Julius Caesar has been set pretty much everywhere and everytime but it’s rare to see the characters truly stand out in interesting ways because of said different setting. In the Spur-of-the-Moment Shakespeare Collective’s bold new version that began at the Toronto Fringe Festival and toured shelters around the city, the characters were inmates in a women’s prison and Erin Eldershaw’s stunning Mark Antony a refreshingly sarcastic and unflinching modern rough-edged leader, earning her a spot in our Best Supporting Actress race.
Can you remember the first theatre production you ever saw?
Cats, at the NAC when I was ten years old. My mom and I were sitting in the second row. During one of the larger numbers a handsome cat stood at the end of the stage, winked at me, then bounded away. It was magical.
Where did you train as an actress?
I graduated from George Brown College’s classical conservatory program in 2013. Before that was Canterbury Arts High School’s drama program.
Had you done much Shakespeare before?
Yes, George Brown focuses a lot of its training around classical/heightened text, so Shakespeare was one of our best buds for a while. I’ve had the opportunity to work on monologues/scenes from Merchant of Venice, Richard III, Two Gents, Measure for Measure, As You Like It, Shrew etc. I’ve also been a part of a children’s theatre puppet company called Shakey-Shake and Friends who have put on productions of Romeo & Juliet, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the fall of 2013, I also worked on a cross-gendered version of Othello as Roderigo, with Go Play Producing.
How did you get involved with the Julius Caesar Project?
I had heard about the Spur-of-the-Moment Shakespeare Collective when I was in second year George Brown and because I have such a love for Bill, when I heard they were holding auditions for their 2014 season, I decided to drop my resume and see where it went. I was fortunate enough to get cast in both the Julius Caesar Project and in their annual Shakespeare in Hospitals Program which ran from August – December last year.
How did the prison setting affect the play as a whole and Antony’s journey specifically?
Historically, Rome was a place where the Senate ruled the people from afar and made choices without much conversation with the commoners. In this sense, the prison setting amplified the idea of confinement influenced by outer powers, and commented on the hierarchy within those who are confined. It also added a sense of secrecy, to not let the guards know what Cassius was planning, which was meant to further the conspiracy-driven plot. In my perspective, Antony’s will or character did not change much because of the setting. The contemporary dwelling definitely informed body posture and demeanor, but Antony’s character and drive mainly stayed the same as in the original time period. Now, because it was set in a woman’s prison and all the characters were female, this might have had a different impact on the audience. The story stayed the same, but the comment that Spur-of-the-Moment Shakespeare was trying to make was to “reclaim power.” Through the female prison, we could ask our female audience members to talk about what it feels like to be oppressed / to feel weak within confinements, and talk about what it feels like to fight back, be strong, and stand up for what we know to be right.
How much Orange is the New Black did you watch to prepare? Which character would you say handles her sentence in the most Antony-esque way?
My mother and I binged watched all of season one well before I even knew about the concept for the Julius Caesar Project. I was incredibly impressed with seeing so many complex, strong-willed women on screen at once, being gross and funny and dangerous. So when Victoria Urquhart (the co-founder) explained the concept to us – I was absolutely on board. Half the cast then got together and held a marathon for season two about mid-way into rehearsals. As for characters, I’d say Antony is like Nicky when things are going well and Red when they are not. In Plutarch’s writings, Antony was a lover of drink, women, and doing what he pleased. He pissed people off as often as he was welcome. In this way, he was like Nicky. But when Caesar was murdered, Antony (after a few conflicting emotions) shook the murderers’ bloody hands whilst plotting his revenge. He conspired, manipulated others, waited for the perfect opportunity, and struck with a vengeance! He was ultimately loyal to those closest to him and demanded respect from those who weren’t. These are aspects of Red, the mother hen. Antony is the friend that will show up with a black eye and you’re not really sure if he seduced someone he wasn’t supposed to, or if he fought valiantly for your honour.
Is there a certain quality to the character that you found particularly important or wanted to focus on?
