An Interview with JULIUS CAESAR Director Ashley Brooke Monroe
Julius Caesar is specifically tailored for young audiences (ages 12+) and runs March 7-23, 2018.
What is your concept for JULIUS CAESAR ?
I’m directing a production that has superheroes. Caesar is a little bit like Superman, and Antony is a little bit like Batman. When you read the full text of JULIUS CAESAR there’s a lot of supernatural elements. Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, has visions and she can see into the future. The Soothsayer can see into the future in a certain way. There’s a lot of omens from the night sky, evil affecting them. It’s this land that’s a little bit different than realism, than the day to day, so I thought that was a helpful clue into what kind of world this could be for my production. It’s also exciting to me because there’s lots of talk of battles in JULIUS CAESAR. For me, if we’re going to be talking about these epic battles, I wanted real, physical violence and combat between the characters. In a superhero world we can have some epic battles. They will be really satisfying, because they have not just traditional physical violence, but the ability to freeze someone, or to just shoot them with power out of their hand. I think that would be fun.
So if Julius Caesar and Marc Antony are Superman and Batman, who are Brutus and Cassius?
Brutus is Captain America inspired, because Captain America is so classic in some ways. Because he’s from a previous time, he’s a little bit a stick in the mud. He just has a more old fashioned sense of honor, which I think is very true to Brutus.
In this production, Cassius is played by a woman and is Black Widow inspired. Cassius has her own agenda, and she’s a little sneaky. Black Widow was a spy and I think Cassius has some of those qualities, with the whispering and getting people on to her side as a conspirator.
Can you tell us about any special effects in JULIUS CAESAR?
Because we have blood in Caesar, he’ll have to be rigged so that the blood comes out when he gets stabbed. And I’m thinking that because he’s a superhero and not a mortal, his blood is going to be, like, bright metallic silver. So when the conspirators go to bathe their hands in the blood, it’ll be non-traditional blood color.
Who else is collaborating with you to realize your vision for the show?
One of the things I like most about directing it is that it’s a collaborative art form. So even though I’m the generator of a lot of the initial ideas, part of my job is to choose other exciting artists to come on board and help me make the vision a reality. I have a set designer – that was the first person I found. I usually like to go that way to start having another person thinking about the play on its feet, as a three dimensional thing. So I work with the set designer to think, “Okay we have this room, it’s going to be in here. What do we want to put into this room to make it the most exciting space for me to stage the play in?”
I have a lighting designer who’s going to do the same thing. I barely understand what lighting designers do. To me they’re wizards, they have so much technical knowledge. Then I have a sound designer. They’re really influential even though you don’t see their work. There’s a really big thunderstorm in JULIUS CAESAR, there’s multiple scenes that all take place in it. It’s going to be the sound designer’s job to build a realistic, interesting, cool thunderstorm that goes under all that action.
I also have a stage manager who helps me with all of the logistics of making the play. The stage manager has a bunch of different roles. During rehearsal, and before rehearsals start, they’re basically the main organizer for everything, so they manage the schedule. Then when the show starts, the stage manager calls the show. They tell the actors when they need to be at places, and then during the show they’re on headset with the people who run lights and sound, and they tell them when the cues should happen. Their job is very hard, they have a lot of different things on their plate. They have to be super organized.
I also have a props designer, a costume designer, and I have an assistant director who will help me with the things I’m doing. You have producers, the fight director, and a whole company of actors.
How did you become a director?
I decided I was going to be a director when I was in middle school. It was because I had the rare opportunity to assistant direct something, and I was like “yeah, this is what I think I should do.” I had been into theater and dance since I was a really little kid. I’ve been on a very straight path. I did a lot in high school, I directed in college, and then I moved to New York about ten years ago after college and I was like “hire me to direct!” I knew that’s what I wanted, so I just made it happen. You just direct for free enough, and direct your own projects and get all your actor friends together with a playwright friend, and make a play. Then if people come to see that play, they might ask you to do another play, and it kind of all builds off of relationships like most careers.
What’s exciting about working in a space like CSC versus on Broadway?
My favorite part of working in a space like CSC is that the audience is so close to the action, and you’re able to be much more intimate. I also always prefer working in a thrust like CSC or in the round with audience on all four sides as opposed to proscenium where the audience is on one side because you do feel like you’re immersed in the world of the play. I think it gives you a much more interesting perspective if you have to look over one character’s shoulder to see another character. You just visualize the whole world in a very dimensional way. I think we’re going to use this space very wholly. I think the action will feel very in the face of the audience, which I’m really excited about.