Following an adventurous five-month process of living and learning with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar we’ve come to our final show. In one sense, it’s a show like any other in that we desire to communicate the truth of the story. On the other hand, our final show carries with it an added sense of anticipation as our last opportunity to share Julius Caesar with our audience in this setting. The Atrium space at the Church of the Transfiguration has been a generous venue lending a timeless and unique voice to the story. Following the show Sunday night the set will be removed and disappear in only a few hours.
We are grateful for all the generosity of everyone involved with the Julius Caesar production. Before the show each night everyone on set gathers together. Between the makeup and hair dressers, musicians, lighting and set crew roughly 60 men and women have helped in the story telling each night. And countless more throughout the preparation have given generously: Nick Sandys choreographing the fight scenes, John Douglas Thompson, Michael Sexton, Louis Colaianni, and Claudia Zelevansky involved in an intensive Shakespeare retreat the week prior to opening night, carpenters and painters creating the set, seamstress and designers creating costumes, and endless creative contributions.
“How many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over, in states unborn and accents yet unknown?”
This was the phrase that was used to introduce the “Acting Shakespeare Retreat” that we had this past week. This retreat provided a time for actors and lovers of Shakespeare to spend a concentrated time immersing themselves in Shakespeare’s work. Some of us in Elements were able to come to some of the classes and discussions and take part even though we weren’t on the retreat. As part of this, we all met with John Douglas Thompson for a master class. He started by telling us his story of how he became an actor. Needless to say I found this inspirational! His story began with a man in his twenties, as a corporate computer salesman, and led to his to becoming an actor. He came to acting a little bit later in his life, but it was his passion for the art that made him what he is. We also were able to observe while he helped some of the retreatants with their monologues, and his main comment was to just say the words as if they were your own. He said the challenge is to make Shakespeare’s beautiful language not seem foreign to your mouth; make the text a part of you. Shakespeare is providing us with a vehicle for our emotions to ride in. He doesn’t ask us to recite beautiful poetry; he creates human characters for us to inhabit. I think the phrase “Passion, I see, is catching” is the epitome of my feelings after this week.
When we’re set on a course and all the signs seem to point the other way, do we listen? When we think we know where something is headed and others try to tell us it’s the other way, do we listen? When nature itself seems to stand in our way, do we listen? Or do we press on, determined to stay the course regardless, more concerned about what we will look like if we back out than what damage will be done if we keep going?
Why doesn’t Julius Caesar listen? When Calpurnia tells him her dream, Caesar’s statue spouting blood, ghosts shrieking in the air, a lioness whelping in the streets – why doesn’t he listen? When the Soothsayer warns him “Beware the Ides of March” – why doesn’t he listen? When Artemidorus, his personal interpreter of dreams, lays out the plot in a letter with names of the conspirators – why doesn’t he listen? When the heavens open and thunder, lightening and omens disturb his sleep – why doesn’t he listen?
For that matter, why doesn’t Brutus listen? When Portia tells him the thing he’s pondering is destroying him from the inside out – why doesn’t he listen? When the ghost of the friend he betrayed and killed appears to warn him – why doesn’t he listen?
Perhaps “Beware the Ides of March” was not meant for Caesar only because once the deed is done, none of them can go back.
What are the signs that plead with us to lay aside our pride and change course? Who are the people that endeavor to stop us when they can see the road ahead ends in destruction? What are the warnings that heaven and earth themselves arrange for us and hold before our face to save us?
Do we listen?