This year, Animal Fire Theatres Shakespeare in the Park show is entering the world of politics in theme and location.
The companys Julius Caesar is in its opening weekend at the Water Garden on the Capitol Campus.
I used to work at the state Legislature, director Jenny Greenlee of Olympia said. Its one of the Shakespeare plays that I feel connected to from having done that work and seeing the political process.
Politics have become more personal, she added. Its not just that you dont agree with someones ideas but you dislike them as a person. Our political conversation has gotten really personal and pointed.
Shakespeares relevance to contemporary life is one of the reasons Animal Fire was started.
The deeper you work with these plays, the more you realize how relevant they are to today and to our modern lives, said Kate Arvin, one of the companys core members. Its an honor to be able to work with text that is 400 years old.
Greenlee spotted the shows new location while working on the Capitol Campus. (A former staffer on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, she is now finance director for the Childrens Administration.)
As Ive walked through the campus and as Ive been thinking about Caesar the last couple of years, I really wanted to find a place on campus to do it, she said. I felt like the setting would be amazing for a show about the politics of Rome.
Built as a water feature but now dry, the Water Garden has levels built in. Our cast climbs all over it during the show, Greenlee said. Its sort of a natural amphitheater so the acoustics are amazing as well.
Unlike the summer Shakespeare productions former location at Priest Point Park, this one doesnt offer the audience a grassy spot. Its all concrete, so its a good idea to bring a chair or cushion.
This production is not just Greenlees first time directing Shakespeare and her first time directing an outdoor show. Its her first time directing a show for adults. Her past directing experience has been with Olympia Family Theater.
She knew she wanted to direct Julius Caesar and was seeking an opportunity, while Animal Fire Theatre found itself in a time of change without former artistic director Austen Anderson, who moved to Florida.
Ive known Jenny for quite awhile, Arvin said. After she saw Hamlet last year, she told us about her idea for Caesar. As we were choosing a show for this year, what we wanted was a director who really had a vision.
The director is taking a nontraditional approach to the setting of the story.
Theres a line that Cassius has about the killing of Caesar and how many times it will be re-enacted, she said. We really took that line to heart. The show is meant to exist in no time and any time, because this is a cycle that we play out in terms of assassinations of political figures.
It didnt even begin with Julius Caesar, but it stretches from Julius Caesar to Abraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy and beyond.
Shes also taken a nontraditional approach to casting, choosing female actors to play Brutus and Antony, two of the main characters who play out the tale of political intrigue along with Caesar, Cassius and a host of minor characters played by an ensemble cast.
I really wanted to play with what are these peoples motivations? she said. Is it purely political or how much of it is a personal revenge story? By making Brutus and Antony women, we really explore some interesting relationships. Theres a much more complex relationship among those characters.
Other than pronouns, I didnt make any other changes to the script, she added. I think people will be interested to see how much the text supports that kind of change in the casting.
Arvin is playing Antony, a friend of Caesar who switches allegiance more than once after Caesars death.
Its the part of a lifetime, Arvin said. Its very rare that this kind of character gets his gender transposed.
The company is excited about its new location, which should bring in more foot traffic, and is unconcerned that it shares its opening weekend with Lakefair and will begin Saturday nights performance during the festivals parade.
Lakefair is really fun, but some people really dont like it, Arvin said. Its nice to have an intellectual antidote to the fun.