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Render unto Caesar a new podcast for the mainstage production
UNCC's 'Corona Caesar Podcast' takes place of play
Published Friday, November 13, 2020 11:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Dylan Ireland is Julius Caesar in UNC Charlotte theater department's production of “The Corona Caesar Podcast.”

COVID-19 restrictions forced UNC Charlotte’s theater department to get creative with their fall production.  

“The Corona Caesar Podcast” is William Shakespeare meets 2020, and it turns out Elizabethan England and ancient Rome have more in common with 2020 than one would think, from disease to political unrest and conspiracy. The five-episode podcast will be released in 20- to 25-minute episodes beginning Nov. 14 with Episode 1 “Unrest.”  

“For Shakespeare, history is always contemporary,” said Andrew Hartley, Robinson Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare and director of the production.

The department’s commitment to Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” happened 18 months ago as its 2020 mainstage fall production coincided with an election.

“It seemed a good time to talk about opportunist fascists and the way that the play, rather than presenting a particular political agenda, sort of focuses in on the way people use political power and in some ways that got heightened when the pandemic started, because then it is even more interesting to see how people use a natural disaster or whatever you want to call it, to build their own power base,” Hartley said.

Then the pandemic hit, with the expectation that despite a remote spring semester, things would return to something resembling normal by the fall. Life remains far from normal, so they considered options ranging from video formats online or making a movie before ultimately landing on the idea of a podcast. While a Zoom option was certainly a possibility, video meeting fatigue over several months has begun to set in.

Hartley saw a Zoom presentation as something better suited for classes or meetings. If it was going to be the form of a production the program would be best suited to short, monologue-driven and abstract work.

“Shakespeare is none of those things,” Hartley said. “Obviously it is not realist drama, but it still requires a sense of character relationships and people being in the same space.”

By mid-summer, the department decided to switch to audio, dedicating the entire set and costume budget to sound to standardize microphones and headsets for the cast and mail them everyone. For Hartley, a native of England where radio drama is common, the concept fit. Conveying the vision to students unfamiliar with radio theater was the challenge. For senior theater major Dylan Ireland, who plays Julius Caesar and Cinna the poet, the experience was brand new.

“Before this process I didn’t even know something like this, radio drama, was even a thing,” he said. “In the beginning I was kind of confused about how this was going to work out, but as soon as [Hartley] sat us down and explained it, I was like, ‘oh wow.’”

Ireland’s experience allowed him to expand his portfolio in a way a traditional mainstage fall production would not have allowed. He can add a radio drama to his resume.

“Another thing that appeals to the students is that when you do a regular theater production, it runs for a week or maybe two weeks and then it is gone,” Hartley said. “There may be archive video shot in rehearsal, but it is not a show. The sound is going to be rubbish. It is mostly going to be one camera that is going to be looking in the wrong place. But with this, this will last forever, and the students will be able to use it for audition purposes and say, ‘this is our work.’”

Ireland is set to graduate in the spring, at a time where live theater has been forced to press pause. His goal is to attend graduate school to study acting and performance, and in January he’ll audition for the University Resident Theatre Association, where he hopes to earn a scholarship to the University of Florida or Florida State University.

However, his first choice is the University of California San Diego, which is not an URTA member institution. While Ireland feels each program would challenge him to grow his craft, choosing potential schools with Black theater instructors was very important.

“That is very important to me because I really want to have that going into the next stage of my process,” he said. “I want to have Black professors who can help me and guide me through this process, but who also understand what is going on and help me understand how to navigate myself as a Black actor in the industry. That’s why those schools are really important to me.”


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