One of the things Ghostlight can boast is a group of devoted participants. From actors to production crew members, many come back year-to-year to work with us again on each production. Today’s interviewee, Nathan Bradley, is one particularly special example and also our actor with the longest commute. Currently living with his family in Alaska, Nathan makes every effort to continue his involvement in Ghostlight’s Shakespeare in the Park every summer, and is our first actor to have auditioned via Skype. Playing Flavius Murellus in the upcoming Julius Caesar, Nathan takes a moment to describe what it’s like being involved from so far away.
How many productions have you done with Ghostlight?
This is my fifth production of Shakespeare in the Park and my sixth production with Ghostlight Productions. I have played Maria/Antonio/Valerio in Twelfth Night, Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Poet/Dupin in Midnight Dreary, Dogberry/Vergas/Watch in Much Ado About Nothing, and Prince/Paris in Romeo and Juliet.
You’ve spent the past several years living some distance from Scranton: talk about where you live and what you do!
After Romeo and Juliet, I married my wife, Elizabeth, and moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia. After juggling several jobs for a few years, I was hired as a high school language arts teacher in Napaskiak, AK. Napskiak is a small village in bush Alaska comprised almost entirely of Yup'ik Eskimos. There are no roads leading in or out (or around) the village; the only way in or out is by plane or boat unless the river is frozen, then you can drive to some of the neighboring towns on the frozen river.
What’s it like learning a part this far from the production site and remainder of the cast? Describe your process and any roadblocks or perks.
Under different conditions, this would be a lot more difficult. Since I only really interact with the audience, it is not very difficult to learn the part. Nonetheless, I still feel removed from the production as I have not yet integrated myself into the ensemble. It feels more like preparing for an audition than an actual performance.
What keeps you coming back to Ghostlight?
The people keep me coming back. Some people come and go, but at the core you have the Strayers and the Kemmerers and several other awesome people that I love to work with. Even when I couldn't perform, I would drive up to see the productions of Shakespeare in the Park. Also, I LOVE Shakespeare. The language is addicting and the stories are wonderful. I can't resist the opportunity to work on a Shakespeare play with some of my favorite people.
Are you involved in theater where you live?
I am currently finishing writing a drama curriculum for my school district so we can offer theatre arts as an elective. The current students just finished a production of "The Hungry Giant of the Tundra" which is an adaptation of a picture book that is an adaptation of a Yup'ik tale. It is a fable about a giant who eats children who stay out playing after dark. I have had requests from a couple community members to direct a community play, but that is a goal for the future.
What character are you playing? Describe who he is.
I am playing Flavius Murellus. He is actually a combination of two characters from the original script (Flavius and Murellus). He is an arrogant blogger who thinks he has more political clout than he really does. Nonetheless, he isn't afraid to actively participate in protests and he openly dislikes Caesar and anyone who supports her.
Brutus or Antony: who’s side do you choose?
As Flavius, I'm with Brutus. I wasn't originally a fan because of his closeness with Caesar, but someone had to put a stop to her and I am glad he had the gall to do something about it.
As Nathan, I'm still with Brutus because he is the more honorable. True, he committed murder, but he truly believed his cause was just. Antony is a shady, opportunistic politician whose rhetoric is too good to be sincere.
With close to a month left of rehearsals, we decided to focus this week’s interview spotlight on none other than the director, Rachel Strayer! Rachel, playwright and co-founder of Ghostlight Productions, lives and teaches locally in the Clarks Summit area, but has written pieces that have been produced as far away as San Francisco. Today she explains why she loves Caesar, what inspired her interpretation, and the exciting opportunities on the horizon.
Tell us a little about yourself!
