H-T FEATURE: Women take center stage in IU production of ‘Julius Caesar’

By Jenny Porter Tilley | jtilley@heraldt.com  Jan 17, 2018

Meaghan Deiter plays Julius Caesar during a rehearsal Tuesday in Bloomington. (Jeremy Hogan | Herald Times)

“A new day is on the horizon,” Oprah Winfrey said, in a statement that ended with a standing ovation, as she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement earlier this month at the Golden Globes.

Winfrey spoke directly to young girls watching, telling them they too could be leaders in the entertainment industry. As public accounts of sexism and sexual assault continue to emerge, pressure is growing to provide more and bigger roles for women.

But there’s another way to give female actors more opportunities: By casting them in roles traditionally given to men, starting with texts written centuries ago. It’s happening with Indiana University’s upcoming production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” opening Friday at IU’s Ruth N. Halls Theatre.

Meaghan Deiter, who plays the title role, is thrilled to get to say one of the most famous lines in all of Shakespeare’s work: “Et tu, Brute?”

“I get to say that, which is really cool,” Deiter said. “It traditionally wouldn’t have been available for a woman to say or play the role.”

In its original form, the play has only two roles for women, both of whom are wives of other characters. The rest of the roles — 39 of them — are for men. It makes sense, considering many of the scenes involve governmental officials and people in battle, which would have been all men at the time.

Director Jenny McKnight

In director Jenny McKnight’s cut of the play coming to IU, there are 21 actors. She cast eight women, some in roles traditionally played by men, instead of casting the 19 men and two women the scenes she chose would require.

“This is happening more, and I think it’s a cool opportunity for women,” Deiter said. It’s not her first time playing a Shakespeare part originally written for a man, either. In “The Tempest” last spring, she played the role of King Alonso, which was recast as a queen.

Bloomington audiences were exposed to another twist in casting Shakespeare’s works in 2016, when Cardinal Stage Co.’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” featured women playing all the roles, portraying both men and women.

When McKnight began auditioning actors for “Caesar,” she didn’t come into it with a plan to cast the title character as a woman. But she did create a couple of composite characters who she planned to be women, based on multiple characters in Shakespeare’s original play.

“This play was written in 1599,” McKnight said. “It’s been produced a billion times. I can’t imagine anything that we’re doing hasn’t been tried before.” Rather than trying to do something groundbreaking, she’s focused on the experience Bloomington audiences will get from the production — including theater and English students who may come to the show to fulfill a requirement for a class.

“How do we get those students excited and hooked into Shakespeare? We make it unexpected,” she said. “They expect to see a bunch of white guys in togas, but then see something else.” She hopes they’ll sit forward in their seats a little and take notice.

Students of theater working with historical texts are familiar with the skew toward roles for white men. IU’s Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance strives to plan seasons with diversity in style, content and available roles, according to chairman Jonathan Michaelsen.

“We want to make sure we aren’t doing things that are so male-dominated that we don’t have enough roles for women,” he said. “Then we try to take on pieces that are diverse culturally and reflect the world as much as we can.”

Planning a season this way means not necessarily eliminating historical plays that should be a part of an actor’s curriculum, but instead rethinking them, often using colorblind and gender-blind casting methods.

It’s not uncommon for theater instructors to have women playing men’s roles and vice versa in class, McKnight said. But most of the time, “it happens as a classroom exercise, but not as a full-blown production,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work to do in that realm in terms of changing minds. Some people are still old-school about casting. … I do think minds are changing, and we’re living in an exciting time when people are not just willing, but excited, to think outside the box.”

Although presenting an established play in a different way can be a risk, Michaelsen wants the department’s students to learn that they can take risks as they build their own careers.

“It gets students thinking in a creative way, not just presenting it the way it’s always been done,” he said. “It not only gives certain students more opportunities, it also just makes everyone in the cast — and hopefully the audience, too — think that yeah, you can take a risk. You can do something different.”

As women in acting, as well as other professions, continue to fight for their voices to be heard and to be given a seat at the table, Michaelsen hopes IU students on stage and in the audience are already being accustomed to new ways of thinking.

“We’re trying to serve as many students we can and as many diverse backgrounds as we can,” he said. “To say that ‘Hamlet’ was written for a man, so only a man can do it … we’re getting away from that.”

If You Go

WHO: Indiana Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance.

WHAT: “Julius Caesar,” written by William Shakespeare, directed by Jenny McKnight.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Jan. 23-27; 2 p.m. Jan. 27.

WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

TICKETS: $5-$20; 812-855-1103, theatre.indiana.edu

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Find more arts news from Jenny Porter Tilley at heraldtimesonline.com.

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IU Theatre presents Shakespeare classic on a dictator’s reign, assassination

Meaghan Deiter (Caesar) during a rehearsal for “Julius Caesar.”

By Joel Pierson | H-T Theater columnist
Jan 14, 2018

William Shakespeare had a real interest in Roman history, as evidenced in his best-known work about this era, “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.”

In fact, much of what we know about the end of the dictator’s reign comes from Shakespeare’s work, down to his famous (and without any basis in historical fact) last words: “Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar.” Historians believe his actual final words to be, “Ow, s***, that hurts. Please stop stabbing me.”

I should have inserted a spoiler alert before that slightly irreverent quip, but if you’re interested in “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” and you’re expecting a happy ending for him, you probably weren’t paying close attention in ninth-grade English. Let’s face it: that’s where many of us first encountered the tale of conspiring Roman senators hell-bent on taking down the tyrannical leader on the Ides of March, 44 BC. We were tasked with reading it for homework, with key sections read aloud in class by fellow students who were probably shaky at best on what they were orating. Not the best way to experience such an influential work of literature.

Fortunately, the IU Theater is here to rescue you. Their production of “Julius Caesar,” opening this week, puts those powerful words in the mouths of a talented cast, bringing all the drama to life — and later, you know, death. So, friends, Bloomingtonians, countrymen, I come to praise this “Caesar,” not to bury it. And to find out a bit more about putting this production together, I talked with director Jenny McKnight, including the fact that the actor portraying Julius Caesar happens to be named Meaghan.

“There are a number of non-traditional casting choices in our production,” McKnight told me, “and some of those were made prior to auditions. However, the decision to cast a female in the role of Julius Caesar was made following auditions, for a variety of reasons, including the opportunity for Meaghan to play this iconic role, the ways that gender might influence the relationships in the play, and the strength of her audition. Casting is a bit like playing Tetris — all the pieces must fit together perfectly to create some kind of solid structure!”

I asked her if there was an effort to politicize the production, as has been done in the past, making it a metaphor for a specific government or regime. She replied, “One of the things I like most about our production is that it isn’t specific to any real political climate or situation, which allows the audience to note the parallels between the events of Caesar’s death and the subsequent chaos with a variety of historical figures. I like the idea that in our production, Rome and Caesar is not germane to one time and place, but floats through history. I think this does allow our audiences to be more involved in creating the story along with us.”

The production examines how rhetoric works to influence people and get things done. Mark Antony is the play’s speechmaker, addressing the masses and influencing their opinions. McKnight added, “One of the glories of studying and performing Shakespeare is the opportunity to ‘speak the speech’ as written by arguably the most skilled writer of poetic and dramatic language. Shakespeare’s facility with words requires our student actors to rise to the occasion, and seeing the progress they have made in appreciating and owning that responsibility has been really exciting.”

Contact Joel by sending an email to features@heraldt.comwith “Pierson” in the subject line.

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance

WHAT: “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare

WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19-20 and 23-27; 2 p.m. Jan 27

TICKETS: $10–20. Call 812.855.1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.

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H-T REVIEW: IU actors rise to the occasion in Brecht allegory

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Courtney Reid Harris as the MC

By Connie Shakalis | HT Reviewer  Dec 2, 2017

“From Bum to Tyrant in 13 Easy Steps.”

No Nazi death camps, allusions to Trump, or the satisfaction of watching Hitler’s demise. These are absent in the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance’s production of “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” by Bertolt Brecht. One reason is that the play, written in 1941, focuses on Hitler’s rise. We see what happened to inspire — and allow — him to gain monstrous impact. Brecht substitutes Chicago and its vegetable market for Germany, Cicero for Austria and a gang of 1930s thugs for the Nazi party.

The play, both stark and at times very funny, makes many references to Brecht’s revered Shakespeare, most notably “Richard III.” As Richard lived in a time of instability, so did Hitler — with Germany’s deplorable financial situation in the early 1900s — and so does Arturo Ui. Chicagoans are struggling to buy vegetables on their low incomes, crooks are threatening the vegetable sellers and additional crooks are turning opportunity to gold by forcing the vegetable vendors to pay for “protection.” Ui says, “They’d rather buy a cabbage than a coffin.”

