Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
How did you approach your character? How much did the original text affect your approach to the edited text? Do you see them as the same characters? Or are they fundamentally different in your mind?
ROBERT: In approaching a man like Julius Caesar, it is foolish not to utilize the large wealth of art, poetry, plays, and history surrounding him. Shakespeare himself used Plutarch’s Lives as a major source for the original text and it is easy to see where his Caesar came from. There are some properties Caesar’s that are present in both plays; a military general, a crowd pleaser, a politician, a superstitious man, and ultimately one betrayed by family (in the original play one he considered family). I would like to think that the Caesar I have constructed in performance could be lifted from Brutus to a full production of Julius Caesar, but there is no denying that the character arc and story being told in Brutus is very different from the Caesar I read sophomore year of high school. Brutus is full of the familiar characters and text of the original play, but passions and intentions are tweaked and personalized to fit this vision Allison has woven together. I don’t feel my Caesar is a fundamentally different Caesar, but one of different circumstances and obstacles.
SETH: Well one of the big things that Allison, our director, has been trying to make a point of with this edit is she wanted to make the character of Brutus much more sympathetic than how he appears in what we call “the big play” Julius Caesar. It was a lot of fun for me to be able to approach a character that a lot of people have a negative outlook on and try to find the sympathy there. I think the biggest thing that I did is that I researched a lot of Roman military stuff because he was a soldier at one point in his career. And one if the big driving forces for Brutus is honor, so, anybody that knows me well knows that I’m obsessed with samurai and Bushido code and all that stuff so I took a lot of the research from that and applied it to my character and I read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. From a technical standpoint I’ve done a lot of [Uta] Hagen work, some [Sanford] Meisner association work, stuff like that. Specifically with my relationships with Cassius and with Portia, and with Lucy and a lot of my association work with Caesar.
How did you approach the modern day setting? How does it affect/enhance the main themes of the play?
ROBERT: After I had built this view of the historical Caesar, and the Caesar of Shakespeare’s play, I began to fit him into this world of Brutus. In preparation and with full knowledge we were taking a look at modern day America through the lens of a “parallel universe” Rome, I needed to update a lot of Caesar’s political views. When I took a government course a couple years ago, we took a test called the “Political Compass” which placed you on a political continuum. As Caesar, I took the test in character to find what kind of dictator a handful of senators would see as such a threat to the very balance of Roman life. My Caesar fell between the political spectrum of Mussolini and Stalin, people who directly opposed some of the inherent concepts of American democracy. In playing Caesar as a man who believes in this fascist-tyranny, and believes that it is in the best interest and for the greater good of all in the context of this world, I feel it enhances that conflict that ends up ripping Rome in half.
SETH: Interesting Question. I am not a very politically minded person so setting it in a kind of parallel to modern politics was an approach that I don’t have a whole lot of experience with. We have had a lot of images shown to us of what politics looks like behind the scenes, the inner functioning’s, so we have seen a lot of pictures of the situation room. A big theme is how the effects of politics make the character unravel physically, mentally, emotionally. That’s a lot of what I’ve been focusing on for the modern period. As far as the modern period goes, pretty much anytime there is a sword its ceremonial. We do have a couple of prop pistols out onstage which immediately sets it in a modern era but I think the distinction is pretty clear that this is modern day . The only thing we are keeping old school is the assassination itself we do use daggers, and that just because it’s too damn much fun not too. (laughs)
Your characters have one of the central (and most famous) relationships in the play, but your stage time together is limited, how did you approach building that relationship?
ROBERT: Brutus takes this infamous relationship and turns it on its head is a very unique and powerful way. In taking creative license and liberty of historical fact and Shakespeare’s text and creating this blood relationship between Caesar and Brutus, (a father and son no less) the approach for those small moments onstage has been heavy. As an actor, using my personal relationships as a foundation to help me reach and understand what my character knows is what speaks with me the most. With Caesar, for instance, I have never known what it is like to have a son out of wedlock who I was unable to acknowledge the way a son should be. But I draw from those relationships in my life that follow those circumstances that are similar and I stretch and tweak them to adhere to my character’s situation. It is what makes acting and theatre real for me. A lot of personal writing and independent character work has been put into this relationship, mostly because Caesar and Brutus have never had a relationship in which there has been full disclosure and full understanding. However, despite that lack of communication, I feel that our onstage interplay will speak to the very heart of the matter and one of the facets of this play.
SETH: As I said I have done a lot of Meisner associations with characters in the show and because of that Bobby and I haven’t talked a whole lot about our relationship yet. It’s a conversation that is going to happen. But I’ve actually been intentionally putting it off, and that based a lot on the relationship I have with my own father. Because with my own father I have always gotten this incredible sense that I know he loves me but my dad doesn’t really show that very much. In order to really get that kind of feeling with the relationship that I have with Caesar, I didn’t want to talk about the emotions involved too much, so in a sense I was really alienating myself. Obviously we have to talk about it at some point, and we have been looking for a time the past couple days to talk about our relationship. Early on Allison said that it’s not common knowledge and that our Caesar treats me a lot more like his best senator as opposed to a son. And it’s for political reasons; he doesn’t want his bastard child endangering his political career, which of course I can entirely understand. That’s how I built the relationship, at least from my perspective. I have not talked to Bobby about it because I wanted that distance and now that that’s there, that’s jiving, that flowing. Now I’m comfortable talking about it.
Robert Pike is a junior Drama and Psychology double major at Catholic University. Seth Rosenke is a first year M.F.A. acting student at Catholic University.
Marian Donahue is a senior English Major at Catholic University.