- Julius Caesarby Back Room Shakespeare Project
The Back Room Shakespeare Project (BRSP) is interested in creating a particular theatrical event. For them, the necessary ingredients to release the ideal experience latent in Shakespeare’s plays is to rehearse once, with no director, then perform the play in question as seriously as possible … in a bar. The theory is that, under these conditions, audiences and actors can get closer to the kind of play event for which these texts were designed. As an original practices approach, the BRSP is an actorly rather than a materialist methodology. After three years of playing in the Chicagoland and Milwaukee region, they have found both success and a loyal following.
Attendees of their Ides of March performance of Julius Caesarwere welcomed with two toasts while filing into the Fireside Restaurant and Lounge: first, to brushing oneself off after betrayal; and second, to all things culturally clichéd, the luck of the Irish, and the Roman holiday. The large bar, located in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago (a [End Page 756]pocket of single-family homes where cabs and streets lights are equally infrequent), was still frocked with plastic shamrocks and humming from the St. Patrick’s Day parades of the day before. The biergarten out back, enclosed by a circus-like tent and sprinkled with makeshift space heaters, served as the main performance space.
At the center of the biergarten was a small and chilly cobblestone courtyard, surrounded by mismatched tiers of reclaimed wooden balcony platforms. Ten minutes after doors opened the few dozen tables and chairs available were claimed, and the rest of us were reduced to draping our coats and ourselves over any available edge we could find. As we searched for a ledge on which to get cozy, several fellow spectators claimed that this was their usual experience of a BRSP performance; later more than half the crowd admitted to having attended one of these shows before. The only source of light was colorful paper lanterns that mixed in between tendrils of ivy above, giving the space a pastoral glow to match the general hoppy buzz.
But the campaign to fill this room had started long before. The Face-book Event feed for the show had sent out intermittent notices in the month preceding. They started simply: “Julius Caesar rode a horse with toes” or “Julius Caesar invented cocaine.” In the week leading up to the performance, those of us who had committed to the event were sent notices with more motive:
Caesar was kidnapped by pirates. They played cards, sang songs, and traded war stories together. Caesar joked that they would all be crucified soon enough. Everyone laughed.
Until they were all crucified.
Caesar nailed them to the masts of their own ships and set [them] afloat in the Mediterranean.
Caesar must die. Sunday.
We were being treated to a viral propaganda campaign. Slowly we were being fed myths and facts first about Caesar’s beatific status, and then about the horrors he had committed in the name of personal power. We were not only being asked to attend, but to collude with Cassius and Brutus, to support their murderous machinations. As spectators, we were expected to be as knowingly culpable as Shakespeare’s conspirators.
While advertised as one-night-onlys, BRSP events are attenuated performances that are slowly cultivated online before taking shape on an [End Page 757]improvised stage. The Facebook postings kept the coming event present, as well as gradually and informally revealing what was at stake in its plot. (These performances are always free; however, donation jars are made available to fund pre-performance drinks for the...