Director Liam Castellan has gathered a fine cast to tell Brecht’s story. And, seeking to use many of the best performers he has available this year, has cast most of the male characters with females. It works beautifully, and before the second scene, I had completely adjusted to feminine forms with flowing hair depicting testosterone-drenched hyper-males.

The action begins with a charmingly kooky Courtney Reid Harris as the MC explaining to the audience — Brecht believed in including the viewers — what is about to happen. Later, she also gives us a splendid grieving (not) widow and concerned (not) mother of “a boy of four … a, a, a boy of five.” Arturo Ui is played by a vivaciously frightening Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz and has many of the show’s most poignant lines. We watch her Ui go from uncouth, insecure robber to crowd pleasing, polished public speaker.

I wanted to leap onto stage and say, “Stop her, everybody, before she gets too far.” And that is Brecht’s point: we allow and enable bad guys, and when we finally catch on, it’s too late for control or reversal. Sheet (Carina Lastimosa) describes looking into a murky pond: “They could be twigs, but, no, they’re snakes.”

And the snakes they are a comin’.

Early on, Roma (a convincing Ellise Chase) tells Ui, “No one cares enough to bump you off.” It’s true; no one is paying attention. But by the finale, Ui rants, “Chicago’s in the bag, but I want more!”

Two actors stand out in this proficient lot. Mia Siffin is nearly brilliant as the third-rate actor hired to give Ui lessons in elocution and stage presence. She is also heart-rending as a wounded woman reporting a shot-up truck. As Giri, Nathaniel Kohlmeier had me laughing at first, as he shook hands with audience members and generally portrayed the swellhead. Oh, but what he becomes as Ui’s trusted and untrustworthy sidekick!

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Athena Kopulos is creepily believable as the wheelchair-bound Dogsborough, finally kowtowing horribly to Ui’s sadism. I enjoyed Alexa Lively’s realistic Butcher, and Brantley Goodrich gripped me as the resistant, doomed O’Casey and again as the drugged and vilified Fish. Eleanor Sobczyk was an eerie flower-peddling Givola, sending bouquets to his next victim.

Brecht arranged for prescient signs between scenes, which director Castellan posts on the backdrop: “All Press Is Good Press, So Use It”; “You’re on Your Way! Cut Any Ties You’ve Outgrown”; and maybe the scariest, “From Bum to Tyrant in 13 Easy Steps.”

So, we applaud and go home, and over the years we read, and watch, and say, “How could this or that have happened?”

This is how.

If You Go

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

WHEN: Tuesday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; 2 p.m. Saturday.

TICKETS: $5-$20; 812-855-1103; http://www.theatre.indiana.edu.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. For more arts news and reviews, visit heraldtimesonline.com.
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Theatre Review: Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama presents “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”

By Anne Kneller | Friday, December 1, 2017

MFA Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz in IU Theatre’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”

There is one show in Bloomington that you should see in the coming week, and no, it has little to do with cracking nuts or sugar plums a-prancing. The IU Theatre Department’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is a timely reminder that authoritarianism, much like Jason Voorhees, never fully dies.

An electric ensemble of women performers (and two very talented men) skillfully navigate the play’s alternations in tone from comedic farce, to social critique to gangster origin story. Which is to say, the play both is and is not about Chicago gangster Arturo Ui’s rise from ridiculed ruffian to homicidal populist demagogue via his scheme to create a market monopoly on cauliflower. And yes, I did say cauliflower.

Arturo Ui is the story of Ui’s rise to power in that it fits very well within the genre of gangster films tv shows, and novels such as White Heat with James Cagney, Little Caesar with Edward G. Robsinson, the Godfather saga and more recently, Boardwalk Empire. Narratives in this genre usually trace the meteoric rise of gangsters from their early childhood in poverty to the apex of their power as neighborhood “bosses” and then to their nadir as “Johnny Law” catches up with them. However, it would be reductive to term Arturo Ui a mere addition to this genre as it was written by noted critic of the Third Reich, Bertolt Brecht, who expressly had the National Socialist Party in mind when he authored it. Brecht’s characters correspond to many of the members of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle and many scholars have noted that the play’s narrative arc mirrors the transition of Germany from Weimar Republic to NAZI controlled Deutschland. The play is also divided into 13 sections which parallel Umberto Eco’s principals of Ur-Fascism. These are projected above the scene taking place with text that provides meta-commentary on the action.

