beware the ides of march ...

Julius Caesar photo (c) The Bacchanals

the tragedy of julius caesar
by william shakespeare

Saturday 12 November 2011 – St Peter’s Hall, Paekakariki; Monday 14 November – Makara Community Centre; Wednesday 16 November – St Jude’s Hall, Lyall Bay; Friday 18 November – Tararua Tramping Clubrooms; Saturday 19 November – Island Bay Community Centre; Monday 21 November – Newtown Community Centre; Tuesday 22 November – Hataitai Bowling Club; Wednesday 23 November – The Long Hall, Roseneath; Friday 25 November – Khandallah Town Hall; Saturday 26 November – Vogelmorn Hall, Brooklyn; Monday 28 November 2011 – The Pit, BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington

Nothing much has changed in 2000 years of politics, and to make the point, award-winning theatre company The Bacchanals are proud to celebrate their eleventh birthday and the November election with a FREE touring production of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s classic tale of how a homeless man living in the central city predicts that a politician will be stabbed in the back by his closest friends, right after an important victory at an international sporting event and a massive earthquake! 

After defeating his former allies, Caesar returns home in triumph determined to establish himself supreme ruler of a society that believes in democracy over dictatorship.  As the conspiracy to remove Caesar from power develops, Brutus knows that Caesar cannot be trusted to lead the country, but also fears that his fellow conspirators are just as untrustworthy.  Is murdering his friend the only way to save his country?

cast 
Kirsty Bruce (Cobbler, Decius Brutus, Lucilius), Dasha Fedchuk (Lucius, Publius, Dardanius), Andrew Goddard (Flavius, Caius Ligarius, Popilius Lena, Octavius), Alex Greig (Marcus Brutus), Phil Grieve (Julius Caesar, Strato), Benjamin Haddock (Cicero, Trebonius, Cinna the Poet, Claudius, Volumnius), Brianne Kerr (Calphurnia, Artemidorus, Octavius’ servant, Clitus), David Lawrence (Caius Cassius), Salesi Le’ota (Soothsayer, Caska, Caesar’s servant, Messala), William O’Neil (Carpenter, Cinna, Titinius), Jonny Potts (Mark Antony), Jean Sergent (Murellus, Metellus Cimber, Varrus, Young Cato), Elle Wootton (Portia, Lepidus, Pindarus)

Graphic Design Santa’s Little Helper
Head Mechanist Alex Greig
Associate Producer Fiona McNamara
Directed by David Lawrence

 

This was what the programme note for The Bacchanals' November 2011 production of Julius Caesar, performed during the 2011 General Election in New Zealand, said:

