Shakespeare revisited, revamped

It’s less than a week until opening night, and the rehearsal is still a blur. People are running from one end of the stage to the other, when director Justin Dobies ’12 quickly instructs Brutus (James Biondi ’12) to come to the stage. But the cast and crew of the Original Shakespeare Company’s production of “Julius Caesar,” performed this weekend at the Morse-Stiles Crescent Theater, are not unprepared.

The play was produced in accordance with the practices of Elizabethan-era theater troupes. Like the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s own theatrical ensemble, the players of the Original Shakespeare Company do not have access to the complete play. Actors’ scripts consist only of their own lines and short cues that enable the play’s different characters to converse.

The Original Shakespeare Company's production of
Katerina Karatzia
The Original Shakespeare Company's production of "Julius Caesar" brings the Bard's tragedy back to its roots.

However impractical and unorthodox this practice might seem, it was particularly useful in the 1500s, when personal property laws were often unenforced and the idea of copyright was inconceivable. In order to protect their original material and prevent pirating by rival troupes, the different theater companies had to devise methods of concealment, so that only the playwright, the prompter, and the patron had the full script of the play.

So while the Company’s current production could be mischaracterized as an experimental adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, its only radically distinct feature is how the actors prepare for opening night. According to producer Timmia Hearn Feldmann ’12, the players rehearse relationships instead of parts, in the spirit of the original rehearsals carried out by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. This process aims to build real physical and emotional relationships between the performers and to encourage spontaneous human interaction. The objective is to know how to react naturally when faced with a certain situation. If, for example, a character is picked up by one of her fellow tragedians during the play, she would know how to react instinctively.

Ideally, the players will be able to adapt and respond to each others’ actions on stage even though they have never performed the the play in its entirety. The performers’ actions will become, in a way, fluid and interchangeable. They will know each other so well that they will be able to predict each other’s behavior, making the play connected and compelling.

During the rehearsal on Tuesday night, Hearn Feldman ran a variety of physical games intended to enhance the interactions among the players. She encouraged the actors to project themselves outward, to always be ready and anticipating their next move. She told them to use all their senses, not just sight. Sometimes, the group has to make collective decisions and predict what the others will do.

“Everybody else is the actor except you,” Hearn Feldman told the group, directing the actors not to pay attention to their own actions, but to focus outward instead.

The rehearsals resemble a bad VHS tape that omits chunks of picture and dialogue when on fast forward. The actors rush through their entrances and exits, using only the beginnings and the ends of lines, and only choreograph dances and fight scenes. Everything else is rehearsed individually. Dobies, who also plays the title character, described his role directing the actors as similar to directing traffic. He instructs where the action should follow, but does not explicitly stage the action itself.

“It is meant to be very actor-driven and made for the actors,” he said.

The complete play will be performed for the first time on opening night. The actors themselves will discover the whole story piece by piece as the play progresses and will ultimately unify all of the initially random pieces into one cohesive outcome– if everything goes according to plan. The performance is meant to last around two hours, but every show is intended to be different.

“Julius Caesar” promises to be an engaging show where not only the audience, but

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