Theatre Students Present a Classic, with a Twist

“Lights up!” Stage manager Jennifer Silver ’14 shouts.

The actors rush into center stage from four sides of the Greathouse Theatre with cries of “Hail Caesar!”

(From left) Stage manager Jennifer Silver '14 helps Joshua Heinlein '14 and Katie McPherson '15 rehearse their lines."
(From left) Stage manager Jennifer Silver '14 helps Joshua Heinlein '14 and Katie McPherson '15 rehearse their lines.

“Hence! Home, you idle creatures; get you home!” shouts senior Joshua Heinlein, playing Flavius. “Is this a holiday? What! Know you not, being mechanical, you ought not walk upon a labouring day without the sign of your profession? Speak, what trade art thou?”

It sounds traditional, and to the casual observer, it looks like a run-of-the mill Shakespeare rehearsal, but theater professor Jeff Day’s upcoming production of “Julius Caesar” has some unexpected twists: it’s set in Cuba, and guerrilla warfare is being waged with guns.

Inspired by previous performances from the Royal Shakespeare Company, Day decided to update the setting of Asbury’s Fall theatre production (7:30 p.m. on Nov. 14-16 and 21-23) in order to make the conflict more relevant to a modern audience.

“It’s been set to guerilla warfare,” Day said. “The concept it of it sort of came from Cuba, when Fidel Castro took over, the falling of one person and the rise of another.”

To heighten the action, the play is being produced “in the round,” with the audience surrounding the stage — an arrangement in which “the audience becomes another cast member in this play.” Day is also taking advantage of the Greathouse Theatre’s sophisticated sound system to produce realistic gunshot and explosion sound effects, all of which contribute to a gritty, relatable portrayal of war. Due to the high action and loud explosions, the play is intended for audience members 13 and older.

Though the setting of the play is updated, the language is unchanged. Day says that the play’s themes resonate with every audience.

“Friendship, betrayal, misuse of power, the fight for freedom — all of these things actually happened in the history of this event,” he said. “We have the conspirators versus the main people in charge, and the whole idea is they were fighting for their freedom, fighting to have a democratic government.”

In order to make the modern-day setting believable, some of the traditionally male characters have been reworked as female characters.

“The girls are not playing men; they’re playing women, but since we’re setting this in the modern day, it’s feasible that women are fighting and leading,” Day said. “I added that element to it to bring it into more relevance for today.”

Senior Shannon Baker, playing Cassius, has been challenged by playing a traditionally male role as a woman.

“There are many points in the dialogue that confirm the gender roles of that time period, so the women playing male roles must compensate through our acting to make sure we portray our characters with just as much authority as the men,” Baker said. “We are lucky in that, by modernizing the setting, it will be much easier for the audience to accept this co-authoritative world because it is a modern norm.”

While the updated setting is interesting and innovative, Baker’s favorite part of the production has been the Shakespearian language. This came as a surprise to her, because she didn’t really like Shakespeare before.

“We've been very fortunate to have a Shakespearian dramaturg, Dr. Jack Wann, who has helped us all immensely by breaking down what our lines really mean and giving us historical context to make sure we know exactly what we are saying and why we are saying it,” Baker said. “Every word Shakespeare wrote is purposeful and important. It's incredibly beautiful once you understand it!”

Revisiting Shakespeare is essential for modern understanding, Jeff Day says, noting that Shakespeare himself made his plays relevant to the audience.

“It lends itself to revisiting because it’s truth — there’s nothing new under the sun and we’re dealing with the same things we always have,” Day said. “The biggest plus of it is that, academically, Shakespeare is the best material we have. It’s absolutely necessary in an acting program.”

The show will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 14-16 and 21-23. Tickets are $7 and are can be reserved by email (boxoffice@asbury.edu) or phone at (859) 858-3511, x3207.

--Joel Sams '15