“Julius Caesar” Redefines Tragedy in a 20th Century Light

Guest director Linda Hartzell focuses on highlighting the emotional turbulence of the characters in Shakespeare’s well-known tragedy 

A tale of intrigue, tragedy and above all, ambition, Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” has remained one of the most pertinent plays throughout the last four centuries. The Bard’s tale will come to life once again here at BYU under the direction of guest director Linda Hartzell

Hartzell, who served as the artistic director for the Seattle Children’s Theatre for 32 years, said that she wanted to set this rendition of “Julius Caesar” in 1919 to show the timeless nature of the play. To achieve a fluid rendering of the story, the production will favor changes in lighting over set pieces as the scenes shift from one to another.  

Sadie Veach as Cassius, Juniper Taylor as Antony, Skyler Denfeld as Brutus, Seated: Michael Ballif as Julius Caesar Photo by Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

“I tend to like nonliteral staging,” said Hartzell. “With a suggestion of place achieved by an innovative set design and the addition of the lighting, sound and costume designs to establish time, place and mood, you achieve theatricality to create natural events like a storm or the emotional events of an outraged mob.”  

Hartzell also expressed her delight at “how talented the artists and students are within BYU’s TMA program,” saying she was impressed by the quality of training and the dedication of the students who are working on the production. 

Sadie Veach, who plays Cassius in the play, said that she has enjoyed working with Hartzell on this production. “It’s been a beautiful learning experience,” Veach said, “to be able to adapt the performance style that we’re taught here [at BYU] to the directing style that Linda approaches with.” 

Hannah Young, who will be portraying both Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, and Messala, a soldier, called Hartzell’s directing style “a breath of fresh air.” 

Michael Ballif as Julius Caesar. Photo by Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

“I have really enjoyed working with Linda because she brings a very different perspective to acting and theatre,” Young said. She added that Hartzell’s focus on an “outward-in” approach to acting—where the actors practice their physical movements on the stage as a way to discover the motivations of the characters they play—has helped her to “view my profession in a very different way” and “distinguish my characters from one another.” 

The story of Julius Caesar’s ambitious rise to power and tragic fall from grace is one that continues to have emotional resonance with modern audiences. The play offers up complex characters who struggle to decide between their loyalties and their better judgement. 

Skyler Denfeld, who plays Brutus in the production, said that his role has helped him to view Brutus as more than a conniving traitor. “I have compassion for him—he endured a lot of suffering toward the end of his life as his family and friends died around him,” Denfeld said. “Perhaps more than anything, I’ve been touched by Brutus’ kindness [and] his true concern for others. … He loved his people.” 

As the “lofty scene” is again acted upon a stage unknown to Shakespeare, audiences can look forward to a production that hones in on the deep emotions of the play’s characters.  

Michael Ballif as Julius Caesar, Sadie Veach as Cassius, Skyler Denfeld as Brutus Photo by Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

Veach commented on the empathetic nature of the tragic play. “The audience is going into a space [where they are] willingly putting themselves into a mindset to feel empathy for these characters,” she said. “And I think that unites us so well as a society … [to have] the opportunity for people to feel what other people are feeling. … It shows the depth of each individual person’s experience.” 

Though a tragedy, the actors expressed their wish that the audience can come away from “Julius Caesar” with optimism. 

Denfeld commented that he hopes audiences will leave the theatre inspired “to never give up, even when the world combines against [them].” 

Veach added, “I think that listening to people and not judging individuals can stop a lot of harm. … The big thing that I want people to take away from this is that by loving other people exactly as they are and supporting them in the things that they feel they are called to do, we can overcome a lot of conflict and … tragedy can be avoided.” 

For an evening of intrigue, battles and tragedy, don’t miss out on the emotionally thrilling production of “Julius Caesar.” 

For ticket information, visit arts.byu.edu.

Julius Caesar

Margetts Theatre

November 12–13, 17–20, December 1–4 at 7:30 p.m.

November 13, 20, December 4 at 2:00 p.m.

All patrons are required to wear a mask while indoors at campus performance venues, regardless of vaccination status.