Theatre costs too much. Your hypothetical taxes (we say hypothetical because we're actors and, shock horror, not all of our income is sometimes legitimate!!) go toward funding the 'Arts' but hey, what often gets the money aren't the things people can afford to see. And because as artists we are 'Entitled' (having made the noble sacrifice of agreeing to society's needs for us not to become doctors or dentists or cancer-curers or environment-savers or electricity-providers or produce-growers or helping the sick and the homeless and the elderly and the poor or all those other, let's face it, pointless and unnecessary-to-the-world 'hobbies'), the laws of arts funding say "Hey sucker, you should pay $45 to sit in my air-conditioned arts complex (paid for with the blood of your children!) to watch this important glittering thing wrapped up in glamour & coated in gold so that you can't see its hollow insides! You can't understand what you're watching? But everyone else can see my new suit! Don't let the other suckers see you're stupid!" And we suck it up and celebrate mediocrity and pretend we can see that new suit and you never think, "Wow, in the current economic climate I could have fed my family for a week on what that Entitled Artist gets paid to Play Their Violin." You never think, "Hey, 400 years ago the cost of a theatre ticket was the same as the minimum hourly wage!" You never think, "Hey, in Ancient Greece the government actually paid for my tickets if I couldn't afford to see a play!" You never think, "Imagine if the NZSO or the ballet company had to work on a co-operative profit share model like most 'professional' theatre - that Entitled Artist would be putting away that violin and learning how to make coffee pretty quickly, wouldn't he?" You never think, "Does the prime minister really need to be paid that much? Doesn't he own six houses? Why don't I own six houses? I'm an Artist!" So anyway, the point of this rant is to say 1. Theatre is too expensive so here is a free play (we say free, actually it's koha or pay-what-you-like or hey, don't pay anything if you don't have money. We have to pay for the use of this hall tonight so it'd be nice not to be out of pocket, but really, this is for you, not so we can frolic naked throwing cash at each other in one of those regular wealthy-actor-orgies you hear so much about on The Big Idea); 2. Theatre is often in places of geographical soullessness so here is a play for you in your own neighbourhood (we say in your neighbourhood; maybe you had to travel further to get here than down the road and that's fine too, everyone's welcome); 3. Theatre is often shiny and shallow and style over substance so here is something that isn't trying to pretend to be more than what it is. No attempt at illusion here and no pretension toward creating great art - and at the same time we're not trying to claim superiority or some bogus moral high ground here. This is a play, with some things in it, without anything decorative or external - we're just going to play this play and hope you like it and find the material in it interesting and relevant and complex and simple and poetical and beautiful. Shakespeare; he was a pretty amazing guy because he could see the essence of human nature: how we don't change, how we repeat the same patterns over and over again. What we like about this play is that in a year of earthquakes and elections and Italian leaders being toppled, we can perform a play written 412 years ago that says "Wow, look at how much we are the same as some guys 1645 years ago!" Listen to the words and use your imaginations, because they're stronger than anything we could spend our non-existent money on.

I've re-produced that note (which I doubtless bashed out at 3am the day of the first performance) in full because it probably says all you need to know about the production—everything from hereon is just me reminiscing and mythologising. If you've read the page on 2008's A Renaissance Man you'll recall that if I have negative feelings about that show, it's that as a company we weren't breaking new ground with it or doing anything we hadn't done before. I could say the same about Julius Caesar except that what I'd realised by 2011 is that any company with a body of work that large inevitably ends up repeating itself, either from a desire to reapply a previously-successful formula or format, or because your format is so limited there are only a finite number of kinds of work you can make. Look at how repetitive and self-referential TV shows like The Simpsons or Doctor Who have become after 30+ years on the air, despite seeming to have an infinite number of possibilities when they first began. By the time we made Julius Caesar The Bacchanals were in their second decade and had 21 shows behind them, so it was inevitable that as well as asking "What kind of show are we making?" there was an internal question of "What kind of Bacchanals show are we making?", the most obvious options in the twenty-teens being: no frills Shakespeare? new-NZ play? irreverent Ancient Greek adaptation? something political? BATS or found space? In the case of Julius Caesar my main reference point was our 2006 community centre/church hall Hamlet: we'd perform the show for free (or koha), in a different space every night, and try to conjure the play out of nothing. Like Hamlet and our 2000 Othello it would be intimate and in traverse, and my warning to people was "It's so no frills that there are no no frills." Everyone had been asking "Are you going to do a return season of Slouching Toward Bethlehem?" or "What about touring Slouching Toward Bethlehem?" and I was fed up with this idea that a successful piece of art has to have a long life. On almost every successful show I've been part of someone has inevitably said "We should resurrect this show next year and tour it!" whereas I have always tried to go into a project knowing what it was meant to be—if it's a show that was going to tour and have a long life, I've gone into it with that intention; whereas some—dare I saymany—things were only ever destined to have 10 performances at BATS Theatre. And besides, why would I want to keep remounting or touring the same show again and again when I could move on to making something new? Over 2011 Jonny and I talked a lot about what we called a "rip and run"-style of theatre: have an interesting idea, make a show quickly, get it out there, let it be the thing that it is for that moment, and then move on to the next thing rather than agonising over your so-called 'art' or putting lengthy tedious development into it 'finding its audience'. The right audience is the audience that sees it then and there. Allow it to be ephemeral and short-lived and special to the people who got to see it.

