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Et tu ... and him, too?

Cottonwood's new 'Lab' experiments with a Shakespearean classic


Julius Caesar is scaled down but true to the play. - COTTONWOOD THEATRE LAB
  • Cottonwood Theatre Lab
  • Julius Caesar is scaled down but true to the play.

'I was looking for something that didn't have royalties since we were just starting out," says Ethan Everhart. "Julius Caesar is one play I haven't seen in a while, and I definitely haven't seen it here in the Springs."

That, in a nutshell, is how we wound up with the Shakespearean tragedy as Cottonwood Theatre Lab's first-ever performance, starting this weekend. As for how we wound up with the Lab itself, you can trace the experimental volunteer group's inception back to the work of Cottonwood Center for the Arts' marketing and education staff, and the 24-year-old University of Colorado at Colorado Springs alum who's been named theater manager.

"We noticed that Cottonwood represents many types of arts, but not a lot of performing arts," Everhart says. "So this was an attempt to fill that gap and make Cottonwood better-rounded."

The goal, says Everhart, is to have three more Theatre Lab shows staged by next summer. And if Play No. 1 seems like a safe choice — the classic tale that birthed iconic lines such as "Beware the ides of March" and "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!" — think again.

Everhart, who's also directing the play, has given it a curious twist. Only four actors — John Parker, Kevin Boyer, Eleanor Sturt and Everhart himself — will play all 15 to 20 characters, and no one actor will play the same character twice in adjacent scenes. So all four actors need to learn all the characters' lines in the play.

Referring to the David H. Lord Theater's modest stage area, Everhart says, "We wanted our show to be something that reflects our space, and present something that involves a more 'scaling-down' of theater and more storytelling." For the sake of time and memorization some characters and scenes were omitted, but as Everhart puts it: "We still stay true to the play, and it keeps the energy up."

This isn't Everhart's first time taking chances onstage. In 2011 he participated in another untraditional Shakespearean take — a production of Romeo and Juliet in Denver, where actors performed under black light and wore Greek masks. He also acted in various theater companies in New York City from 2011 to 2012.

Before all that, Everhart graduated from the Classical Academy, where he went to school with his friend Parker. When Everhart contacted him to be in Julius Caesar, the 23-year-old didn't hesitate.

"Part of the appeal going in was we didn't know what the turnout would be like, but we knew we'd have a small cast," Parker says. "And with every actor playing every role, it was interesting to find out how each scene would play out."

One method used to maintain continuity for the audience is the trading-off of costume garb; as Parker explains, "I might be Brutus in one scene, and when I walk off the stage I hand my hat over to the next actor — then he is now Brutus."

If that sounds fairly intimate, well, that's what Everhart is going for.

"We're going to involve the audience and be pulling people up on stage and have them read a couple of lines," he notes. "For me, theater is about that actor-audience connection. We're getting rid of the fourth wall. So I just want people to come away with not only having been told a story, but having participated in the story."

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