Monday, June 21, 2010

Thanking the Gods for JULIUS CAESAR

Susanna Burney will be playing Cassius/Cassia in Freehold's upcoming production of JULIUS CAESAR. (photo above: Susanna Burney in rehearsal for JULIUS CAESAR)

Monday, June 21 – 8:30 a.m.

Just found out I’m not called till 9:45 this morning so I have a moment to write this blog for Kate and the good folks of Freehold and Engaged Theatre. I live the crazy, chaotic life of the freelance theatre artist which means any given day I could be caught up in three or more different activities—performing for schoolkids, doing a voice over, auditioning for (hopefully) my next gig, rehearsing, etc etc. This weekend was no exception and Sunday was my only day off (it usually is).

Every year or so I say to myself, I’m not going to act anymore. I’m not very successful at it (never worked at the Rep, ACT or Intiman) and there are other people out there who are so much better than I. Plus, I’m a woman, and there are grossly disproportionate roles for women than men and a grossly higher number of actresses than actors.

And then, out of the blue, I’ll get a call—like the one I got from the amazing Robin Lynn Smith, and I’m irresistibly drawn back in. I’d heard of Robin for years, but we’d never met. She wanted me to audition for Cassius (Cassia), to play opposite my dear old pal, Reggie Jackson (I was Emilia opposite his first Othello ten years ago). I’d looked at Julius Caesar a lot over the years, it’s always been one of my favorite Shakespeare’s—I’ve read for Portia, Casca, Calpurnia, and it never worked out, partly I think, because those parts didn’t quite fit in my mouth and my being. Cassius was a different story. As soon as I started working with the material to prepare for my audition, I felt it. I got his (her) hunger to be taken for what he’s worth, to connect with Brutus, to make the world right again, to undo this wrongly gotten and dangerous power. And the way Cassius is written—the logic of his words, the directness and indirectness that rides a driving desire for the world to be set right again. Thank the gods, Robin let me do it.

And we are deep into it now. One more week of rehearsal and I’m almost completely off book (Cassius has a lot of words!). There’s work to be done, but the ground has been laid. It’s still a minefield of unconnected dots, but there’s great people all around me to lead me onward. Reggie is a dream scene partner—so focused and so kind, so GENEROUS. Which I can say with all my heart about Robin. Who seems hell bent on giving 100 times more than anyone else can give, not to compete on giving, but because it’s necessary. She believes in the work that much. It’s in every fiber of her being—it’s captivating to watch her; that much focus, that much brilliance which she wisely keeps a little in check so we can find a little of our own brilliance to make it ours.

I’ve performed for a lot of different populations over the years. But never prisoners. This is a particular challenge and gift I am deeply curious about and grateful for. I wonder how they will relate to a character so bent on her own personal sense of justice. Justice and honor that demands every risk, even to the death. Robin and I talk about how Cassius is a woman in our production, and how her sense of indignation and powerlessness in the face of the current state drives her rage, drives her hunger to make her voice heard—at all cost. Shakespeare gives you a bottomless well of opportunity with his words, his rhythms and his dramaturgy. I’ll try to cram as much as I can into this short lived process. Oh, it’s 9:00! I’ve got a bus to catch.

Freehold will be touring JULIUS CAESAR to two prisons, a juvenile detention center and for the first time to Veterans at American Lake Veteran's Hospital. PLUS we have 3 Public Performances of JULIUS CAESAR for you to attend.

We hope to see you there.

Public Performances:

Wednesday, July 7, 6:30 pm
at Seward Park Amphitheater
Saturday, July 10, 8:00 pm at Broadway Performance Hall
Sunday, July 11, 5:00 pm at Broadway Performance Hall
Tickets: Pay What You Can
Reservations are not required but if you'd like to reserve a seat, email us at
Questions: call us at (206) 323-7499.

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