The choice to stage this play was timely, yet its message can easily be oversimplified if viewed purely as a morality tale about the dangers of National Socialism. Well aware of this, director Liam Castellan seeks to push audiences past cursory readings of Brecht’s work, and he does so by pointing to the ways in which contemporary uses of the phrase “NAZI Germany” often serve as a means of deflecting attention from our own inaction in the face of authoritarianism. Much like the timely satire of Armando Iannucci (I haven’t seen “Death of Stalin” yet, so please no spoilers), Brecht’s work is all about the constructed nature of the politician’s image and the ways in which authoritarian leaders view those who propel them to power as expendable resources. Castellan’s take complicates our reading of Brecht’s play, allowing it to critique authoritarianism, corporate greed, business monopolies and dehumanization, all of which are rooted in a system that prioritizes the acquisition of capital over the well-being of people.

I told you, it’s a production that packs a heavy right hook.

Not only is the direction superb, its cast breathes fresh life into what could easily have become a play with a markedly masculinist bent. The choice to cast mostly women actors in the play is a bold one, and one which also allows for considerations of the roles that women have played in supporting and suborning authoritarianism and violence. In this manner, Castellan also undermines the masculinism inherent in the rhetoric which authoritarian, racist and patriarchal institutions use to incite the public to “abandon femininity” for the sake of the fatherland. As critical as it is to have a cast of women actors, I am loathe to tokenize a group of women performers solely for their gender as the performances given by many of these young actors are truly sublime. This is Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz’s debut and she was absolutely magnetic: as Ui she alternates between a frenetic energy and a stone-cold narcissism with the deftness and attention to detail of a mature performer. She has an extremely difficult role in that she is playing a character who learns how to play a character in the realm of politics, and her accent, her gestures, her expressions are pitch perfect for Ui’s role as petty dictator over a cart of vegetables. After this truly fantastic performance, I look forward to seeing Kunkel-Ruiz more on the Wells-Metz Theatre stage.

Mia Siffin’s performance as the very drunk acting coach was an absolute scene-stealer. The woman served us some genuine holiday ham in her hilarious scene where she “teaches” Ui how to walk (the goose-step), sit and stand in public. Siffin’s scenery-chewing and wild blocking during her Antony monologue is uproariously funny and also perfectly aligned with Brecht’s critiques of the emphasis on the pure emulation of effete acting styles in early twentieth-century theatre. Also notable is Katie Swaney as Clark, who undoubtedly gives one of the best character acting performances I’ve seen this semester. Swaney swaggers across the scenery with the metered braggadocio of James Cagney, and she has the accent and flawless line delivery to boot.

Another standout performance you’ll enjoy is Courtney Reid Harris as the MC and Dockdaisy. Harris is riveting from the first moment she steps on stage as ringleader of the authoritarian circus till the last line of the play. She and Carina Lastimosa Salazar demonstrate a clear skill at creating believable characters. These two performers are powerhouses when it comes to alternating between modes of performance and accents.

Lastly, but certainly not least, the two gentlemen of Ui are riveting to watch onstage in their own right. Nathaniel Kohlmeier’s Giri has crafted a truly intimidating psychopath who is by turns charming and violently enraged, and several notches up on the sociopathic scale from Mac in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And Dom Pagliaro carries himself like a quieter version of an (armed) club bouncer who has a baritone voice sure to charm even the most fickle of ears. Kudos gents.

All of these wonderful performances were made possible by a theatre department which endeavors to take risks, to stage plays that critically interrogate the world we live in and to provide opportunities for young actors, technicians and directorial staff to flex their creative muscle. More than ever, we need strong theatre and arts programs that afford students the ability to grapple with the world they live in and to respond to our social realities. Arturo Ui, like Umberto Eco’s principals of Ur-Fascism demands that we examine the ways in which a society that is supposedly based in the “will of the people” can slip easily into an authoritarian regime maintained through nepotism, destabilization and violence. With such biting lines as “what counts is what the little hick imagines the boss acts like”, Brecht points to the constructedness of the politician’s image, underscoring the performative nature of politics, and the destructive power of internalized classism and political chauvinism.

Go see some theatre y’all. Who knew cauliflower could be the opiate of the masses?

About the author:
Anne Mahady-Kneller is a PhD student at Indiana University. She studies visual representations of race, ethnicity and national identity at the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies. But on her days off, she’s usually either watching Veep with her husband Drew or chasing her Boston terrier Oscar away from her pizza.​

Reprinted with permission from the author.