Taryn Jorgenson, our director, wanted her Antony to be powerful in her stillness. As a very caffeinated actor and sometimes overly energetic human, this was a difficult task for me! Taryn had me go through a series of exercises, physical and mental, to help ground the monologues surrounding the scene at the pulpit. Working through these speeches taught me a lot as an actor and I’m very grateful for the experience.
Tell us about working with the rest of the cast.
I feel very privileged to have been able to spend so many hours with these women. It was such a warm work space, and whenever I was struggling I knew I could look to my co-workers for help. Eva Barrie (Brutus) fascinated me from day one both in rehearsals and on stage. She’s a very determined, disciplined, and detailed worker. I would be more than thrilled if I had the benefit of working with her again. Emma Burns (Caesar) lit up the room every time she walked in, and discussing the play with her was as if she just learned this incredible cure for the common cold every time she had a new piece of information. Taryn really wanted the ensemble to work together and create a strong bond with each other so that we could reflect what it’s like to be surrounded by the same people day in and day out in a prison. We tried a lot of physical visuals, working with our bodies to create the set when needed, some ideas were scrapped, some stayed, but everyone in the room was present and supportive.
Did you have a favourite moment in the production?
Probably the moment Antony walks on after Caesar is killed. Burns and I didn’t get much dialogue in this version to develop our friendship on stage, so when I waited in the wings I was able to hear the entire scene, get angry, do some push-ups, pick up a knife and silently slink on in the back ground like a stealthy assassin about to stir some shit up! Sometimes I would even get an audible ‘oh no’ gasp. Very satisfying. Either that moment, or in the ghost scene when Barrie and Burns have to say “Philippi” eleven thousand times. Thank you, Shakespeare.
Which directors and actors have had a major influence on you throughout your career?
The most influential artists in my life are the people who I have been watching around Toronto since I moved here for school. To name a few: Maev Beaty, Raquel Duffy, Nicole Underhay, Oliver Dennis, Mike Ross, Moya O’Connell. Some people around the independent theatre scene: Kat Sandler, Kat Letwin, Claire Armstrong, Karen Knox, Tim Walker, Luke Marty, and more. There are so many people whose work inspires me to continue creating. Passion, ambition, honesty, and beauty inspire me.
Do you have any favourite people to work with?
I’m currently working with Khadijah Robert Abdullah, Charlotte Cattell, and Holly Wyder on self-produced projects. They are my friends as much as they are my colleagues and it’s such a relief to walk into a meeting knowing I can safely explore certain realms of the creation process. We do talk nonsense from time to time, but ultimately we get good work done, even if we are in our pjs and eating a whole jar of Nutella.
What’s your favourite role you’ve ever played?
Probably Queen Joanna in Pure Carbon’s La Loca. The character Joanna was passionate, driven, in love, wronged, and ultimately broken down. The play was set in a scenario where they re-visited memories throughout her life, so as an actor I could have an absolute smorgasbord then leave it all hanging out on the stage. Also, the dress we rented was the best – even though it smelled.
Do you have a dream part you’d like to play one day?
Not one character specifically, no. Some that I find incredibly enticing are Hedda Gabler, Blanche, Mary from Mary’s Wedding, Mary from Salt-Water Moon, any part in a Kat Sandler play because she writes boss characters. Abigail Williams, Natalie from Next to Normal, and any character that gets to mess some people up in super cool fight scenes.
What are you doing now/ what’s your next project?
I’m currently working on my Intermediate Stage Combat certificate, which grades in May. For a weekend in April I will be performing in a show called Rocketbaby at Solar Stage (a children’s show directed by Tom Carson from The Arts Engine). And this summer Shakey-Shake is putting on Hamlet for yet another puppet epic. I’m also slowly but surely writing a script with my good friend Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, and will be acting in a webseries called Female Therapy, with Charlotte and Holly. Both of these projects are in the making, and aiming to be completed sometime later this year. Also currently on the scout for an agent.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Nothing really, but thank you for spending the time to ask these questions, I hope to see everyone at the ceremony on the 30th! If anyone has any questions or would like to contact me, please reach me at my email, firstname.lastname@example.org.