Local Spotlight: For Siena Heights' production 'Tragedy of Julius Caesar,' innovation is paramount
Photo Courtesy of Siena Heights University
Beware the Ides of March? How about COVID-19
“Let’s try the paper masks tonight” Mark DiPietro, director of Theatre Siena’s production of William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,” tells his cast prior to their final dress rehearsal Wednesday night. Phrases you’d never hear before the pandemic, but the show must go on, even if the road to get there has been less than ideal.
“We started rehearsals online, January 4th when the school was closed,” DiPietro says, “Then we came back and put this show on its feet in two weeks. We were blocked in five days. These students never gave up.” (Blocking is stage terminology for mapping out actors’ movements).
Attempting theatre during a pandemic has required innovation. Across the country, you’ve witnessed theaters think outside the box, weather its doing one-person shows (as The Croswell Opera House did over the summer) or utilizing outdoor space, the idea of congregating large groups of performers in close quarters is a nightmare in this climate, but DiPietro's production of “Julius Caesar,” which won’t have an audience and instead will be live streamed on Theatre Siena’s YouTube channel for free, has followed strict protocols and measures set forth by the University and themselves. It even means forgoing the usual opening night tradition of providing cast and crew with Morning Fresh doughnuts: “I had to bring Little Debbie snacks'' DiPietro relents “because they’re individually wrapped.”
Another key component of making sure the production - which has around 30 performers and crew members - goes smoothly? Testing. The university had been provided with an allocation of COVID tests, and DiPietro seized the opportunity: “It does make you relieved, because in my previous show [“Past, Present, and Future”] if something unexpected happened, I could cut songs. I don’t have that luxury this time around. And knowing that nobody is sick helps me sleep easier.”
DiPietro has taken creative liberties with Shakespeare's work too, modernizing the show and setting it during the sixties where themes of war and protest are incorporated. The speech Mark Anthony gives during Caesar’s funeral takes new meaning in the aftermath of the January 6th Capitol riots of which DiPietro played into: “You’ll notice things we’ve done that hint to current societal issues that I think play really well.”
Indeed, Theatre Siena’s production of “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” will look different during its run, but the students are seizing every opportunity to make it their own. “They’ve had to adapt” DiPietro says “We can’t have too many performers exchanging props, we’ve had to keep the set minimal than what we’re used to.” One thing audiences will still get to see at home? Spoiler alert: Caesar’s death scene. “That’s the beauty of having cast members tested. Because now they can each have their one prop and take a stab at Caesar.”
Theatre Siena’s production of “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” will be live streamed on the Theatre Siena’s YouTube page February 4th through February 6th. The link can be found by clicking here.
Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity
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