Shakespeare in the Park returns to Bay Ridge for “Julius Caesar”

August 4, 2016 Jaime DeJesus
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Summer is here and for the sixth consecutive year, Act-Out! Acting School will be presenting Shakespeare in the Park at the Narrows Botanical Gardens.

This year, Michael Artzer, who has been a part of the past productions in the Bay Ridge oasis, will direct Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” The play, which was written around 1600, is a tragedy based on Roman history.

The relevance of the play to today is a key reason Artzer decided to tackle a project beloved by many. “The show is primarily set around a time of political turmoil in Rome which is like our American election this year. It’s one of the reasons I picked it,” he said. “It is more revealing than people think.”

While working on the project, Artzer discovered that political decisions aren’t always cut and dried. “It’s easy to point fingers,” he said, noting that he chose the play after bouncing the idea off several colleagues.  “It’s easy for me to look at [politicians] and say they’re screw-ups for 100 reasons. Everyone is fighting for what they believe is right. Doing the show makes me not judge politicians so harshly.”

In addition, Artzer cited his passion for the story. “I think the biggest thing I love about this show is that while there are political games going on, every character has a specific relationship with each other,” he said. “They’re all very close. Even when someone dies by hands of another, you can see the friendship, the brotherly and sisterly love, between everyone. The relationships are so believable. It’s the best selling point in the show. On top of that, the characters have to weigh love of each other with love for their country.”

With every Shakespearian adaptation, the cast plays an integral role, and Artzer spoke highly of the hard-working group. “It’s been one of the best I have worked with,” he said. “I love them. There are three main characters doing the best job. People have to learn several hundred lines. They’ve done a pretty phenomenal job.”

The approach to casting was atypical. “We didn’t cast roles based on gender,” explained Artzer.

“We cast who we thought brought most to a character,” he said, adding that some traditional male characters are played by females. “You can see equality  in an age of feminism, but it wasn’t deliberate. We cast whoever brought the best out of the character.”

This is Artzer’s fourth year with Act-Out! and he has acted in several productions. His directorial debut was both exciting and difficult. “It’s a big change. You’re not just looking at what you’re bringing to the scene,” he said. “The cast made my job easy, but the transition to micromanage the many aspects of the show is challenging.”

As opening evening approaches, rehearsals are ramping up. “We are in crunch time and everyone is working hard,” Artzer said, adding that the setting is perfect for the show. “Every year we do these, I always start out thinking how to make it believable in a garden. It’s easy because our shows are written a long time ago. It makes for a great setting.”

Performances for “Julius Caesar,” at Narrows Botanical Garden, 7200-7398 Shore Road Drive, will take place August 13, 14, 20 & 21, each beginning at 7 p.m. A suggested donation is encouraged. For more information, e-mail John Stillwaggon at [email protected].

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