We were all making a lot of rip-and-run work in 2011. Hannah and Salesi and I made a 35-minute show exploring the history of alcohol which we put on 6 times in the Pit (the bar at BATS) and I got a lot of joy that winter seeing other people do similar low-stakes, low-scale work that was about having a singular experience that evening, rather than creating some big work that had artistic and commercial pressure. In fact—unsurprising given how much time we spent drinking there—we all deemed that the Pit was actually the most relevant performance space in Wellington. The epitome of the rip-and-run show was Public Service Announcements which had begun life as a play written by James Nokise for the May 2011 Comedy Festival and whose cast had included Alex and I playing John Key and Bill English, Allan as Winston Peters, Salesi as Pita Sharples and Phil as the Ghost of David Lange. After that first season, it was resurrected in the format of a late-night political satire playing at BATS every Friday and Saturday through the winter of 2011 as New Zealand went through earthquake recovery, the Rugby World Cup and an impending election. To stay current and topical—and to keep audiences coming back—PSA had a brand new script every fortnight: the format was meant to be you got a new script on Sunday, had a couple of rehearsals as available with the actors you shared scenes with during the week, on Thursday night there was one stumble-through of the whole show (often with actors missing and always with scripts in hand) that included looking at any big group scenes, and then the show opened on Friday night. That script would be performed over the next two weekends—with constant rewrites and updates to reflect the ever-changing political climate—and then, on Sunday, there'd be a brand new script and the process would begin all over again. Actors could drop in or out of a two-week rotation depending on what other projects they had on so it was an ever-changing process. For me, in a typical PSA I might have between three and six scenes as John Key—usually paired with Alex as my deputy, but maybe a couple of antagonist scenes with other party leaders or characters—and a monologue as those winter scripts tended to always open or close with a Leaders' Debate. When a new script arrived, I'd print out just my scenes, staple the pages together, and everywhere I went that week they were in my back pocket so that as I walked from or to home—generally from my house in Hataitai to either Victoria University or BATS Theatre, via the Mount Victoria tunnel—I could run the lines again and again until I was sure I had them in my head. Alex and I might get together on a Wednesday or Thursday for an hour or so to run our scenes, or sometimes it wouldn't be until the Friday of a show that we had the chance to slam through them together. At the start of that winter, I was printing out my scenes on a Sunday and still had them on me backstage during Friday night's show, cramming right up until the moment I had to walk onstage. By the end of that winter, I might not start learning the lines until Wednesday and I could walk onstage with ease on a Friday night without needing to look at the script between scenes. Throughout the PSA process I kept thinking, "This is what it must have been like in the fast turnaround of Shakespeare's theatre!" and we were all steadily aware of how much easier, once you were in a routine, it became to learn lines and retain them as the process went on.

I outline all of this in detail because Alex and I approached playing Brutus and Cassius in Julius Caesar in exactly the same manner as we did Bill English and John Key in PSA. There was no lengthy discussion of character or analysis of the text (or even set blocking to how we played scenes physically)—we learned each act of the play in a week, in about the same time as we'd learn a new PSA script, and we'd get together in either of our living rooms for a couple of hours on a Wednesday or Thursday and slam through the scenes until we were sure we knew them. The speed with which we made each new edition of PSA was applied to the way we made Julius Caesar. Sure, it was rough-and-ready as well as rip-and-run, and it maybe lacked for precision and finesse on some occasions, but it was also raw and honest and genuine and also enormously flexible in that if something unexpected happened, the nature of the way you were working made it all the more easy to deal with.

