The National Shakespeare Theatre of Brooklyn’s (NSTB) production of Julius Caesar was born out of some serious ITW collaboration. This past January Charlie proposed to submit a piece for the The Brick’s Shakespeare Festival. I was excited to create something that was outside of my wheelhouse and to explore a different creative impulse of one of my collaborators. Often, as a director I choose the plays and pieces that I end up directing. It’s exciting to have an idea and have a whole team leap into that idea whole heartedly. Still, I learn a lot from traveling down paths I would not have otherwise gone. Julius Caesar is a great example.
Over the past three weeks, NSTB has been exploring a slightly deconstructed yet comprehensive production of Caesar. We use a constant score of House Music and soundscape from an actor-manned DJ booth which moves around the space. All seven actors control sound at some point. Sometimes as the underscore, but also in intricate ways to play multiple actors, announce scenes and charters, or fill plot-gaps with ancient text about the historical events played out in Shakespeare’s play.
The result feels like a gripping podcast with dynamic staging. A large part of the process was influenced by my worked with The SITI Company. This summer I spent a month assisting Anne Bogart and Leon Ingulsrud at The Saratoga International Theatre Institute in Saratoga Springs, New York. I worked in the composition classes as a directing assistant, helped in class and attended rehearsals of the institute’s participants and The SITI Company. At last year’s intensive (when I was a participant) I was able to see the company perform a version of Macbeth as a radio play. Radio Macbeth was a SITI show from 2007 which was much more elaborate than what we saw, but in last summer’s production, the actors only spoke the text into mics. It was captivating. What really struck me was the play between the company’s amazing sound designer, Darron West, and the actors. Having seen this collaboration in action this summer during rehearsals for SITI’s The Three Sisters (which utilizes spontaneous staging and improvised sound design) I was ready to facilitate a hyper-collaborative process around the sound.
I think we have done so to great effect. This has been due to the truly amazing work of ITW’s newest ensemble member: Kristian Sorensen. Kristian skillfully manages to play the role of sound designer while also playing Cassius. Individually, those roles are extremely challenging and require a lot of skill and attention. Together they reach a new level of difficulty that is delicious to watch each night. He says, “Cassius is a mover and shaker so I really enjoy the moments that the sound and Cassius sync up and push the play along. And it gives me a greater sense of collaborative ownership over the piece too!”
As you can tell from the above ramblings there is a lot of balls in the air on this production coming from a wealth of artistic inspirations. Last but not least is the amazing work of John Amir, Cassie Gilling, Jake Murphy, Maddie Sosnowski, Charlie Coursey, and Mia Vallet. Their ability, eagerness and willingness to say yes have made this show what it is. I hope all of you NYC folks can make it out to see National Shakespeare Theatre of Brooklyn’s Julius Caesar.
- Jonathan Taylor