Julius Caesar is straightening his tie for his assassination. "It's a modern presentation, so no togas," said director Anita Maynard-Losh.
Nine young actors are swapping Roman armor for camouflage fatigues and trading togas for business suits to stage four performances of "Julius Caesar." The play opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 17, in the dance studio at Juneau-Douglas High School.
Maynard-Losh said Shakespeare's historical tragedy is eerily well-suited to a contemporary setting. The language, characters and relationships are intact, but Caesar's cohorts are bearing videocameras, not laurel leaves.
Taimhyr Ensor-Estes, 15, plays the conspirator Cassius. She said the modern props and costumes really fit the play.
"You can look at (the play) and all the situations and think, 'That could all be happening now, or that is all happening now," she said. "There's a lot of things that make sense about it being contemporary."
"Julius Caesar" is being staged by Perseverance Theatre's Young Shakespeare Training Company, established last year. Students must pass an audition to participate. The cast, ages 11-15, has met every Saturday morning and one day a week after school since February, with additional rehearsals as opening night approaches.
Maynard-Losh said the students have studied more than acting. They've intimately examined the ethical issues, the characters' motives and the meaning of the language.
"The kids have been amazing. They're really connecting with the issues. And they're getting it," she said. "They have an awareness of some pretty mature issues."
Shakespeare based the play on the life of the Roman statesman and general who was killed in 44 B.C. by members of the Roman Senate who opposed his power and popularity. MaynardLosh said the play addresses contemporary issues such as political violence and the rule of many vs. the rule of one.
"You can see the same person as a hero or a tyrant, depending on your point of view - Caesar is the hero, tragically assassinated by envious men, or Brutus is the hero, a freedom fighter trying to maintain democracy," Maynard-Losh said. "But Shakespeare doesn't let you get off that easy, it's not black and white."
She said some of the characters may be heroic part of the time, but they are all flawed.
"Mark Antony has the wonderful funeral oration in one scene. Then he's making a list of all the people that have to be put to death because they disagree with his viewpoint," she said.
Leigh Miller, 11, plays Brutus. She said when she first read the play it was tough to understand Brutus' motivations.
"When I first read it I thought, 'Why would anyone do that awful thing? Everyone loved Caesar. He was really popular with the public,' " she said. "Anita helped me with that. She saw I was having trouble relating. I never had that kind of responsibility but I can understand that sometimes you have to make choices. Sometimes something you really don't want to do is the best choice.
"He did it because he thought it was he best thing he could do for his country. He was sort of pressured into it a little bit, he would not have done it if Cassius hadn't pushed it, because he loved Caesar."
Miller said it makes her wonder what it would be like if politicians in America behaved that way, if senators plotted to kill the president.
Ensor-Estes said the cast went through the script word for word.
"It is complicated, but once you know what you're saying it's a lot easier to convey to the audience the meaning," she said. "You have to know the meaning. I just try to be as clear as possible in what I'm saying."
She said she's developed an even greater appreciation and understanding of the text as the rehearsals have progressed.
"I have two lines, 'The storm is up. All is on the hazard,' " she said. "All is on the hazard - it means all is at stake. I thought that was great. Where could I use that in real speech?"
Maynard-Losh said she streamlined the script to enhance the forward motion of the story. Some minor characters were cut or consolidated but lines haven't been added or changed.
"There are certain scenes that have been cut but it's all Shakespeare's language and the whole story," she said.
The cast also includes Hunter Brown, Kai Christian, Becca Freer, Rowan Maynard-Losh and Tamsen Peeples. Cate Ross plays Mark Antony and Henry DeCherney is Caesar.
The play will be about 90 minutes, with an intermission. It will be staged in the JDHS dance studio, behind the auditorium in the theater department. Shows will be 7:30 p.m. May 17, 18 and 24, and 2 p.m. Saturday, May 25. Admission is free but donations will be accepted to offset expenses.
Riley Woodford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.