Contributed by Allison Flowerdew
I was back at the Yarmouth Performing Arts Center in March when the Freshman class experienced a rendition of Julius Caesar by four actors from the Portland Stage Company. This was the result of a grant request by Karin Walsh and Laura Esty for the Julius Caesar Director’s Lab, to help their students understand Shakespeare’s famous play.
Before the play started, the students were informed that they would be representing the Roman people, making them part of the experience. They were also asked to decide throughout the course of the play which character they sided with. They discussed this in greater detail in the afternoon workshop.
The actors started the play with loud drum beats creating instant energy in the room. The actors portrayed Julius Caesar, Brutus, Mark Antony, Cassius, Octavius Caesar and a few other characters. The play unfolded with Brutus and Cassius plotting against Caesar, who had just returned home to Rome. The audience watched as Brutus planned and executed the assassination of Caesar. During the funeral scene, Brutus and Antony stood on wooden crates and spoke to the crowd. The play concluded with a fight scene in which Octavius tried to avenge the death of Julius Caesar. It all culminated in the death of Brutus and Cassius. The play was exciting, dramatic and helped to demystify Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.
After the play, the actors answered questions from the audience. They also asked the students, by a show of hands, whose side they were on. It was pretty evenly split, but from where I was sitting, I think Brutus had the edge!
Following the play, Karin Walsh’s Freshman Honors English class was join by the actors from the play. The actors started off by asking the class whose side they were on and why. Most of the students sided with Brutus stating, “He had the right idea for the empire,” and “He sacrificed for the greater good.” The actor who played Brutus was beaming!
The students then broke into pairs and picked a subject to debate. They discussed different tactics to win their argument, such as appealing to people’s emotions, using volume, ignoring and using confidence and attitude. The actors explained that Shakespeare’s plays are filled with arguments and they discussed his use of rhetoric, the language of persuasion.
The students were then asked to take on the director’s role. One of the actors gave a speech from the play and the students were encouraged to give the actor a different way to approach his speech. He gave his speech two more times, with his new directions speaking with more confidence the first time and with more anger and guilt the second time.
This grant impacted every freshman at Yarmouth High School. It was exciting for students to see a live performance of a play they’ve read and studied.