doesn’t feel taken care of, doesn’t feel supported. And those kinds of plays, where you’re, you’re asking an actor to, to live in an emotional state, and in a very high stakes emotional state, you got to take care of that actor and help that actor achieve that level of performance without having that actor feel like they’re not being treated well. I mean, you know, the racial thing aside, you get a situation like that, then the black or brown actor, playing Othello, can easily turn that into a racial situation. The director is presenting it as a racial issue, and then you start to feel as if “Wow, he’s disrespecting me, and it is a racial thing.” And then how does the actor playing Othello maintain a level of performance throughout the course of a run, it just becomes, becomes very difficult. And that’s a real thing, that many actors who play Othello have to deal with on the emotional side that they will not even talk to their director about, or most people won’t even know about, if you ask them and I know this, because I’ve asked some. And I’ve had that feeling too like “Wow, you know, I just feel like the director is looking right through me, considers me of value and is not helping me find these moments in the play and is directing me much towards ‘just be angry, just be emotional, just roar essentially, just be a big bear or ape,'” you know what I mean? That’s, that’s kind of the direction you feel they’re giving you while meanwhile, they’re talking to Iago in ways that are very specific and very engaging and very collaborative, allowing the Iago character to establish a better performance. And then that becomes another level of racial discrimination.

McCarthy:  Right.

Thompson:  And then audiences are watching this thing play out on many different levels, And they walk away and say, “Why is the play called Othello?”

McCarthy:  Right.

Thompson:  You know that especially And then the guy who played Othello hears that and you know, goes home and cries, I mean, it just, it can be very, very difficult, particularly in that production. Now, once again, I will go back to the idea of if directors can just look at these plays and say, “Okay, here are the themes. Let’s see how all this works out. Once we’re all in a room working on this.” You know, I think the director’s job is just to cast the play well. And I think the idea, some directors really understand diversity matters, representation matters. It helps the play and it helps the communities that we’re doing these plays for, because if the community can’t see themselves in the play, why are they there? What is your purpose to say “We’re going to tell this story from a white gaze, and we think it’s so important that everyone else out there to watch it.” People are just gonna say which is what has happened, right? Yes, is why some people have given up on Shakespeare because they say, “Well, it has nothing to offer. It’s elitist. It’s, I’m not, I’m not in it. So why should I go see it? Why should I pay money to see it?” You know what I mean? So I’ve been through that before. So this idea of shaking Shakespeare and shaking this, this cage and rattling it and saying, “Okay, we’re going to do things really differently, and Shakespeare can handle it. And we’re going to be a diverse company with a diverse production and see how that works.” That’s exciting, you know what I mean? So hopefully I kind of answered the two, Othello‘s very particular, Othello, you got these four plays about outsiders, right? You got Othello, Tempest, Caliban. Titus Andronicus I believe that’s it, with Aaron. 

McCarthy:  Yep. 

Thompson:  And then, and some people forget this, but it’s also on the list, Shylock, in Merchant of Venice. And, you know, there’s so much that we can understand about the role of the outsider in our society, how the outsider responds to us how we respond to the outsider, and how both of our responses to each other create a level of tension. And there’s something to be learned from these plays, and perhaps maybe a different route to take, can we be open to the outsider? Can the outsider be open to us? How do we establish a better relationship, as opposed to an antagonistic one, which ends in some level of sorrow? Right? Othello dies. Caliban, well at least Caliban gets his Island back. But he goes through a lot of shit. 

McCarthy:  Yes, right. Completely.

Thompson:  Aaron, he gets killed doesn’t he? They kill him, they kill him. And Shylock has to convert which may as well have been “You killed me”, right? You know what I mean? So there’s something Shakespeare saying in these plays about maybe what not to do. 

McCarthy:  Right, right. No, yeah, I think I think that’s a really interesting way of looking at it, I think, I think totally rings true in a way of trying to put those four plays off in a way that is not harmful. I guess, again, I don’t want to, I don’t want to give away I don’t want to give away any trade secrets, or give away any spoilers. But I know you mentioned that you’re going into production on The Tempest, soon-ish. I guess I’m wondering how sort of, and maybe this is not something that you as an actor are doing as you’re creating the role of Prospero, but when you start to think about this play as sort of an outsider play, and still trying to create, you know, this sense of community in the room, and build on these ideals and ideas of representation. I guess, sort of, you know, for you as an actor, and for you as now sort of like a veteran actor and an actor with like a long and storied career, who is like one of the leaders in the room, how do you go about creating an environment that makes these outsider plays productive, and, you know, a healing experience rather than one that leads to anybody feeling sort of, you know, neglected, and also leads to a prod- but nevertheless, leads to a production that takes these themes seriously and engages with them effectively.

