The University of Waterloo’s theatre and performance department is putting on a performance that will tell a familiar story through an unfamiliar lens. Portia’s Julius Caesar, by Canadian actor and playwright Kaitlyn Riordan, is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that places emphasis on the female characters. The central characters are Portia and Calpurnia, the wives of Brutus and Caesar, respectively. The play is half original Shakespearean text, taken from Julius Caesar and 20 other plays, and half new material set in iambic pentameter.
This production is three months in the making, with students spending long nights rehearsing, building, and sewing to bring it all together. Directors Andy Houston and Sorouja Moll let the cast play an active role in staging the play.
After feeling that the character had missed potential, the directors went through a process to workshop and add new material for the Soothsayer. Moll pulled lines from various Shakespeare plays and composed original lines in iambic pentameter to add depth to a character that had originally played a narrational role.
Students are also involved behind the scenes. Katharine Sill, a fourth-year student in theatre and performance and sociology, who is playing Casca/Soothsayer said, “It takes so much more than the 16 people you see on stage. There are so many amazing people who work on the design, lighting, set, sound.”
Students collaborate with industry professionals on all the technical aspects of the show. Experienced theatre professionals design the sound, lighting, set, and costumes, but it is third year students taking a theatre design course that are the heads of each technical department, while second year students make up the crew. This gives opportunities for students to be mentored and be leaders simultaneously, while experiencing what it is like to work for a professional production.
Of the rehearsal process, Emily Ashton Radcliffe, a fourth-year theatre and performance major in arts and business playing the lead role of Portia, said, “The cast was very trusting of each other, and the directors really allowed us to explore and try things. It was a fun discovery process.”
The cast had many conversations about why this play would still resonate with modern audiences.
Radcliffe said, “[This play] causes us to reflect on the histories that we’ve been taught in school growing up. Those stories were told from one perspective, oftentimes from the perspective of the victor, and we lose a lot of truth and nuances of the story when it’s only told from one side.”
The feminist lens of the play challenges us to see the women of Rome as active participants in an epic narrative. Characters like Portia and Calpurnia do not have access to the same arenas of power as their husbands, and so must find other ways to try and gain control of their lives.
“These women could have tried to change history. These women could have plotted and manipulated,” Sill said.
This show is a final farewell for several graduating students, including Sill and Radcliffe. As Radcliffe reflected on her five years in the theatre and performance program, she said, “I owe this program a whole lot of gratitude. It showed me areas of my creative development I didn’t know I was interested in, until they gave me the space and resources to try. The professors and staff in this program are just so committed to their students. There’s a lot of support academically, but also professionally. It’s an experience I couldn’t get anywhere else.”
The show will run from Wednesday, March 22, until Saturday, March 25. The shows are at 7:30 p.m. each evening, with an additional matinee performance at 2:00 p.m. on March 24. 30 minutes before each show, the audience is invited to engage with an interactive installation in the theatre gallery. Tickets can be purchased online (uwportia.ca), at the box office on the first floor of Hagey Hall, or at the door. To learn more, check out @uwtheatreperf on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok.