Arts and Entertainment

On the Old Main Stage

Penn State theater students perform "Julius Caesar" on the steps of Old Main

Penn State's April 2015 performance of "Julius Caesar" brought the Shakespearean classic into modern times—and out of the theatre. Actors performed the updated work in front of University Park's iconic Old Main.  Credit: Michael Palmer / Penn StateCreative Commons

"I gave up everything to get here." 

Vaughn Davis, a third-year student in the Penn State School of Theatre Master of Fine Arts program, grew up in Flint, Michigan -- a town that he says suffered much during the collapse of General Motors in the late 1980s. 

But growing up in Flint taught him how to fight for what he wanted out of life, he says, and that got him here to Penn State. 

Penn State Theatre students brought an updated version of Shakespeare’s classic, “Julius Caesar,” to life on the steps of Old Main. The familiar Roman conflict told from the setting of a contemporary African nation creates conversations around the timeless themes of politics and power. Credit: Penn State

Davis was still in high school when he fell in love with Shakespeare—particularly with "Julius Caesar." So the opportunity to perform in Penn State's unique production of the play fulfilled a dream Davis had since he was 15 years old. 

"It just rang so loudly to me, especially coming from the environment that I come from," he said. 

An outdoor performance

In Penn State's April 2015 performance, Davis was able to share that experience of "Julius Caesar" from the steps of Old Main—one of the most iconic buildings on Penn State's University Park campus. 

Bill Kelly, associate professor of theater and integrative arts, said, "When you perform outdoors for free, suddenly you get a different kind of audience than you would ever get in a theater."

The outdoor performance of "Julius Caesar" gave the audience an opportunity to experience the play in a unique way. Credit: Michael Palmer / Penn StateCreative Commons

That audience makeup, he said, changes the nature of the play: "The audience probably has more effect on what the play's going to be like than the people who actually do it." 

Performed over Blue White weekend in April 2015, the free shows were open to all and drew a large visiting alumni audience. In addition, members of the College of Communications worked to provide a livestream of the event. 

A contemporary update

One more twist to the performance was an updated setting—from Rome in 44 B.C. to a contemporary African nation. 

"It's an interesting view to me that you can tell a story that's written in [the late 1500s] about events that happened in 44 B.C., and now in 2015 the stories still resonate," said Kelly. 

The reimagining of "Julius Caesar" in a modern African nation brought to life the parallels between early Roman times and current political upheavals.  Credit: Michael Palmer / Penn StateCreative Commons

The updated production seeks out parallels between that early Roman world and today's frequent upheaval in leadership among various African nations. 

"If you pick up a newspaper on an almost weekly basis, there's another story in Africa that's not terribly different from 'Julius Caesar,'" he said. 

Davis added, "Shakespeare is so vast. You can't really place it in a certain time period, so I think that's why it can adapt like that." 

A musical collaboration

Prior to the "Julius Caesar" performances, Penn State's Philharmonic Orchestra performed Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait"—also livestreamed by the College of Communications. 

The collaboration between theater, music, and communications was an opportunity for people across campus "to play in the same sandbox," according to Travis DeCastro, associate director for production for the School of Theatre. 

Kelly agreed: "We have people with different skills from all over the University coming together to create something. One of the things that is really wonderful is that at a university, we are able to experiment and do things that students are unlikely to do in a professional setting." 

This spirit of collaboration and experimentation is just one of the reasons that students, like Davis, work so hard to get here.

"I took my chance and got to where I am now," he said, "and I'm not going to give it up for anything." 

Last Updated November 04, 2015