Firsthand: Guerrilla Shakespeare Project Artistic Director Jordan Reeves on Adapting the Bard in And to the Republic
Shakespeare's Roman plays have a lot more in common with the present day than you might think.
The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project is a theater company founded on the belief that William Shakespeare is a modern writer for today's world. In that spirit, we always approach a Shakespeare play as if it were a new play, as if Shakespeare were in the room with us on the first day of rehearsal, writing for this moment, focusing on themes that are important to us as people living in 2014. One has a choice — to see Shakespeare as a playwriting diva, with his words and storylines locked in place, or to see him as a collaborator who is open to updating his work to make it as fresh and relatable as possible. We choose the latter and take Shakespeare off the pedestal, keeping the aspects of his writing that make him timeless, and forgoing the parts that can make his plays feel odd, alien, and out of date. We honor Shakespeare's language, as we do with every playwright, but we are not afraid to reconfigure the plot to serve our story.
All members of the Guerrilla Shakespeare Project are big nerds when it comes to the Bard and are always opening up their Complete Works and re-exploring the canon. We keep an eye out for the work that connects us to the world we live in. In 2012 we received a Shakespeare Works residency from The Shakespeare Society and had a chance to explore Coriolanus for a week. We were amazed by how many of the themes in that play were apropos to current events in America. Our country is so politically divided and the extremes keep stretching out further and further. Some of the speeches in Coriolanus sound like they could be spoken by a pundit on CNN. I think it is in these extreme periods that it is most important to revisit our greatest writers.
Using that workshop as a jumping-off point, we explored all of Shakespeare's Roman plays (Julius Caesar, Antony & Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus) and started highlighting the aspects of those stories that would best fit into a modern play about political intrigue. Thus And to the Republic was born. Just like Julius Caesar, And to the Republic focuses on the assassination of a political leader and its aftermath. We knew we wanted the show to have the feel of the relentless 24-hour news cycle and for the plot to take place over a frenetic day or two instead of years. We also wanted to focus on just a handful of characters, giving the audience the opportunity to get to know and care about each person onstage.
People familiar with Shakespeare's plays will notice a lot of differences in And to the Republic. For instance, Caesar and Antony are brothers, and well-known Brutus lines are now spoken by Cassius; however, the aspects that make these characters iconic are still present and, I think, even enhanced through the surprising and fresh choices our company has made.