When “Julius Caesar” takes the stage at Southeast Missouri State University’s River Campus later this month, audiences will hear more than a historical recount of ancient Rome. The sold-out in-person shows will transport playgoers to ancient Rome, to a time marked by civil strife and disease.
“Julius Caesar” is William Shakespeare’s masterpiece that tells the story of a group of conspirators, including Marcus Brutus, who plan to assassinate Julius Caesar to prevent him from being elected as a monarch — an act that thrusts Rome into a civil war.
When the first recorded production of “Julius Caesar” occurred in 1599, audiences were living with fear that the plague would return to London and shut down live performances, said Bart Williams, associate professor of theatre and dance and director of the performance.
“With all this going on, and the restrictions placed on Shakespeare, it’s sort of a miracle anything got onstage at all,” he said.
Today’s theatre-goers and performers alike may relate to the challenges that faced plague-era London.
Between social distancing, mask use, no-touching limitations, no quick changes, HVAC system considerations and a space that could only seat 30 people, Williams said the COVID-19 pandemic has posed “a wall of restrictions” that made the director wonder whether the show could be realized.
“But that’s what theatre is all about, isn’t it? Working with restrictions and collaborating with a team to make art,” Williams said. “And this actually freed the cast and crew to focus on the relationships between characters and the immediacy of the story that can be lost in traditional productions.”
In fact, all the staging and show design for “Julius Caesar” has been done to support and highlight safety protocols, Williams said.
“Collaboration has been key in allowing The Conservatory to safely put on performances,” Williams said. “Not only collaborations among the ‘Julius Caesar’ production team, but the Conservatory’s partnership with the University’s athletic training program and SoutheastHEALTH Orthopedics and Sports Medicine; daily check-ins; as well as the Southeast’s partnership with local healthcare providers. All areas of production have benefited from protocols established and implemented since the summer of 2020.”
Williams said he hopes audiences leave the show with “the big takeaway” — that “connections and family are key.”
“Life, like governance, is all about communication — which is everything,” he said. “There are no easy fixes.”
Sold-out performances by The Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance will take place at 7:30 p.m. April 22-24, 29-30, and May 1, and at 2 p.m. April 24-25 and May 2 in the Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre. Face coverings will be required, and social distancing guidelines will be in place.
Streaming tickets are still available for the following dates:
- 7:30 p.m. April 29
- 7:30 p.m. April 30
- 7:30 p.m. May 1
- 2 p.m. May 2
Tickets may be purchased by contacting the River Campus Box Office, located in the Cultural Arts Center, 518 S. Fountain St., weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., by calling (573) 651-2265, or online at RiverCampus.org.