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February 28, 2002 They came, they same, they aim to conquer in Julius Caesar



Greg Kramer

Greg Kramer

by Anna Bratulic

Drama students congregate noisily outside the F. C. Smith Auditorium a half-hour before rehearsal for the next production starts. Some sit chatting with the director, others sing along to a tune being played on the piano. It is a large cast —18 actors playing more than 35 roles — but then, William Shakespeare is not known for his two-handers.

“My biggest problem right now is making each actor keep their allegiance,” said director Greg Kramer, “so that you as an audience member don’t say, ‘Wait a minute, weren’t they on the other side a few minutes ago?’

“That was a tough thing in casting, making sure that we had enough numbers for the battle at the end, because people die and I didn’t want them to suddenly come back to life again three scenes later (as another character) — unless they’re a ghost.”

Private-school adaptation

Julius Caesar (written in 1599) is one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated plays. It centres around an actual historical event, the plot to assassinate Rome’s illustrious ruler on the Ides of March (March 14), 44 BC, and the revenge his supporters exact on the treacherous though well-intentioned murderers.

The subject matter of the play — politics and the military in ancient Rome — easily lends itself to an expensive production, particularly in terms of costume rental, so Kramer decided that there will be no togas and breastplates in this one, but rather a uniform, private-school look that can still convey the central idea of revolution and conspiracy to overthrow government.

It soon became apparent to Kramer that Shakespeare presented other challenges, particularly to the novice actor.

“Shakespeare is the closest you’ll get to opera in the theatrical arts,” he said in an interview. “The vocal requirements and the technical requirements of metre are not necessarily stringent, but they are demanding.

“We’re following the first folio edition, and if you look in the folio you’ll see that there are long [archaic] spellings and capitalizations, and those give you clues as to how to play the line as you go along. Yes, of course, it’s open to interpretation, but there are techniques in being able to make it work.”

Once everyone gets past understanding the quasi-foreign Elizabethan text, there is the task of interpreting the play, most of which is written in poetic form, so that it doesn’t sound like the actor is reciting poetry.

One helpful hint is to know that Shakespearean characters don’t keep their thoughts to themselves.

“Shakespeare is different from modern drama, in that what we call the subtext practically doesn’t exist. The characters are speaking their subtext. Everything happens on the sound, on the line. You can imbue a line with meaning because it’s got lots of alliteration [similar sounds] in it, for example,” Kramer said.

“The subtext in modern theatre would be hidden — it’s underneath, played under the line, intent-wise. When you’re playing the line, you’d have all your inner thoughts bubbling away underneath, not so much affecting the line directly. Whereas with Shakespeare, you get right on top of it and you’re right in the moment.”

Regular TV cameos

Raised in London, England, Kramer spreads his time evenly between acting and directing. On the television screen, he is a regular on John Woo’s Once A Thief, La Femme Nikita, and has appeared in TV shows such as Due South and PSI Factor. His Shakespeare credits include acting in the title role of Richard III, and playing Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. He recently directed Yasmina Reza’s intellectual comedy hit Art at Centaur Theatre.

Julius Caesar, a production of the Concordia Theatre Department, plays March 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16 at 8 p.m., with a matinee at 2 p.m. on March 16, in the F.C. Smith Auditorium at Loyola. Tickets cost $5 for students and $10 for the public and should be reserved by calling 848-4742. Any reserved tickets not picked up 15 minutes prior to showtime are up for grabs.