Thompson:  I mean, I think it’s, rather simple in the sense of just going and going about, and doing the work. I mean, I feel that a play like The Tempest, coming out of COVID, coming out of this racial upheaval that we experienced, and will continue to experience, coming out of this understanding that something like COVID, laid bare the disparities in all of our institutions, from housing, to banking, to politics, to economics, to you name it, it touches, we see the inequality in everywhere we look in human systems, right? So there’s something that this play can say about, about the healing, and about redemption, and about coming out of this period of time, and trying to create a new path where we don’t leave people behind, where we don’t neglect people, where we have to look at and say, “You know what, our society is only as strong as the weakest member.” And if we can’t allow the weakest members to become strong, or build up strength, then our society is shit. It’s all shit. And I think that’s some of the things that we’re kind of learning as we’ve been able to look at all this disparity, but for me, the idea of rep- and representation is one of those things, because then that’s a way of saying, “Yeah, we’re going to give everybody opportunities here, everybody is going to get an opportunity to do things that they want to do because they deserve it.” And when we do that in production, and we show that to an audience, hopefully there’s an understanding level that diversity and representation matters. Equality Matters. I mean, these things are really important. So, for me when I’m in rehearsal it’s really just plowing the ideas that Shakespeare has given us to plow. I mean, they’re all humanist ideas. There’s nothing for Martians in these plays, you know what I mean, they’re all about where we are as a society now. I was just talking on a Zoom call earlier, Shakespeare’s plays always meet the zeitgeist, they always meet the culture, wherever it’s at. So there’s always stuff to do. And to acknowledge and resonate with where you are living today, it will come through in the play, almost without us forcing it. We don’t need to be, we don’t need to prescribe those ideas, we don’t need to hit these things over the head with a hammer, we just need to be present in our normal lives, and bring what this year has done to us or for us, bring that with us in our work. And I think a lot of that is going to happen without us trying to make that happen, you know what I mean? We are who we are, whenever I approach a character, or rehearsal, I don’t change who I actually, functionally am at my basic level, I am the same person. Once again, all I’m doing is playing off of the community that I’m with, which will help me shape my character. It’s going to come- my character to you right now you’re asking me questions, I’m giving you answers. And so that’s the relationship we’ve established in this room, which is my apartment. Right? 

McCarthy:  Right. 

Thompson:  When you go out into the street, it could be a whole different relationship. And so then we’re going to take our cues from that the actor does the same thing. I take my cues from other people, if ever, I don’t know what my character is supposed to do, I can see it in my other actors who are on stage with me, right? Just make it about them. I was always taught as an actor to make my scene about the other person. That way I can take it all off of me and feed on their reactions. And then that is my character. 

McCarthy:  Right? Yeah, I feel like, I feel like it’s gonna be hard to find a sort of more profound closing note than that, I just think there’s something so not just like, not just informative, but like illustrative in terms of paving a way forward. And so I guess, I guess, I want to phrase this in a way that’s not like, “What advice would you give?” but I’m gonna do that anyway. And hopefully, you can sort of pick up the slack on my sort of lame question. But sort of as we look forward into the next generation, because I really do think that sort of the post COVID world and the return of theater to that environment is going to be sort of massive. And a lot is going to change, I think both from-

Thompson:  I certainly hope so.

McCarthy:  Both socially, and also just in terms of like artistically, I think a lot is going to sort of, I think there’s going to be a lot of maybe rectifying old wrongs, but also just forging new paths. 

Thompson:  Forging new paths, yeah.

McCarthy:  And so I guess I’m wondering, sort of, like, you know, I wish I could have speed read these articles before I asked this question, but sort of, in thinking about the next 20, 30, even 10 years of, of Black Shakespeare and sort of how Shakespeare sort of decolonizing Shakespeare and taking it out of this strictly like, you know, entitled white people’s hands. What for you, like, does that look like? And also, what are some steps that you feel like, what are some things that you would just like love to see happen? And some, some things, some changes we would love to see get made?

Thompson:  Well, I’d certainly like to see, you know, some all-Black productions of Shakespeare for sure. I mean, we’ve often seen all-white productions of Shakespeare. I mean, the majority of productions that we’ve seen, have been predominantly all white productions. I mean, what Oskar has done to the Public, which the Public had started, was really fortunate. These incredibly diverse productions of the classics, right? I mean, they lead the country in that, you know, where were you going to see your first Black King Lear? Well, James Earl Jones, did you know in the early 80s, I believe it was, they did that for the Public. You know, where were you going to see your first Black Richard III? Well, Denzel Washington did that at the Public, you know what I mean? So that’s where I became familiar with the notion of, you could be a king too right? 

McCarthy:  Right. 

