Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
(Pictured: Brutus (Seth Rosenke) and Julius Caesar (Robert Pike)
Allison is an M.F.A. Directing Candidate currently working on her thesis production, Brutus, here at CUA.
So, tell me a little more about your directing experience both in and out of CUA.
I’ve been directing for twelve years and mostly the kind of work I’m interested in is that which explores spaces and times outside of our own…I’ve always been interested in manipulating text to tell a story and I’m always, always interested in the theatrical medium and in other mediums, about things that appear to be one thing and in the end are another. So, this isn’t just Julius Caesar. This is a story about the most infamous patriot assassin of all time and we’ve never really been able to hear his story before, and now we can.
Brutus is the culmination of your studies here. It’s your thesis production. Has that facet had any effect on the way you have approached this particular production?
No. I’ve tried to make it just be a piece that I really care about. I mean, there are parameters and guidelines and everything, but I didn’t want to go into this project saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this amazing thing or this incredibly beautiful theatrical image,’ because it’s my thesis. I really wanted to tell this story for personal reasons and I’m glad that I’m able to do it for my thesis. It does represent a culmination of my studies here, but it’s also a representation of who I am as a person and as an artist – first and foremost.
I think a question everybody has is why not Julius Caesar? What makes this different?
Right, well even in the big play (as we’re calling it), in the big J.C., Julius Caesar dies at the beginning of Act Three and then the whole rest of the play is us trying to figure out what Brutus is going to do and watching him face the consequences. Dramaturgically, scholars have always wondered why it was called Julius Caesar in the first place and why not “Rome” or “The Assassination”. The title character is gone halfway through and Brutus takes the play. So, it was decided that this particular edit be called Brutus because of its focus on that character. But really, I encourage you to go back and read the big play. I’ve always read it with a fascination with Brutus…Brutus has always been at the center of the story for me, so to really cut away and carve out and create this picture of him that we’ve never been able to focus on before is really exciting.
Brutus takes place in modern day D.C. What thought process guided that choice?
Well, it’s a place like D.C. This was planned out over a year ago, knowing that it was going to be an election year – you know, just last week we had the inauguration of the second term of President Obama. It’s a political play in a political city in a political year. It’s not D.C. but it’s a place like D.C. and it’s a place that I hope is recognizable to the audience. It’s a place that has the same traps and pitfalls and also glamor that Washington, D.C. has. It’s a city full of powerful people that have the power to do incredible things and are inspired to do those things every day. So, I really enjoyed the parallel of the machinations of Rome and the people there and their desire to create a more perfect republic, just as the people of D.C. work toward every day.
You have made several cuts to the play, both in text and by taking out entire characters. Which were the most difficult to make?
Oh, that’s a great question! The structure of the pay took quite a while to land upon. The most difficult to make were, I think, some of the conspirators…There’s forty-five characters and we’ve cut it down to eleven, and we have some citizen voices here and there, but really just eleven characters from forty-five. What made it difficult was how do you tell this story about this grand place without all the people. It’s really about the people. Brutus makes the choices he does for the people, for the citizens. So, to not have the cast of thousands that the original play sort of calls for made the story-telling a little tricky. But, I hope we’ve been able to cast the audience as those citizens in the moments where that’s important. We become the community. We become the citizens, and he’s really fighting for us. Brutus wants a better place for us and that’s why we should care about him.
It didn’t seem that hard. It was kind of fun. It’s sort of satisfying, in a way, to take a text and sculpt it into the thing that you’ve always wanted it to be.
Another unique feature of your production is the prominence of female characters, namely gender-bending the role of Cassius and introducing a new character, Brutus’ fictitious daughter Lucy, to the text. The original Julius Caesar takes place in a male-dominated world. Why change that dynamic?
It’s still a male-dominated world, which is why I think those characters stand out and that was my intention. I appreciate the question. I chose to make Cassius a woman because the language calls for this intimate – intellectually intimate – relationship between Cassius and Brutus that I really, really loved and cared about. There are some of the best scenes in all of Shakespeare between those two characters…We’ve counted – actually, Kimberly, the actress that plays Cassius counted – she says the word “love” forty-four times, and that’s just in our play. She says it more in the bigger play. So, forty-four times this character says the word “love” and we really have been exploring the relationship between her and Brutus and what that might have entailed before this, before the moment play begins…I thought that it would bring into focus the complexity of their relationship of one of them was male and one of them was female.
Lucy, the daughter of Brutus which does not exist in the big play…she is his legacy after he’s gone
Finally, what do you think the audience can look forward to when they see Brutus?
I hope that someone coming in to see this play reevaluates their relationship with the historical account and in the way that good fiction and historical fiction can do; that they see Brutus as a person who was in the right place, at the right time and who was faced with an impossible decision between the love of his country, the love of his family…I hope they put themselves in the place of Brutus and ask themselves what they would have done differently, and I hope that answer is ‘nothing at all’.
Nina Marti is a Senior Drama Major at The Catholic University of America.