Julius Caesar was immediately exciting to me for a few different reasons: For one, it was the first (and only) Shakespeare production that I got to be a part of, and it was also the first production where I played characters that actually had names!
This is the third part of a series about the different plays I participated in during high school! You can read parts one and two first if you want, but I’m trying to write each article to stand on its own if you’re really just a big Shakespeare nerd.
Julius Caesar is a history/ tragedy written in around 1599 by William Shakespeare, in which he details the conspiracy to assassinate the titular Roman dictator Julius Caesar, and all of the ensuing aftermath. While Caesar plays an important role, the two most central characters are Brutus, Caesar’s closest friend and murderer, and Mark Antony, another of Caesar’s friends who seeks vengeance on Brutus and his army for Caesar’s death. There’s also a lot of stuff that’s more about power struggles than it is caring either way about Caesar, and Shakespeare certainly sprinkled a healthy powdering of artistic license throughout the whole play (especially with the prophecy and ghost), but that’s the gist.
It was announced very early on that this play would be produced with completely gender-blind auditions, meaning that Caesar could be a lady and that Portia could be a dude. I was so excited for this play that I semi-memorized every single side for every character, male or female. This made me a sort of jack of all trades, but certainly a master of none. This showed when I went to my auditions and said that I had no preference for characters, which led to me not performing some of the characters that I’d prepared for, and not showing any real promise for any single one. And it’s a shame, because I thought I could do an awesome Calpurnia!
Still, it was a big step for me in terms of so-called “important” roles, as my characters actually both had names! In our truncated version (the original can run up to five hours, holy crap), there were two acts. I played Publius, the only one part of Caesar’s senate who doesn’t conspire against (in this case) her, and Volumnius, a buddy of Brutus who refuses to kill him, even at his request.
Even though I wasn’t directly involved with blood packets, I had to slyly hand off a bloody knife to one of the conspirators and take the clean one, ideally creating the illusion that the same knife now had Caesar’s blood. I don’t know if the illusion actually worked for the audience, but it was a nightmare on our end. There was a piece of velcro stuck behind a column, but the other pieces of velcro on the knives would keep getting unstuck and fall to the floor. This happened so much that we eventually just gave up, and I awkwardly ducked down, switched the knife, and then went to cower in the corner.
I didn’t have too much time onstage, and a lot of that time was spent cowering in fear as Caesar was stabbed or being still as a soldier, but the little that I did was important. It’s possible that the emotional breadth I was able to display with both characters might have convinced the directors that I was able to handle larger parts in the future, as we’ll see within the next few articles!
Thanks for reading! I might not have had any stories about ripping my pants, but I hope it was enjoyable to read all the same. But since everyone seems to have an opinion, what camp are you in: Shakespeare lover or hater? Let me know in the comments below!
P.S. HOLY CRAP guys, we’re over 200 articles for “SixTAY Days of Writing” and we’re not even halfway through!! Keep it up!