Julius Caesar at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre subverts gender roles
A conspiracy to kill the leader of Rome by stabbing him 33 times involves deceit, violence and a powerful pursuit towards reforming the state. It involves bloodshed by the hands of those who crave political change. Next week, the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre presents Julius Caesar, a written account of Roman history and one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.
“Is there ever any reason that justifies murder? That’s what we’re asking and it’s exciting to see everyone take that so seriously,” said director Kat Walsh in an interview with The Michigan Daily.
Julius Caesar marks Walsh’s sixth show with the organization.
“The actors, designers, production staff — everyone wants to do service to this story,” Walsh said. “I’m really excited about the commitment of the people in this process and the level of expertise that we are able to access.”
A2CT has been able to use expertise from numerous sources for this production. Professionals such as set designer Nathan Doud and music designer Katie Van Dusen, a School of Music, Theatre & Dance alum. The team has brought in Prof. Rob Najarian from SMTD to teach combat. These designers continue to enhance the production through loaning their time and expertise to the development of the story.
“Julius Caesar” requires a cast able to address the difficulty of Shakespearean language as well as the thematic complexity beneath. They must focus on making the language understandable to an audience.
“When you hear it done by people who love the language and know it really well, it comes to life, and you’re like, ‘This is amazing,’” Walsh said.
The play opens with Caesar, returning home from the Following. Caesar is warned to “Beware the Ides of March,” or March 15, which he disregards. Cassius, a leading conspirator of the assassination of Caesar, convinces Brutus to join the cause. Bloodshed and defeat follow, as battle for “the sake of Rome” is balanced with an equally strong pursuit for power.
The technical design for this show draws inspiration from the language of the text, rather than from the violence and darkness that the plot provides. Most actors are onstage for the entirety of the show, playing multiple roles with simple costume changes, which allows the plot to speak for itself.
“It’s very violent, but the language doesn’t match what they’re doing,” Walsh said. “I wanted something that was going to be a sharp contrast, a brutal, violent contrast to the logic that comes with the language.”
But the contrast goes beyond language and violence.
“One of the challenges, being a female director, and being a female in theatre, is that there aren’t a lot of opportunities available, especially for actors,” Walsh said. “We have an opportunity to do something different.”
Walsh has created something new: A reversal with women playing some of the leading male roles in the show. In one instance, Kaela Parnicky, a veteran of A2CT, plays Antony.
“It’s a really different role for me personally. I think it’s very against type,” Parnicky said. “Not only because I’m female, but also because I’m very small and a soprano.”
Through describing changes in her mindset, and getting used to the challenges that this role calls for, Parnicky credits Walsh for creating an environment that allows her to thrive, despite the challenge.
“This is my third show with Kat, and I do it because it’s an ensemble experience,” Parnicky said. “I love the emphasis on everyone working together.”
The subversion of gender roles and type changes expectations and according to Walsh, is very positive toward each actor’s growth.
“It’s not going to be what’s expected but that’s exciting,” Walsh said. “Sometimes we can learn something new from that character because these people are approaching it in that way.”
Through a difficult text, a violent story and a talented cast and crew, A2CT will try to do justice to this Shakespearean classic.
“My hope is that no one even notices, that it’s not even something that is thought of, because they go so much into the characters, you are so enwrapped in the story. That’s hard to do. The actors just want to push the story forward.”