This play, which also exists in an operatic version and a radio version, was written to provide Christmas entertainment for both children and adults in New Zealand.
Christmas in New Zealand takes place in summer, a circumstance which would add further strangeness to a performance in the Northern Hemisphere, lost in the depths of winter. Some of the creatures mentioned such as the Weta will also be unfamiliar to audiences outside New Zealand.
The actors are encouraged to find ways of representing the different creatures while at the same time not disguising the fact that they are human actors.
Christmas is of course a Christian festival, but the play does not stress the religious connection. It is intended to appeal to audiences of any religious persuasion.
The message of the play, in as much as there is one, concerns delight in, and the need to protect, the diversity of nature. As far as I am aware the ‘tradition’ mentioned in the text that creatures can gain the power to speak on Christmas Eve is original to this work, but it may have come from my reading of Medieval literature. If anyone knows I would be grateful to hear.
The Tragic Consequences of the Assassination of Julius Caesar,
as Devised and Presented by Cinna the Poet
I did not write this play. It was created in 2005 in collaboration with the students in the Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama course at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.
The original idea for the play occurred to me some years earlier when I was directing a professional production of Julius Caesar for Circa Theatre in Wellington, and realized that the short scene in which Cinna the Poet is murdered by the mob would have had a special poignancy for Shakespeare the Poet. The term ‘collateral damage’ is now an established part of our vocabulary and this short scene shows the mindless brutality that can be inflicted on innocent bystanders when the ‘dogs of war’ are loosed. This scene then, speaks not only for the many millions who have died in wars and insurrections down the ages, but also symbolizes the destruction of civilized and cultural values. Cinna is all poets: and in saying this I am thinking of poets as understood in a traditional way, as teachers and guardians. In my reading, this scene is central to any understanding of the meaning of the play. It demonstrates, on a domestic level, the consequences of the political events and the rhetoric… In the new version, the death of Cinna becomes the opening scene.
When we came to work on the text in detail, I was astonished at how easily Shakespeare’s play facilitated this reading… It seemed to open up. Everything was there and ready, as though the angry spirit of Cinna the Poet were just waiting his chance to step forward and speak.
While all the students contributed to the acting and the technical realization of the play, special mention must be accorded to the play-writing team of Claire Woodhall, Hannah McKie, Daniel Watterson and Sarah Hutchings. They wrote, cut, prepared scenes, composed poems and argued the play into existence with patience, good humour, faith, and fortitude.It was a splendid collaborative effort.
Mention also must be made of the magnificent contribution of the students in the DRAM 101 course. Joining at a late stage, these first-year drama students entered into the somewhat anarchic spirit of the production with relish; being prepared to riot, dance, weep, die, lower corpses from the grid and shift scenery with energy and enthusiasm. It is fair to say that without their contribution the play would have been impossible.
My hope now is that teachers of Drama, students who are studying Shakespeare and playgoers in general may find in Cinna the Poet an intriguing introduction to the art of Shakespeare as well as a pertinent statement for our times. Should any school or theatre group wish to produce the play, a full text can be obtained from Playmarket at the following address.
Level 2, 16 Cambridge Terrace
PO Box 9767, Wellington 6011
+64 4 382 8462 ext 2
Fax +64 4 382 8461
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