I make it sound like there was no plan, which isn't entirely true. Part of the reason we were able to make Julius Caesar so fast was that in addition to PSA giving some of us a greater focus and fine-tuning for learning and retaining lines quickly, The Bacchanals had just spent the winter making Slouching Toward Bethlehem together and pretty much went straight back into rehearsals with the same cast, same methodology, but a different play. Phil and Bri didn't need to develop a working relationship as Caesar and Calpurnia because they'd just done a whole show of playing husband and wife as Rob and Thea Muldoon. When it came to the funeral orations or the battle scenes in the second half, I didn't need to extensively train people in how to be an ensemble crowd or army, or in how I liked characterisation and doubling to work, because we'd been doing that together for months already. It's a truism in most theatre that, if you're rehearsing sequentially, you spend ten times longer rehearsing the first scene of a play than you do the last scene, because as the process develops, so does your understanding of each other and the approach to the work—and also you're far more aware of running out the clock in the last week of rehearsals than you are the first—and you could argue in this case that after a whole winter together, psychologically Julius Caesar wasn't really much more than an additional couple of scenes at the end of Slouching Toward Bethlehem.

I did, however, have some new stuff to explore in terms of my approach to Shakespeare: my last Shakespeare production had been The Merry Wives of Windsor for the Summer Shakespeare in February 2010 and in the 18 months between the end of that show and the start of Julius Caesar rehearsals I'd been reading all the new theories on how cue-scripts worked and how Elizabethan actors might have rehearsed, and Julius Caesar was the first time I'd had the opportunity to embrace how these theories worked in practice, and it made for a very interesting experience to have a Shakespeare production where you didn't nicely wait your turn but instead people spoke over the top of each other and there were different arguments overlapping: it was much more visceral, much more like a political debate.

As a reader, Julius Caesar was one of the very last Shakespeare plays I came to. I remember reading it in the then-new Arden 3 edition during otherwise-tedious shifts as a security guard at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in January 1999, and marvelling at how natural and modern the dialogue between Brutus and Cassius was, and knew that I wanted the chance to one day play those scenes for real myself. The core image in my mind when I re-read the play at the start of 2011 thinking about what our production would be like was imagining Alex and I at the bar in the Pit with whiskeys having the conversation Brutus and Cassius have in Act One, scene two, as low key and naturalist in approach as Taika and Carey had played Othello and Iago back in 2000. Now obviously I had cast myself in Bacchanals shows before, but almost always out of necessity rather than vanity: in our touring shows between 2003-2005 it was an essential saving on wages, accommodation and travel that I be in the shows, but I always tried to give myself roles no one else would want or that wouldn't impede our ability to rehearse. I used the Walter Plinge pseudonym because I was extremely self-conscious and embarrassed about my acting, and I was horrified to think that people might think me acting in my own shows was an ego-trip: as far as I was concerned it was a skill I could utilise if necessary but not something I had any real talent for. But by 2011 I'd got over myself a bit—in addition to PSA I'd done some other things here and there that made me feel like I had 'permission' to consider myself a legitimate actor (rather than a director pretending he could act) if I wanted to. From hereon I felt okay about leading The Bacchanals from the front rather than hiding behind a lighting desk or a pseudonym—after all, the work of the company was in large parts representing my personal views and I felt that I needed to own that more (one night after our next show, Other People's Wars, Jack O'Donnell commented how it made a huge difference, having been in my covertly-commenting-on-the-War-on-Terror production of Henry V, hearing me explicitly state my political viewpoint rather than hide it behind analogy). And—please god, this is not meant to sound arrogant, or dismissive of all those fantastic and committed actors who had been in my Shakespeares up until this point—I'd spent over a decade trying to pioneer a new and different way of playing Shakespeare where it sounded like natural speech spoken with absolute crystal clear understanding by intelligent actors, and the greatest obstacle to achieving that style was that no one understood or could do it better than I could. Cassius in Julius Caesar was a bucket list role for me, so I thought fuck it; I'm going to lead by example rather than trying to mould another actor into giving the performance that I might have given. It's a free show in a church hall so who cares if I don't meet some drama school-trained standard in terms of craft and perfection and commitment to my art? that isn't what my work is about.

