Being Caesar

Caesaring it up .jpg

Seven weeks ago, I wrote about starting a production of Julius Caesar. It is a couple hours away from the dress rehearsal, which we will have to do in the elementary school gym seeing that our fantastic in-the-round stage is currently being assaulted by Jupiter and Caesar doesn’t mess with umbrellas. It’s time for the second of three entries.

This production has been difficult for a lot of reasons that are endemic to the creative process so I shall pass over them by simply saying that I am tired. The energy it takes to play this character was underestimated greatly by yours truly; as I’ve written about before, I have played a type in my last three productions: Pontious Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar, Judge Danforth in The Crucible, and now Julius Caesar. They all have power; they all are conflicted, but for very different reasons; and while none of the roles are leads, the stories fall apart without them. No matter how good the principles are, if the performances in these parts are poor, the whole production is pulled down. I make no comment on whether I play the role well, I simply comment that this is my experience.

Caesar has been the most difficult, in no small part because I was a Classics minor at Kalamazoo College, and when I finished up at Antioch, I did so through the fantastic World Classics Curriculum, which required more work than many graduate programs. I’ve studied Latin (and Greek, of course), and I’m a junkie for anything about the ancient world. But this production does not seek to be historically accurate–and Shakespeare’s play takes many historical liberties as well–but the character represents Empire as a Platonic Form. He has strengths and weaknesses, loves and hatreds, confidences and insecurities; he is both incredibly vulnerable (I have a seizure both on- and off-stage) and dangerously powerful (it takes a vast, Roman-wing conspiracy to bring me down). He also has relatively little stage time, so it is a great deal to communicate in a short period of time, and I have the added fact of my physical appearance. A Caesar with locs and a long beard? It will be a bridge too far if the performance is lacking.

So I have made some decisions, some I know the director does not necessarily like and some driven by my desire to not play Pilate or Danforth. I have no problem with character types, but I want them to be distinct and distinctive. Some of that is getting out of the way of superior writing; I have been blessed to work with incredible people on incredible shows. I know what I can do and what I cannot do, so my sincere hope is that I have not overestimated my talent or ability to enter into the character. I can say that I will leave it all on the stage; I don’t know if or when I will make back into a show, or if I will be able to work again with the caliber of talent we have in this show (seriously, it is mad sick). I’m gonna give it everything.

Dress rehearsal is when I no longer rehearse the character, I inhabit him. It’s when I commit totally to the world we are creating. Otherwise, why ask people to come watch? If we don’t believe in what we are doing, why should the audience?

Performances are July 14-15, 21-22 at Mills Lawn School. Admission is free. Bring your own chairs or blankets.

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