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CCU Atheneum: Korilyn Hendricks plays the role of Brutus, the close friend of Caesar who becomes a leader in the assassination plot.
Korilyn Hendricks plays the role of Brutus, the close friend of Caesar who becomes a leader in the assassination plot.

‘Et tu, Brute?’: New twists for 'Julius Caesar'

by Connor Uptegrove
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Adapting a text written centuries ago to address concerns in contemporary society is often a challenge for theatrical directors, but Coastal Carolina University’s theatre department has found an ingenious and relevant way to highlight present-day issues in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by casting the play with all women.

Gwendolyn Schwinke, associate professor of theatre and director of the production, has set this famous play — about the aftermath of a political assassination and the subsequent restructuring of society — in a near-dystopian future ravaged by a global war. In CCU’s adaptation, the story begins with a group of homeless girls who find the script of Julius Caesar in an abandoned museum and decide to put on the play.

Early in the play, Caesar is assassinated by a group of political foes, and violent battles break out between the conspirators’ supporters and the armies led by the late ruler’s allies. While fighting, the political leaders must try to maintain favorable opinion with the citizens of the empire. The carnage-filled campaigns of the play mirror the catastrophic war that caused the dystopia the girls reside in.

Schwinke says Coastal’s adaptation of the play, which runs through April 7 in the Edwards Theatre, shines a light on the challenges and dangers of being a woman, demonstrating the strength and courage that women have to face those dangers.

“Caesar is the title role, but it’s not really about Caesar,” says Schwinke. “[It’s about] what happens when a state is in such disarray that violence seems to be the only option.”

Although the production was chosen for the CCU season well before this year, political and social events of the past six months make it especially relevant, according to Korilyn Hendricks, a senior physical theatre major from Aiken, S.C.

She is playing the major role of Brutus, the close friend of Caesar who becomes a leader in the assassination plot. Hendricks and some of her fellow cast members were part of a group of students who attended a national school walkout to protest gun violence on March 14. The event was a collaboration effort between the victims of the Parkland shooting in Florida and the Women’s March movement.

“I looked at the way women and young people are fighting back, and I kept thinking of Brutus’ speeches while at the walkout,” says Hendricks. “Our story is about a group of young women fighting back.”

In addition to incorporating modern issues into the play, Schwinke says that it has been an interesting challenge figuring out how to create the visual world of a shattered futuristic society while referencing the ancient Roman roots of the play.

Many of the production’s costumes and set pieces are inspired by the “Riot Grrrl” movement, which was part of the third wave of feminism in the 1990s. This underground cultural movement was created by young women in the punk rock scene who focused on such issues as rape, racism and patriarchy.

Schwinke says that there is something special about “creating an artistic product with 30 other women in the room and the power that is inherent in that.”

In the Elizabethan theater, men played all the parts, including women’s roles, so Shakespeare wrote the majority of his texts for male characters. Schwinke chose to reverse the gender imbalance and give women the opportunity to speak the nominally male-oriented text and learn from the experience. “Shakespeare is an excellent writer, and the text of the play is its own acting teacher,” says Schwinke.

“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would’ve gotten the opportunity to play Brutus,” says Hendricks. But when Schwinke pitched the idea for an all-women Julius Caesar, Hendricks’ dreams became reality. “This wonderful reversal is a long time coming.”

The experience of playing Brutus has convinced her that women portraying roles written for men does not alter the basic conception of the characters. “People are people. Our motivations, goals, relationships and power struggles are all the same.”

After graduation, Hendricks intends to pursue physical theatre and focus on the classics in Chicago. Julius Caesar has given her a taste for theatrical challenges.

“I love how difficult it is,” Hendricks says with a smile. “Playing Brutus is a wonderful gift.”

 

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