We nominally claimed The Wire as a reference point for this production, not because there were any great parallels (as opposed to our deliberately Sopranos-esque Romeo and Juliet or deliberately Star Wars-eque 1 Henry VI) but more because everyone in the world—well, everyone in our world at least—was watching The Wire—I was on about my third time through the whole show and DVD box-sets of each season had been rotating through The Bacchanals for months. It was clear that in the last couple of years, television had finally trumped theatre and film as the best medium for watching actors, by which I mean there was no longer any point in goin g to Circa or Downstage to watch naturalist plays set in living rooms: if I wanted to watch intimate drama between humans, why would I sit in the back row of some theatre watching people in the distance when I could just watch Mad Men, The Sopranos or The Wire again? Live theatre couldn't compete with that calibre of acting, with the camera right in close and some of the best actors in the world realising that TV was no longer slumming it employment-wise. Every plot strand, every world of characters, every performance in The Wire was so engaging and authentic. Critics would say 'Shakespearean' about the internal civil war that brings down the Barksdale drug empire in Season Three; I made Alex watch some of those incredible scenes between Wood Harris and Idris Elba as Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell in that season and those were our reference points for both Cassius' seduction of Brutus at the start of the play, and their phenomenal quarrel scene in Act IV.

A bit like 2007's King Lear, we started out in suits for Act One, transitioned into more low key streetwear over Acts Two and Three (everyone in big hoodies for the secret meeting in Brutus' garden), and descended into something more tribal once the play moves to the battlefield in the last two acts. One of the most unexpected design choices came out of both my disorganisation and the rip-and-run nature of the rehearsal process and production. We had always intended to have proper weapons and proper stage blood but because we were running a bit of a guerrilla rehearsal process—it was exam period at Victoria University so while my teaching contract was at an end, I still had a swipe card and knew when certain rooms weren't in use, so we tended to be sneaking in and out of various shared spaces and never able to put down 'roots' in a rehearsal room, i.e. everything that came into the rehearsal room also had to leave with us at the end of a session, or else be carted 15 minutes to my office on the other side of the campus. So I kept saying "Next rehearsal I'll hopefully be able to bring the knives, daggers, swords etc. in" but never managed to; also, our regular supplier of stage blood from 2001-2007 was no longer in business and it was incredibly hard (and still is) to locally source fake blood that washes out of clothes easily, cleans up off floors no problem, and is non-toxic (for going in mouths!). In my mind there was the nagging thought that this was going to be a real hassle in some performance spaces. I don't know whose pitch it was but I know it was a collective decision everyone was on board with—someone said, "What if we just went without weapons and blood? It would be much safer and a lot less hassle to clean up!" and I realised something fascinating, coming back to the ol' lesson about illusions we'd learnt making Slouching Toward Bethlehem: when Caesar's blood was imaginary, as an actor I totally believed in it. I was always completely aware running up to the interval that my hands were smeared in (imaginary) blood and that anything I touched would get covered in it, even to the point of needing to go and wash my hands as soon as we left the stage for Antony's "O pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth".

As I've said on the Slouching Toward Bethlehem page, political theatre was rife in Wellington in 2011—not just the election, but the media around the 30th anniversary of the polarising Springbok tour, and cynicism around the then-government's inference that you were unpatriotic if you weren't obsessed with the All Blacks' battle to win the Rugby World Cup, inspired a lot of people to make theatre that explored the political climate. And for all my claims (again, see the Slouching Toward Bethlehem page) that our current politicians had nothing on the larger-than-life personalities of the yesteryear likes of Muldoon and Lange, in 2011 our idiot prime minister John Key was the comedy gift that kept on giving, with his social media pictures of himself 'planking', his mispronunciation of basic words, his bizarre repeated pulling of a local café waitress' ponytail, trying to normalise homophobic slurs as terms he'd learned from his kids—and then there was the triple handshake at the Rugby World Cup final, where he awkwardly joined in on a handshake between the All Blacks captain and someone else. A lot of John Key's idiocy was gold to me during Public Service Announcements—it seemed like every week he did something stupid I could immediately make use of in that night's performance—but the triple handshake was applied to Julius Caesar: I don't know that I've ever adequately explained on this website the extent to which Bacchanals performances rely on a certain looseness and immediacy, but it's best illustrated by us making a rule in Julius Caesar, where action and blocking was seldom fixed or set, that if you saw an opportunity to crash a handshake, you took it. And in a play where many characters greeted each other, where many characters arrived partway through scenes to greet each other, and where many characters took their leave of each other partway through scenes, there were many enormous opportunities to crash a handshake. And because it was always funny, both to the audience and to us, it could sometimes be catastrophic to the scene. I can barely remember some of the occasions in the first two acts where it regularly happened (Casca joining Brutus and Cassius in 1.2, the conspirators greeting Brutus in 2.1) but I will never forget the night when, as Brutus and Cassius took their final leave of each other in 5.1 before the Battle of Philippi and Alex and I had given the performance of our lives in terms of our emotional connection to each other and synchronised energies, Alex proffered a handshake on "For ever and for ever farewell, Cassius" and as I took his hand in all pathos and sincerity, Salesi as Messala somehow—we'd thought he was on the other side of the stage—crashed the handshake perfectly, dissolving one of the most tender moments in Brutus and Cassius' relationship into gales of laughter.

The season felt even hastier than the rehearsal process and my memories of the run are hazy—from 8am to 4pm each day I was holed up in a hotel suite in front of a giant screen marking 400-odd NZQA high school drama exams, watching interminable numbers of the same Lady Macbeth monologue or one half of a duologue from The Importance of Being Earnest or Waiting For Godot played to a chair at the rate of about 30 videos per day, so I was often in a state of zombification come the start of each performance of Julius Caesar. Some nights I'd close my eyes as Cassius died and the next thing I knew was the applause at the end of the show—I would fall straight asleep, lying there onstage, from my last line until the curtain call. We revisited a number of places that our 2006 Hamlet had played—the first performance was at St Peter's Hall in Paekakariki, followed by the Makara Community Centre, St Jude's in my childhood neighbourhood of Lyall Bay, the Tararua Tramping Clubrooms where we'd rehearsed I.D., Hamlet and King Lear, the Island Bay Community Centre, and the Newtown Community Centre where I'd seen my Dad in plays and where as a child I'd performed myself in A Midsummer Night's Dream. I remember the St Jude's show as being supercharged because (it being my old neighbourhood) there were audience members there who'd known me since I was tiny and by then we knew that Phil, Alex and I had all been nominated for Chapman Tripps in that year's Theatre Awards. Just before the show at the Island Bay Community Centre, I bought a five-string banjo with little idea of how to play it—within days I started playing it in the show in place of my guitar and it was this purchase that led to me exploring numerous different musical instruments through the rest of the twenty-teens. The remainder of our venues were all new: I liked the Hataitai Bowling Club, especially as it was only a 5-minute walk from my house; we'd been told about a mysterious space in Roseneath called the Long Hall, a decommissioned army barracks at Point Jerningham that was the secret home of some dance classes and a Gamelan orchestra. The Long Hall would go on to become a majorly important space to The Bacchanals—the twenty-teens equivalent for us of the hall upstairs at Jean Betts' place which we'd used between 2001-2005—but the night we played Julius Caesar there in 2011 was in the middle of a gale where it sounded like the roof was going to come off the building. As the Soothsayer, Salesi (dressed as Wellington's celebrity homeless person Blanket Man) tried to enter from outside through the south door of the Long Hall but the wind was so strong he struggled to get the door open. We must have been out to check the Khandallah Town Hall before choosing it as a venue but on the night it seemed too cavernous and soulless. Former Bacchanal Mark Cleary grumbled afterwards, "When you said it was an old school no-frills Bacchanals show, I was hoping you meant Twelfth Night-old school no-frills, not Othello/Trilogy old school no-frills!" The performance at the Vogelmorn Hall in Brooklyn on Saturday 26 November was a special one because it was the day of the General Election, itself the whole reason we'd put the production on in the first place. No Taste Forever! and Slouching Toward Bethlehem had both had the company onstage greeting the audience as they arrived at the start of the evening, but we went a step further with Julius Caesar and would do an opening whip-round introduction ("Hi! We're The Bacchanals and tonight's play is The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. I'm David and tonight I'm playing Caius Cassius." "Hi, I'm Alex and I'll be playing Brutus!" and so on). On election night, Jonny said "I'm Jonny, and this is the only act I'm supporting today" to great applause (ACT being a right-wing capitalist small party in coalition with the then-government); followed by Salesi saying "Hi, I'm Salesi, and I'm an ACT voter!" to gales of laughter, particularly as no one was ever sure if Salesi was joking.