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Contemporary Dance juniors explore the process of choreography

By Ellise Chase

Assistant Professor Selene Carter

Years in the making, Selene Carter brings student choreography to the Studio Theatre stage.

The choreography comes out of a class designed for juniors, Choreographic Performance Project, where they learn the art of creating and producing original choreography.  They learn to apply repeatable movement to other dancers.  Honing in on what tools they have in their vocabulary, both physical and expressive.

“There is push to always define your own unique vocabulary,” Carter states, “for an undergraduate student it’s a lot about figuring out what they know, learning new skills and learning the context of what they know. Really having a distinctive, individual voice is what is valued in contemporary dance.”

The choreographers are given a cast of student dancers, two days a week for rehearsal, and faculty support.  Carter works with the choreographers weekly, looking at such elements as theme, motif, the visual experience, and what is of value to the individual as a creative artist using dance as the medium.   She is also present to review and reinforce of all of the information the now junior level dancers have gained in their training thus far.

The student choreographers – all 16 of them – are well-versed in what is expected of them, as they were the dancers in their freshman and sophomore years.  Working with their peers as dancers is arguably one of the greatest challenges of the course.  But this is a key part of the process, learning how to communicate this unique style on to other dancers. Human beings have this funny way of not all moving the exact same way, and for the student choreographers, this can be quite the obstacle to overcome.

“The goal there is that they learn a lot about what a choreographer faces; it is an ever changing, a morphing thing,” Carter states, “and that’s where as theatre it is gold, because you find there such a strong curve of learning that happens for them when they are put in our shoes, when they are empowered to be the choreographer.  That’s a real challenge because most of them are more comfortable being dancers.”

“It is not about being friends with your dancers, it is not about making the dancers comfortable and making them like the dance, it is about pulling out of them what you really want to find.”

This journey isn’t so much about making the perfect pieces, Carter clarified, but instead focusing on the process. This is the first time these students are having their work shown publicly, and to a sold out audience nonetheless.

Cameron Barnett, one of the choreographers, stated, “It’s so valuable to have the opportunity to see your work on stage in front of the audience. Sometimes it feels like dance is undervalued, so having the chance to see your own work on stage validates dance as an art form.”

These pieces will be performed December 1 and 2 to a sold out audience in the Studio Theatre at IU.

Ellise Chase is a first-year M.F.A. acting student at IU. Ellise graduated from Gannon University with a Bachelor’s degree in theatre and another in advertising. Past roles include: A Streetcar Named Desire (Stella) and Sweeney Todd (Johanna) at the Erie Playhouse. Collegiate roles include: The Crucible (Abigail Williams), Pygmalion (Clara), and Peter Pan (Wendy Darling). Ellise is from Erie, Pennsylvania.

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H-T PREVIEW: Student director chooses gender-blind cast for ‘Arturo Ui’

By Joel Pierson H-T Theater columnist | Nov 19, 2017

Ellise Chase (Roma) and cast members rehearse for “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”

Bertolt Brecht was one of the most outspoken and distinctive figures in 20th century theater. Born in Germany, he later lived a life in exile in several Scandinavian countries and then the United States.

Author of such plays as “The Threepenny Opera” and “Mother Courage and her Children,” his Marxist views permeated his theatrical pursuits, making the theater a forum for political debate. His concept of “epic theater” invited audiences to reflect critically on what they were seeing and hearing, rather than forming emotional attachments with the characters on stage.

With these concepts in mind, Brecht wrote “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” in 1941, a satirical allegory for Hitler’s rise to power. Using characters with names strikingly similar to members of the World War II Nazi Party, Brecht weaves a tale of gangland Chicago in the 1930s, a time of violence, corruption and … cauliflower? Yes, the vegetable you sometimes leave on your plate is center stage in this production.

Arturo Ui is a mob boss who works to control the (apparently lucrative) Chicago cauliflower racket, using extreme measures and unchecked violence. In this way, the play tells of Hitler’s ascension and illustrates how it doesn’t take much for a tyrant and a bully to manipulate an entire people, transforming a democracy into an oppressive dictatorship. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about such things today. (Look … satire!)

IU Theatre presents “Arturo Ui” this month, with some surprises, courtesy of MFA director Liam Castellan. The first surprise is the director’s decision to cast the production gender blind. He explains, “My initial idea was that half of the cast would be women. Sticking with gender as written would have tied my hands in casting the most talented actors available. One of Brecht’s goals was to make the familiar strange. Cross-gender casting is a way to do that. By changing the gender of the villain, does it change the audience’s perception of the character?”

