Saturday, March 17, 2007

De Julius Caesar, Horace and Many Things

I’ll tell you what I did today. First I worked on some lines. I must memorize Falstaff in Merry Wives of Windsor by April 2nd, and I also have to memorize a monologue from Richard II for an audition on March 22nd in Hollywood.

As I drove to my 10am rehearsal at the Redlands Shakespeare Festival, I stopped by Blockbuster to drop off the DVD’s I reviewed in my last post. Perhaps this chore could have been ignored because Blockbuster says they don’t have late fees. How does that work? Wouldn’t people keep DVD’s forever?

Remember when video stores were all VCR’s? Or, if you’re old enough, remember when video stores did not exist? Back then people examined the TV Guide closely to find out when good movies were playing on TV. Technology is the march of more and better choices for the individual instead of being at the mercy of centralized entertainment providers.

The rehearsal was of the crowd scenes in Julius Caesar. The director is going for a real Cecil B. DeMille cast of thousands look. These crowd scenes are the hardest thing to rehearse. They try everyone’s patience. It’s best if actors just SHUT UP so the scenes can be gotten through as efficiently as possible.

In the first half I am part of the mob. No respectable play set in Rome lacks a mob. Both Julius Caesar and Coriolanus have fine mobs. In our production Marc Antony must scream “Friends, Romans, countrymen” at the top of his voice to shut up the mob. The director did this on purpose, and it is a much better choice than having a calm Antony say those famous words in a stately, corny oration.

In the second half all of us who were mobsters become soldiers as the scene shifts to the Battle of Philippi. I’m sure most readers of this blog know their history, but for any young people who were recently released from 12 years of servitude in government schools:

The Battle of Philippi was the final battle in the Wars of the Second Triumvirate between the forces of Mark Antony and Octavian (the Second Triumvirate) against the forces of Julius Caesar's assassins Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius
in 42 BC, at Philippi in Macedonia. The Second Triumvirate declared this civil war to avenge Julius Caesar's murder.

The battle figures in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (background of the story in Acts 4 and 5).
The most interesting thing to me about this battle is that the poet Horace fought on Brutus’s side.

After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Horace joined the army, serving under the generalship of Brutus. He fought as a staff officer (tribunus militum) in the Battle of Philippi. Alluding to famous literary models, he later claimed that he saved himself by throwing away his shield and fleeing.
He was a coward in battle, but he lived to write glorious poetry.

In the battle scenes I march in with the army of Brutus, imagining that I am Horace. We meet the army of Cassius center stage and form one big army. Later the army of Octavian and Marc Antony march onstage. Then actors pretend to be Conan the Barbarian with plastic swords.

After some four grueling hours of rehearsal, I had to crack a joke. I turned to the army I was in and asked, “Now, are we the Sharks or the Jets?” It got a pretty good laugh.

As we were laughing, I heard the director call my name. I thought, “Oh, shit – I’m in trouble now.”

“Where is your script?” he asked.

“In my pocket.”

“Good. You’re playing Titinius.”

Apparently, the actor they had originally cast as Titinius dropped out. So I ended up with a part that has a nice emotional moment talking about the dead Cassius, then I get to kill myself with Cassius’s sword. I watch a lot of Samurai movies, so I’ll probably scream something Japanese when I do it.

I felt like Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street. I walked onstage a nobody, but I walked off a star! Well, I walked off with more lines, anyway.

When I got home I turned on the TV Guide Channel to see if a Lakers game was on. As the channels scrolled by on the bottom third, the upper two thirds of the screen featured a show called “Look Alike.” I sat there watching a bunch of gays fuss and coo over a woman until she looked like Reba McEntire. Entertainment does not get better than this. Then a show called “Idol Chat!” – complete with exclamation point – came on. In this show pretty young people talk about “American Idol” for an hour. At this point it occurred to me that if I watched the TV Guide Channel one more minute I would put a bullet into my brain, so I turned it off and survived to write this post.

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