Two nights after the election we played the final Julius Caesar at the Pit and it was a wild, riotous, odd night. First, I don't think we knew for certain that it was the last show—there was still a chance of another couple of venues; second, it was our most over-capacity show in our most small-capacity space. The Pit as a bar was a 5 x 3 metre space that could comfortably hold 20 people in it; we did Julius Caesar to an audience of 40—some inside the bar, some outside on the street watching through the front window, and some crammed into the doorway outside shared with the BATS box office. And whereas in all the community halls we'd been in we could set the space up for traverse performance, any choreography or staging went out the window in the Pit and it was a free-for-all in terms of actors working out how they'd get in and out of the performance space and where they'd be. There was absolutely no room for anything and Phil as the murdered Caesar ended up spending the last ten minutes of the first half actually lying in audience members' laps. Some of us—Salesi, Jonny and I— thrived off that sort of anarchy, but it wasn't so great for some of the others, especially if you were someone trying to give some semblance of an accomplished performance like poor Alex. At least I got to make good on that core image I'd had at the start of the year: while the rest of the actors made all the offstage shouts at the Feast of Lupercal from outside on the street on Kent Terrace, Alex and I began Brutus and Cassius' first scene together by actually buying and then drinking two whiskeys, sitting at the bar. I imagine the second half of the show, ill-suited to being performed in a beyond-cramped bar to an increasingly uncomfortable audience, was a big meaningless mess. But future Bacchanal Jamie Penwarden was there that night and apparently realised "That's the kind of theatre I want to be a part of!", and former Bacchanal Julia Harrison, who'd returned to New Zealand in 2011 after six years in Germany and was working a regular job, said to me after that night's show: "It's time for me to stop denying it to myself: I want back in!"

For a year that had begun with me supposedly cured of ever wanting to make theatre again, I had not expected the sudden resurgence of The Bacchanals in 2011—or how quickly we had become a company again rather than individuals there for a one-off project (as well as having the same cast as Slouching Toward Bethlehem, eight of Julius Caesar's cast had also been in No Taste Forever! making the 2011 Bacchanals even more coherent as a company than the 2005 incarnation had been). It felt like my disillusionment with ever making commercial theatre again had liberated me from caring what the industry thought about my work and given me the freedom to just make work I wanted to make. While I wouldn't ever try to say Julius Caesar was a particularly important Bacchanals show (or even a very good one!), as our third 2011 show it was as crucial as Wealth and Hellbeing had been in 2001 coming after The Frogs and Othello for defining the range of work we were going to do: most years you could expect from us a new New Zealand play, a Shakespeare, and a Something Else; you could expect something political, something social and something bonkers; you could expect a balance between stuff presented at BATS and stuff presented in found spaces. And this wasn't a conscious template; this is me retroactively looking back at the pattern of the work. It's interesting to look at things I wrote at the end of 2011 about the future of the company, where I promised a reverse-gender version of The Importance of Being Earnest (which we never got around to), another touring Shakespeare, an adaptation of The Clouds and various other projects—I had clearly decided The Bacchanals were back long-term rather than short-term. And we were already booked to present Other People's Wars at BATS in April 2012, in which I was going to cement the learnings of 2011 into the perfect piece of agit-prop, house-lights on, anything-could-happen political theatre. Of course, sometimes thinking you've found the perfect recipe for magic can result in a cauldron of sludge—but that's a story for next time!—David, October 2020

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