Thompson:  You could be king too. He’s King, you could be king too. Because there’s a lot that happens just in the transference of seeing something. Because if you see it, then you can kind of like be it if you will, very simply. So I’d like to see some all-Black productions. I’d love to see, you know, an all-Black production of Merchant of Venice, you know, because that deals with Antisemitism as well as racism. So I think there’s something really unique to be found in an all-Black production of that. And you know, some people say, “Well, there are no black Jews,” which is ridiculous statement. 

McCarthy:  Yeah, of course.

Thompson:  There are a lot, there are a lot of black, um, Orthodox Jews, certainly smaller numbers than whites, but they exist and they’re out there. So why not have a play that encompasses that particular world. And I’m sure those black Jews live in a situation where there could be some racism from white Jews against them, you know what I mean? So there’s something really right there. And once again, Shakespeare meets us wherever we’re at. So I’d love to see that I’d love to see a really, really multigenerational incredibly diverse production of King Lear. Because that is one of the plays that can be so multi-generational, right, the young, the middle, and the old. I would love to see, like an all-Black Comedy of Errors. Because I find that play so funny, and so interesting with the twins,

McCarthy:  Right.

Thompson:  And all that sort of stuff, you know what I mean? But yet, I’d also like to see some just productions that are diverse, and I want to see more LGBTQ, represented as leads as principals, I want to see more females playing what we would call traditional male roles. I just want to see us mix up Shakespeare, I want to see all female productions, I want to see us mix it up so that we can get the point out that this is for everybody. Shakespeare is truly everyone’s playwright. And I think moreso than any other playwright, Shakespeare is the world’s playwright. Because so much can be done with his plays by all the citizens of the world. So this whole idea that it only exists with white males, or through the perspective of white gaze just needs to be moved away, and other people need to be the center. Other people need to be centered in these plays. LGBTQ, as I said, need to be centered in these plays. Black and Brown bodies need to be centered in these plays. Females need to be centered in these plays. And they’re, these are the only place where we can truly center every other, every kind of person in, other plays can’t handle it. They’re not pliable. They’re not flexible, and they will break if you do something like that. But Shakespeare will only expand.

McCarthy:  Yeah, I love this notion of pliability. Because I think so often when we think about, you know, like, allowing for and creating more diverse productions of Shakespeare, I think there’s this notion of like, you know, we’re like, we’re asking the play to change and like, right, it’s like a pos-, but it’s like a positive change socially. But I think this notion of like, No, no, like, actually, like, it’s actually all there and not, not doing the diverse thing is, actually restricting. 

Thompson:  Is actually restricting, absolutely. And then the idea has to be, there has to be this kind of sharing a power in order for us to kind of move forward because it can’t be tit for tat, it can’t be, “These are my marbles and you can’t have that.” It has to be “Here are my marbles. Let’s share these things, you know, let’s, you can have some I’ve got some, let’s do this thing together.” Because if we don’t, we’re just going to continually have these antagonistic productions, or feelings or emotions, where you have people sitting on the fucking sidelines, who need to be in the game. You know what I mean? So Shakespeare is this game that everybody can play. But we’ve only seen it played by certain groups of people. And that’s the thing that hasn’t been fair. And that’s why sometimes Shakespeare doesn’t get across to everybody. Because people can’t see themselves in it. Trust me. If you go to a play and you can’t see yourself in it, there’s no need to be there. Just just get up and go. There’s no there’s not much you’re going to learn. Because you’re going to learn what you’re going to learn is that you are not centered and you are not valued. And who wants to learn that? What is that? What does that teach you? It just makes you antagonistic. Very angry, very upset, recalcitrant, and then you won’t go back to see any play, let alone a play that is concerning you. It’s just like “I give up on that.”

McCarthy:  Right. Yeah. I think. Yeah, I think this notion of needing to see oneself is you know, something that I think again, in a lot of these, like, primarily white academic spaces is just like not even considered because either a, it’s like a given that you’re going to see yourself or you could, you know, know the play had this sort of, like, vague or like, abstract like, aesthetic quality, but I think that that challenging that feels really essential to me, and- 

Thompson:  Yeah, and I think that’s what directors are going to do. That’s what institutions are going to do. I think that’s what actors like myself, we’re going to push institutions to move in in that direction. Because that feels right. There’s something about it that we know is right. When representation matters, agency matters, accountability matters. And at the end of the day, I don’t want to be that we’re working with that institution that can’t really point to examples of diversity and representation in their play schedule. And particularly for Shakespeare. And so this is, this is the level of work that we put on, which is for our community, because our community looks like this. And we want to, we are the reflection, you know, Shakespeare’s plays are this mirror, if you will, we keep saying it’s this mirror, to ourselves, but yet, half the people can’t see themselves in that mirror like, so what the fuck is that? That’s all lies, bullshit. And so it’s really about, are those people that have the power to make those choices to open up the aperture, so that there can be more than one thing in the center of the frame and this picture. And the thing that’s in the frame of the center of the frame doesn’t look like them. That they can live with that and say, “That’s okay, that’s fine. Because all the messages I’ve been sending out before all look like me, but yet I live in a very diverse population, and I need to take care of the rest of the people that live in my community, they must see themselves.” I mean, theater can help in that way, right? I mean, you’ve seen a play where something happens on stage that becomes life affirming, or like, wow, that really moves me and made me think in a particular way, or change my mind about something. So these plays can work on all these different levels. They’re just not entertainment you know what I mean? And so I think some of the people in the past who looked at these plays as entertainment and said, “we need to entertain, quote unquote, the masses, and the masses look like this. And so we can’t be diverse, or we can’t have other things that don’t look like this in there, because it’s not gonna appeal to the masses.”