As a result, the traditionally male-dominated cast is comprised of 13 women and two men. Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz plays the title role. She shared, “I am so excited to take on a role not usually played by a female actor. Arturo is such a dynamic character. In him we see what some people are willing to do for power and how that power changes them.”

Brecht’s style has been described as meta-theatrical. Castellan says, “I’m fascinated by how Brecht uses verse and other facets of epic drama to tell a modern story. Brecht uses the American gangster myth to take a fresh look at one of history’s greatest monsters, seeing through his infamy to explore the actual path he took to gain power.”

Whether you’re a Brechtian veteran or new to his distinctive style, an opportunity to see one of is works is always worth taking. In the hands of an innovative director, the play should make a very powerful statement about the dangers of fascism and groupthink.

Contact Joel by sending an email to features@heraldt.com with “Pierson” in the subject line.

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance

WHAT: “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” by Bertolt Brecht

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1, 2, 5-9; 2 p.m. Dec. 9

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

TICKETS: $10-$20. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Read more from Joel Pierson and find more arts news at www.heraldtimesonline.com.

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H-T Feature: Student director brings Hitler allegory to life

Photo by Alex McIntyre | Herald Times Director Liam Castellan scrutinizes the play during rehearsal on Nov 15 for “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” at IU’s Wells-Metz Theatre in Bloomington

By Madeline Dippel Special to the Hoosier Times

This fall season, third-year M.F.A. director Liam Castellan brings Bertolt Brecht’s play “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” to life at Indiana University’s Wells-Metz Theatre.

The play, focusing on the fictional mobster Arturo Ui and his attempts to gain control of Chicago’s cauliflower industry, acts as an allegory about Hitler’s rise to power.

Though this is originally the main theme of the play, Castellan’s depiction delves deeper into the patterns when a tyrant gains power, thus giving a broader view of the situation, he said.

Castellan said he began his interest in theater as an actor throughout grade school and high school, leading to his undergraduate theater education at Northwestern University.

During his time at Northwestern, he decided to expand his talents by directing a play that was held in his arts-themed dorm, where one could rent spaces for productions.

He continued to act, but Castellan said by the time his undergraduate career ended, he realized that he is a director who enjoyed acting.

“Something made sense about being able to see the relationship with actors and space, talking to them and working towards a unified stage event,” he said.

Castellan has previously directed at IU and, over the summer, worked with local children’s theater company Stages, which he said he learned of through the former executive director of the camp and current Ph.D. student Josh Robinson.

“It seemed like a great challenge,” he said. “Grad school should be a time for trying new things, and Stages was definitely one of them.”

He worked with 20 students, mostly ages 6 to 9, to put on a pirate show tailored for elementary school children, he said.

Castellan said he had done some previous work with youth theater, but never with that many students in that tight an age range.

“It was very different than what I’m working on right now,” Castellan said. “Though I am sure there are things in common with the large-scale Brecht play.”

His production of Brecht’s “Arturo Ui” is Castellan’s thesis project for the graduate program at IU.

While staff members advise the M.F.A.s and occasionally step in to help with design or play roles, Castellan mainly works with other students, graduates and undergraduates.

He said he does not think about directing them as helping them and expanding their knowledge, but looks at what the other students bring to the table in the process of telling the story.

“We have really talented, dedicated people here,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons that I chose this program.”

Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz, playing Arturo Ui, left, dumps Dogsborough, played by Athena Kopulos, from a wheelchair during rehearsal. Alex McIntyre | Herald Times

Castellan’s production of the male-dominated play predominately has women playing the roles, including the lead of Arturo Ui, played by Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz.

Kunkel-Ruiz said she enjoys working with Castellan and knew that she would, even during auditions, as he gave different styles for her to act out the script. 

Through this play, she said, there has been a lot of self-discovery because she is a woman playing a male role, and that is something she sees in all of the women playing the male roles.

“This is a play about how democracy can go so quickly into dictatorship,” she said. “This is a play about humanity.”

“Arturo Ui” starts Friday at the Wells-Metz Theatre.

If you go

WHO: IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance

WHAT: “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Dec. 5-9; 2 p.m. Dec. 9

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

TICKETS: $10-$20; 812-855-1103, theatre.indiana.edu.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. For this and more arts news around town, visit The Herald Times Online.

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