In student-mounted “Julius Caesar,” it only takes seven people to change the world

Director Joshua Kass-Amsterdam explores political motivations and gender dynamics in his adaptation of Shakespeare’s historical tragedy “Julius Caesar.”


Austin Patterson, The Exponent

Emily Polcyn, left, plays Cassius, who conspires with Brutus (Jason Diers, pictured right) to kill Roman emperor Julius Caesar.

On Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m., a student directed adaptation of the classic play “Julius Caesar” will be premiering in Loomis Hall Room 177. “Julius Caesar” is one of William Shakespeare’s tragedies that re-tells the historical event of the assassination of Julius Caesar.  

“It’s essentially about Brutus and Cassius, who are Roman senators at the time of Julius Caesar first coming into power, plotting to overthrow him because he’s a dictator. And sort of the consequences afterwards of the political assassination,” said Emily Polcyn, a senior B.F.A. acting major who plays Cassius. 

Polcyn said that casting Cassius as a woman shed a different light on the character regarding the plot, how other characters interact with her, how Caesar interacts with her and how easy sexism was incorporated. 

“Cassius is an interesting character because of how you interpret the show. She can be the antagonist, or she can be someone who’s genuinely fighting to make things better,” Polcyn said. “And I think she’s really interesting because she’s got this sort of moral ambiguity because, you know, she’s killing a politician.”  

Polcyn said that in this version, Cassius can be viewed as a woman who is pulling a man’s strings, rather than just being the brain behind the figurehead. 

“I’m using him as a conduit for how I want Rome to move,” Polcyn said. “And there’s a lot of interactions that are just changed by me, [Cassius] being a woman. And a lot of lines just hit differently when it’s a man speaking to a woman.”  

Polcyn said that she found creating the character fascinating. In finding the motivation for Cassius, Polcyn looked at what Cassius loves. 

“Anytime I’m looking at a role, I always try to look through their eyes. Like ‘how do I justify what I’m doing?’ Because I feel like in everyone’s mind, they’re a good person,” Polcyn said. “And so, I think it’s just finding that genuine desire for things to be to be better and taking that action yourself.”  

Polcyn said that she had to find the balance between “how much of this is a grasp for power versus how much of this is a love for Rome and wanting it to be better.” 

This play is brought to Baldwin Wallace by the Theatre & Dance Department as part of its Lab Series. Joshua Kass-Amsterdam, the student director of “Julius Caesar,” said that the Lab Series is a great opportunity for student directors to get experience directing. 

Kass-Amsterdam had no budget going into producing this play, only the resources the department provided.  

Kass-Amsterdam cut the four-hour play down to a 90-minute run time.  

“When you cut a Shakespeare show, you have creative liberty to kind of determine what that show becomes about,” Kass-Amsterdam said. “If you cut out characters or subplots or scenes, all of a sudden, the show becomes something completely different than perhaps what it was intended. But you’re still using those same words and those same ideas that are in there.”  

Kass-Amsterdam’s version focuses heavily on the political aspect of Caesar’s assassination.  

“Obviously, it’s a show about politics, so politics are going to come up. … There is a problem in the world and in this country with dictators and tyrants. What is a dictator, what is a tyrant?” Kass-Amsterdam said. “It really struck me as something that was poignant in the time. So, like I said, I wrote my [play] proposal on a Tuesday. Two days later, on a Thursday, Russia invaded Ukraine. I blamed myself; I was the butterfly.” 

Polcyn said that what is happening in the world politically has sparked some important conversations in rehearsal and given her real experiences she can draw from. 

“And we’re also talking about, this is such a small thing, but Brutus has a line where he says the word insurrection … And [now we can’t] think of anything other than January 6 with modern political happenings,” Polcyn said. 

Kass-Amsterdam said he was not condoning killing political figures but admitted that he admired the characters’ political passion for doing what they see as the right thing, no matter the consequences. 

“I think nowadays especially career politicians don’t value [doing the right thing] as much as they value getting reelected,” Kass-Amsterdam said. “If they were to go out and do something that would be controversial enough that it might not get them reelected, they might not do it.

“Hopefully, the world of the play that I’ve helped to create, that my beautiful actors are doing a great job of bringing life to, will show you what can happen when you stand up and damn the consequences, and there will be consequences, but perhaps they’re worth it.”  

“Julius Caesar” runs Nov. 17–19 in Loomis Hall Room 177. Tickets are free and can be be reserved here.