McCarthy:  Right. 

Thompson: And that’s just that’s, that’s a, that’s a choice that was made. I’m just saying it’s a choice that absolutely is antiquated and no longer needs to be made. We have to move as far away from that as possible. And the great thing about Shakespeare is it gives us the canvas to do it in. There aren’t other works like Shakespeare that is going to allow us to like move into the future with diversity and representation, and agency and accountability as far as a playwright because his plays are so universal. And I said, as I’ve said repeatedly in this conversation, they can handle so much.

McCarthy:  Right? Yeah, I’m now just so fascinated to see where where this conversation sits in the next 15 years? Because I feel like there’s so much Oh, it’s just like on the precipice, in a way.

Thompson:  Yeah. I think you’re gonna see some really, you know, some interesting productions, I think there’s going to be some blowback there, there are going to be those leaders who say, “Well, we tried it, and it didn’t work.” And you know, and those kinds of leaders are not true leaders, because they’re just actually trying to push a very small narrative. I think there are going to be some pains moving forward as there should, because growth kind of creates that, growth and change create that. But on the flip side of that, the positive aspects that it creates far outweigh the negative, you know, and I just hope to be on the cusp of that of these very diverse, multiracial, multigenerational, multiracial productions. You know, that I can have posters up on my wall. So yeah, I was in that. I was in that wonderful production. I mean, I’m so proud of the Julius Caesar that we did.

McCarthy:  Yeah.

Thompson:  And that was a very, very cultural production. And people still talk about that. And I really feel proud. Like, I was in that that was really a cultural thing. Not only in the city, but you know, at the time in this country, and I was a part of that, you know what I mean? And, and the play was better for the diversity that was represented on that stage to New York City. There was like a magical,

McCarthy:  Yeah.

Thompson:  Tension-filled, scary time, but plays can that a play can have that effect on society that was the goal, right?

McCarthy:  Yeah. I think just one moment that I think so completely, encapsulates what you’re saying and I think really like shows the like obscenity of trying to do anything different is like that moment. After I guess it’s III.ii, the scene after Caesar’s death, the big forum scene, like I’m just imagining – because I remember how much energy coursed through that theater especially you know, towards the end of the production when things started to kick off and you, that our other 50 cast members 

Thompson:  Oh, yes yes. 

McCarthy:  But I’m just imagining, like, imagine if it was like 26 white people and 50 white audience members, like “What the fuck is going on?” Like, you’re like, “Oh, it’s like all white guys were like getting up in their seats?” I mean, that would have probably been actually the exact opposite message. 

Thompson:  Yeah, yeah, of course!

McCarthy:  But I think it’s just like, how can you capture the spirit of that time? Or just the city more generally, if you don’t have

Thompson:  If you don’t have the diversity. Or even actually, I would even go so far as how do you capture the spirit of the play? I think what Oskar did was, because I’ve never seen that done before with you know, with the audience. You just, because I’ve always seen, you know, for people with placards. 

McCarthy:  Yep. 

Thompson:  And listen, that gets the point across. But Oskar just exploded that so that we really understood it. And then to have them present in the audience. 

McCarthy:  Yeah. No, completely. 

You know, and and how diverse that group of people was, because what is the, what is the city but the people, right? And I think productions need to be like, in one way, say “What is our production but the people?”

McCarthy: Hm, yeah.

Thompson:  “And if our production’s not going to look like the people who are asking to come to them, then we haven’t quite done the production. So what is our production but the people?” That’s, that’s my what is our production but the people? 

McCarthy:  No, I love that. Put that on every Playbill-

Thompson:  And what is our production? What are our productions, but the people?

McCarthy:  Every artistic director’s office. Just write that on the wall.

Thompson:  Yes, on the door, soon as you walk in, what is our production, but the people, but I think that you know, that’s where where we are moving, you know, ever so slowly, in some places by leaps and bounds in some places, granules of sand, but we are, I think the message is getting there to say, let’s open this baby up. Let’s open it up, and see how high it can fly.

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