Hello! It’s your friend Louis Butelli here. I’ll be playing Cassius in Robert Richmond’s upcoming production of Julius Caesar at Folger Theatre. We begin previews on October 28th, and tickets are on sale…get yours by clicking here. We are currently in week 2 of rehearsals, and we couldn’t possibly be having more fun putting it all together, if “fun” is an appropriate adjective for an ancient story of empire, political intrigue, assassination, and war.
Previously, I’ve written about returning to the Folger for this production of Julius Caesar, about “mob mentality” in the play and about Cassius and his Epicurean philosophies. Today, I’d like to take you inside the rehearsal hall for a little sneak peek at what we’ve been working on as we put the show together.
Theater practitioners often refer to the beginning of rehearsal as the “first day of school.”
On the one hand, this is a nostalgic turn of phrase, perhaps linked to the notion of a room full of adults who are paid to return to a childlike sense of play. On the other hand, in telling this story, we do in fact need to return to school: the story of Julius Caesar is dense, and rooted in history and the philosophies which would ultimately define the Western world and its various “democracies.”
Most of the characters in our show are actual people who once lived and breathed. Shakespeare himself, if I may be bold, “borrowed” liberally from Plutarch’s Lives in crafting his play. Plutarch, like Shakespeare himself, is worthy reading for anyone who seeks to understand, for instance, the 21st century American experience. (If Plutarch is of interest, may I suggest dipping your toes in here, Plutarch’s Caesar story, hosted by MIT.)
To extend the “school” analogy: as both storytellers and students, we must create multiple working drafts for every scene, narrative sequence and scene change. We must build a world from scratch with the knowledge that most of what we do in rehearsal this week will be changed beyond recognition as we learn more about our story next week. More to the point, we must strive to say “yes” to every impulse and new piece of information, and see it through to its logical conclusion, whether it ultimately makes it into the show or not.
All that said, I’d like to share a video clip from our rehearsal room with you. The clip is 1 minute and 20 seconds long, and is an incredibly rough draft of what it might look like for a room full of people to attack and stab an Emperor to death.
Please note: this sequence has already evolved and changed from what you will see in the video, and will move on even further in the next several weeks. I only share this to give you a sense of how many drafts of a sequence are necessary – how many attempts, failures, successes – before arriving at what we will actually put on stage starting on October 28th.
This clip was shot by our production stage manager Che Wernsman for documentary purposes only. All of the actors who appear have given their consent for this posting, for which I am most grateful. Actors in the clip are: Michael Sharon (Caesar), Anthony Cochrane (Brutus), Joe Brack (Cinna), Maboud Ebrahimzadeh (Casca), JaBen Early (Metellus Cimber), Robbie Gay (Trebonius), and Louis Butelli (Cassius). If you watch carefully, you can also see Steve Maurice Jones (Mark Antony) wandering around in the background, looking on approvingly, which is sort of chilling. Special mention must also go to our extraordinary fight director, Casey Kaleba, who makes this sequence better and more gruesome every day.
Producing Shakespeare’s plays on the professional stage in the year 2014 is no easy task. Currently, we seem to prefer our entertainment to come packaged inside of multi-million dollar budgets on a large screen, or to be available to us at a moment’s notice in our pockets on a small screen. On stage, however, we have no such distance, and we have no such control. We need you, and the power of your imagination to close the circuit and bring this story to life.
We will spend the next several weeks experimenting, as you saw in the small example above, and then put it in front of you, live on stage, with no safety net. We are willing to get it wrong before we get it right, but what we really need is for you to come and share this story with us.
Until next time.