Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hubris and Julius Caesar

Orson Welles as Brutus in his 1937 production of "Julius Caesar"
The actors were understandably concerned when Orson Welles demanded that they negotiate four open trap doors on the set of his “Julius Caesar” — and do so in darkness!
“When they spoke to Orson about them, he was amazed and indignant,” recalled Welles’ theatrical partner John Houseman. “Were they not actors? And were not traps among the oldest and most consecrated devices of the stage? They must stop being amateurish and craven; they must get used to the presence of these traps and learn to use them like professionals.”
At the dress rehearsal of the assassination scene, everybody was ready but Brutus — Welles himself.
“He was found five minutes later, still unconscious in the dark at the foot of the stairs after falling cleanly through an open trap and dropping 15 feet before striking the basement floor with his chin,” Houseman noted dryly.
Funny. All that Shakespeare, and Welles never absorbed the meaning of the term “hubris.” I think John Houseman’s volumes of memoirs, in recounting his half-happenstance career, manage to do as good a job as I’ve seen of evoking the adventure of theatrical production — the meshing and conflicting personalities, the late-night bonding, the technical challenges, the economic uncertainties, the creative dead ends, the mysteries of inspiration, the unexpected triumphs, the passion, the romantic ephemerality of each production as the applause surges, echoes and then dies.
Source: “Run-Through” by John Houseman

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