Cast members pull off challenging ‘Julius Caesar’ production

November 27, 2018 — by Marisa Kingsley and Jessica Wang

“Caesar, now be still: I kill'd not thee with half so good a will,” senior Shasta Ganti, playing senator Marcus Brutus, recited after acting out Brutus’ suicide during the Nov. 10 performance of the fall play, “Julius Caesar.” The production opened on Nov. 10 in the McAfee Center, with 210 people attending opening night and had its final performance on Nov. 17.

Drama teacher Sarah Thermond, who directed the production, said audiences responded well to the material, despite the challenges of grasping Shakespearean English.

She explained that there will always be varying levels of understanding among audience members, but the action employed by the characters helped enhance comprehension.

“Our production was action packed enough that even if someone wasn’t positive what one line meant, or what a relationship [between characters] was, the audience could understand it enough to follow the story and what was going on,” Thermond said. “[They could understand] what people were against each other and things like that.”

Yet with a language-heavy show like “Julius Caesar,” actors can become susceptible to inadequate vocal technique. The students must focus on their volume, annunciation and pace.

Thermond said she was proud of how the cast stepped up to the challenges of “Caesar.”

“I think with the pressure of performing in front of an audience, there will always be one section of the show that gets a little sloppier than it should be,” Thermond said. “But we’re doing a full-length Shakespearean tragedy — it’s kind of a new territory.”

Despite the challenges present in each performance, the students were able to put on a production that was able to convey the importance of the narrative — how rhetoric and speech can shape the perception of the truth.

“Julius Caesar” is also studied in multiple English 10 classes. To English 10 and 11 Honors teacher Amy Keys, the most valuable lesson she presents to her students when teaching the play is the use of language in manipulation.

“I think understanding manipulation is extremely valuable, way beyond Shakespeare,” Keys said. “It’s in every turn of life, especially the in times that we live in now: understanding what people are saying and how they say it.”

Keys sees the pacing of the story as the most difficult aspect. If the actors fall victim to off-kilter pacing, the show can become boring.

Yet, when Keys went to see the drama production’s interpretation, she was impressed by the overall pacing and the engaging performances.

“After each scene, you had a good sense of their character and what they were saying,” Keys said. “I thought many who hadn’t read the play would understand what was happening.”

Contrary to its title, the play centers on the character Brutus, a senator of the Roman Republic, and his crucial role in the assassination of dictator Julius Caesar and its aftermath. Thermond said she hopes that both students and audience members realize that the play twists the rigid dichotomy of good and evil — a recurring concept in Shakespearean tragedies.

For example, Shakespeare offers justification for Brutus’s role in the murder of Caesar: Brutus’ loyalty to Rome is greater than his loyalty to Caesar, the “noblest Roman of them all,” as described by consul Marc Antony in the play.

“I think we avoided doing what a lot of productions do in terms of deciding if Caesar is really dangerous. Or deciding if Cassius is really a complete liar. Deciding if Marc Antony is wrong to do what he does, or if he’s acting out of sincere hurt from his friend’s death,” Thermond said. “I feel like our version is pretty sympathetic toward everybody.”

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