This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Tori here with the latest in Shakespeare News from Toronto.
Wolf Manor Theatre Collective are remounting and revamping Caesar, their time-less take on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The play takes place divorced from its historical context in order to play up the universality of the themes of ambition, betrayal, leadership and revolution. Five of Toronto’s top Shakespearean actors fluently build the world of over 30 characters who demonstrate the impact the actions of very few have on the lives of many. This production is billed as semi-immersive and will engage and implicate the audience in the action with its intimate setting. I recently chatted with Artistic Director and director of this production, Dylan Brenton, and discussed what he believes makes Caesar a must-watch show.
Why have you decided to change the setting of the play? What extra meaning do you hope to
achieve by removing Caesar from its historical context?
Cassius has a line in III.i, moments after the death of Caesar: ‘How many ages hence, Shall this our lofty scene be acted over, In states unborn and accents yet unknown!” I derive much of my choice for setting from this. Wolf Manor has always been about creating new worlds to explore the shows we work on. In revisiting Caesar, I knew I wanted to bring along everything I have learned about the company over the past three years. The world is always built by the collective, with the director acting as a moderator of great ideas. Our Caesar does not come with a time period, it is set within time itself, transiently moving throughout history borrowing inspiration wherever we saw these characters existing and resurfacing throughout the many ‘States Unborn’ that Cassius mentioned. I think the ideologies we’ve studied from histories great leaders have informed our exploration of the public vs private, and the tangle between fate and autonomy. The play is full of people making choices that affect others on a larger scale, every character represents thousands who have endured the same conflicts or victories. Shakespeare negated the logic of time periods when he wrote the play, often referring to contemporary Elizabethan clothing and devices, such as ‘doublets’ and ‘clocks’. He wasn’t retelling history, he was writing about his own time, and all other times where humanity encountered civil strife. By using the transient suggestions of our various time periods, wars, or rebellions, we hope to open the deep well of meaning within the play already has as best we can.
Why have you chosen such a small cast? What do you hope to achieve by have 5 actors take on
over 30 roles?
This play is very much about the people and our expectations of leadership. One of the most memorable moments of the play comes from Marc Antony rousing the citizens of Rome to rebellion. This is followed by the more horrifying murder of an innocent poet at the hands of those citizens. The amazing thing about this play is witnessing how the actions of so few shape the lives of so many. (I paraphrase Mr. W. Churchill on that one). This play explores how one person may indeed represent or influence thousands. This was an idea Shakespeare was exploring fervently with his plays at the time Caesar was written. Henry V gives us the timeless convention ‘Into a thousand parts divide one man..’ In staging Caesar, we ran this idea as far as we could, and it allowed for some very beautiful discoveries and casting opportunities. Having Portia and Caesar, Brutus’ two great loves, played by the same actor allows us to watch something unique and nuanced occur between the two actors negotiating those heavy scenes. Witnessing the performer exploring Cassius ultimately be the same who puts the final dagger into Brutus as Strato is a poetic coincidence. Seeing Marc Antony split the roles who lure Caesar into his death as Decius and urge him to flee as Artemidorus plays on the audience’s trust towards Antony. At the end of the day, despite all the play we’ve built from working with such a small ensemble I like to joke about it with a quote from Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. When asked why Jimmy Page and Robert Plant never invited John Bonham’s son on tour with them in the mid-2000’s, he answered: “3 million split two ways is more than 3 million split three ways.” Indie theatre is contingent on support, and every seat sold or FWYC contribution received can mean the difference of a few extra dollars for each person giving their time and skill to building the challenging and exciting theatre that our country deserves.
This is a remount, what have you learned and how has Wolf Manor grown and developed since 2014?
It’s funny how little of a remount this feels like. I have brought back some text I had previously omitted, removed some things that didn’t support the actors, reimagined the seating layout and the design requests and ultimately came at it with a brain that has three more years of experience in this field. I have learned more tricks and tools from other directors I admire, I have learned more about what I like and have learned more about how infinite the creative spirit is. Wolf Manor is 8 shows the wiser, with another one lined up from winter of 2017. We have worked with over 70 artists, 8 different venues and have met somewhere around 1000 audience members. This is not the same Julius Caesar we did 3 years ago. Both carry equal value in my heart, but both were so informed by completely different parts of the Wolf Manor family and shine for different reasons because of it.
You bill this show as immersive, what does this entail?
We tag all our shows as semi-immersive. This year I tagged the joke mantra that Wolf Manor are about being ‘Gross and Close.’ We really ran with that on Danny & The Deep Blue Sea and last years Richard III. We are aggressively intimate in our performance. We are physical close to our audience. We are raw and direct and want to play for real. We don’t intend to have audiences learn any of our lines or help us stab ol’ Caesar, but we definitely don’t mind trying to ‘rise them to a sudden flood of mutiny.’ We are immersive in so far as we play within a world that’s lets us be aware of audience. You are both judge and jury for these souls trapped together in this strange patch of time.
Thanks, Dylan! I can’t wait to see the show!
Wolf Manor Theatre Collective’s CAESAR is brimming with fresh young talent, in a tight, raw production
that will leave you breathless. Don’t miss this wild staging of history’s most famous assassination.
Wednesday, May 17th 8:00 PM
Thursday, May 18th 8:00 PM
Friday, May 19th 8:00 PM
Saturday, May 20th 2:00 PM & 8:00 PM
Sunday, May 21st 2:00 PM
Wednesday, May 24th 8:00 PM
Thursday, May 25th 8:00 PM
Friday, May 26th, 8:00 PM
Saturday, May 27th 2:00 PM & 8:00 PM
Sunday, May 28th 2:00 PM