Since co-founding Ghostlight Productions I have directed Romeo & Juliet; Scenes from Metamorphoses; Almost, Maine;The Mousetrap; and co-directed A Midnight Dreary, in which I also had an ensemble role. Shakespeare in the Park roles include Feste in Twelfth Night, Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Mrs. Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, and Adriana in The Comedy of Errors. I have an M.A. and MFA in Creative Writing/Playwriting from Wilkes University. My original play Drowning Ophelia received its World Premiere production in San Francisco in 2013 and an East Coast Premiere in Scranton in 2016. Gaslight Theatre Company of Wilkes-Barre has produced a number of my short plays, including Empathy, A Clean Bathroom, The Next Step, and In the Dark. I spend my days working as an Assistant Professor of Communications at Keystone College.
Talk about Ghostlight! What is Ghostlight’s vision for theater and why Shakespeare?
Julius Caesar is our 8th Shakespeare in the Park production. We started with a simple desire: to bring excellent theater to our community. Why choose Shakespeare? Well, honestly, Shakespeare was public domain and the park was free! But it didn’t take long for us to fall in love with Shakespeare as well as our chosen venue. I think Shakespeare’s works are intimidating to a lot of people; perhaps we are introduced to them in middle school or high school and all we can focus on is how hard it is to understand the language. But all plays are meant to be seen and heard, not read, and I believe seeing Shakespeare in performance has a profound impact on our ability to connect with the material. No matter what kind of experience you’ve had with Shakespeare in the past, Ghostlight believes we can help you fall in love with Shakespeare just like we did. We see kids attend our productions all the time and it thrills us to give young people their first experience with the Bard in a fun and engaging setting.
What was the initial inspiration for your interpretation of Julius Caesar?
To be honest, I’m not sure what first put the idea in my head, but I’ve been wanting to do a modern-day adaptation of Julius Caesar since I was a sophomore in college. I actually staged Act III, Scene II – Brutus’ and Antony’s speeches – for a directing class back in 2003.
How much has the play changed from your original concept?
Some of my ideas have stuck, like having a press corps asking questions and inflaming the public. I always knew I wanted to cast more women in the production than Shakespeare includes (in the original script there are only two); I loved the idea of a female Cassius in particular. But it wasn’t until I really started playing with ideas for this production that my vision evolved to include a female Caesar. I have to admit, seeing Phyllida Lloyd’s stunning all-female production of Julius Caesar at St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York City in 2013 definitely inspired me. My “present-day” concept has also stretched to include a slightly more dystopian future, but one that I believe, unfortunately, isn’t too far out of reach.
What is the biggest challenge for you as you direct this interpretation of the show?
I don’t think the interpretation itself has presented a challenge – yet. We chose an election year on purpose (but who could have predicted this kind of election year?!) and my only fear is that audience members will try to see our current presidential candidates represented in my actors’ portrayals. But each actor is portraying a unique character not based on any living individual and I think if we all do our jobs right, the audience will connect with the story we’re telling rather than the story they might be looking for.
What is one good reason that people should come see the show?
There are a lot of truths about our current political climate reflected in Julius Caesar. Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, Caesar transcends the time in which it was written. At Ghostlight Productions we strive to highlight those transcendent qualities, making the show relatable and easy to understand. Plus we have some really awesome fight scenes this year!
What’s up next for Ghostlight Productions?
Keep your eyes open for audition notices for our next play, the 3rd annual Underage Theatre production, Twain by the Tale, directed by Jillian Alyse Kemmerer. This entertaining adaptation of Mark Twain’s most popular stories is for participants ages 15 to 20, but performances are open to theatre lovers of all ages. Mark your calendar for Underage Theatre: Twain by the Tale at Abington Community Library, July 22nd through the 24th.
What are you looking forward to doing in the future? Any big plans on the horizon?
I am blessed to have a number of exciting opportunities in my near future. Locally, I have a small role this summer in Scranton Shakespeare Festival’s production of Much Ado About Nothing and my ten minute play, It’s Enough, will be part of Gaslight Theatre Company’s 2016 PlayRoom Series in June. In the fall I will be transitioning into the Director of Theatre position at Keystone College. Outside our local circles, I am pleased to announce that my full-length play, Drowning Ophelia, has been picked up by two New York City theater artists – Victoria Rae Sook of Ensemble Atria and Annie R. Such of Eager Risk Theater – with plans for production this coming fall.
One of the greatest joys of working in theater is watching it bring people together. This is especially true of Luke and Cecilia Sayre, faithful veterans of Ghostlight’s Shakespeare productions and participants in other local community theaters. Their credits include roles at the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock, Summit University, and the Wyoming County Players. Julius Caesar will be Cecilia’s third show with Ghostlight, and Luke’s sixth. This year, the couple are taking on the roles of Metellus (Luke) and Cinna (Cecilia): two conspirators in the plot against Caesar. Today, Cecilia tells us a little more about how they met, and the two explain why their characters want Caesar dead.
I understand that you two met through Ghostlight! Tell me how that happened.
Well, Luke had done shows with everyone previously, and I had wanted to audition for a couple of years. It was funny because they did consider using us for the characters Romeo and Juliet, even though I don't think we actually read opposite each other. We were there at the same time, but we weren't aware of each other at all...until the first read-through. Luke swears that when I walked in that night, time stood still for him and he just knew God was telling him he would marry me. The rest is kind of history! I remember he would stare at me during rehearsal (thinking he was being super nonchalant about it), and I kept trying to catch him in the act, so that I could just say 'Hi' thinking he might stop staring at me if I did.
Finally our director started pairing people off for the party scene, and put us together. Luke was looking anywhere but at me, even though we were supposed to be dancing together....so I grabbed his chin and said 'Focus!' It was supposed to just be a joke of course, but I didn't realize how funny and ironic it would be that such a thing would really be the first time I ever spoke to him in the long run!
Do you generally do theater together or do you get involved individually as well?
Since we met, I don't think we have done a show without each other. We love that this is a joint interest for us, and use it as a way to grow together. That doesn't mean we wouldn't do a production solo, but it just hasn't happened yet. We go to auditions together, and it has just happened so far that we have both always been offered roles.
What kind of theater do you prefer?
I have a soft spot for musicals whereas Luke has always been a sucker for the more dramatic pieces (murder mysteries and the like).
Describe who you are playing and how they feel about Caesar.
Cecilia: Cinna is a career politician, who actually pays attention to the cues around her. She notices when the little lines start getting crossed by the others in politics, and she finds that kind of behavior disturbing. She loves what Rome is to be, and knows that if the little lines get crossed, it puts the government onto the fast track of becoming a dictatorship. I see the type of power-hungry attitude in Caesar that leads down a road I do not desire for Rome, and I am afraid that the government's proper function can't stay intact with her sitting 'at the head of the table'. I don't like the idea of killing... In fact I don't really even know how to use a weapon. I have always lived a politicians life. I do, however, think something must be done for the good of Rome, and while I don't want to kill, I do want to save the people I care about.
Luke: Metellus is a career soldier. He doesn’t much care for politics and would rather keep clear of it. Like many in the military Metellus has bled and lost friends for the sake of Rome; with this perspective in mind he will do whatever it takes to preserve his country. Metellus has had numerous dealings with Ceasar in the past, and has even used Ceasar’s influence to gain higher position in the military. As a result, Metellus has very little respect for Ceasar and sees her as inconsistent and easily influenced. It isn’t hard to imagine Metellus killing Ceasar for the sake of Rome, after all no one wants to see a puppet take command, not unless they are on the other side of the strings.
What kind of person will love this show?
Cecilia: I think almost anyone could love this show! I think the political nuances and themes are enough to keep people interested in the story-line, but on the other side of that coin, there is enough action to keep your eyes focused, even when no one is talking.
Luke: I think this show could be enjoyable for anyone who is prepared to sit down and think. Julius Ceasar is not a production for the faint of heart. The parallels that can be drawn between Rome and present day are thought provoking to say the least.