She may be pursuing a degree in communications at Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby campus in the fall, but Elgin Park student Raquel Neumann admits that acting is her dream.
A member of Arts Umbrella’s senior youth theatre troupe, Neumann, 17, plays the plum role of Brutus in an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at Arts Umbrella’s Theatre and Music Expression Festival, which runs until May 22 at the Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island.
In the modern-dress, gender-neutral version of the timeless political parable of power, loyalty and betrayal, directed by Paul Moniz de Sa, Brutus is a ‘she’ – a concept that makes much more sense in a contemporary context than in Shakespeare’s own time.
And Neumann says she is thoroughly enjoying the “complexity and intensity” of the play – and the conflicted nature of Brutus, conspirator in the assassination of the Roman emperor.
“Brutus is one of the most exciting and challenging characters I’ve ever played,” she said.
“She goes through so many things in the course of two hours; so many thoughts. I can’t imagine being involved in such a roller-coaster.”
Swayed by the influence of Cassius (Bonnie Duff), Brutus comes to believe that Caesar’s willingness to assume total power poses a direct and intolerable threat to the underlying principles of their society.
“For Cassius there’s more of a personal resentment, but for me (our action) is strictly political. I have been a fan of Caesar – as Brutus says, ‘I slew my best lover for the good of Rome.’ “
Being in the play has given her a lot of motivation to research and prepare, she said, including memorizing her monologues both in modern paraphrase and as Shakespeare wrote them, so that she could have a complete understanding of the meaning.
“I’ve learned Shakespeare throughout high school and it can sometimes look just like words on a page,” she said, agreeing that that the best way to experience the plays is by seeing them acted on stage.
“We toured Julius Caesar to high schools before we opened at the Waterfront and we had students coming up to us and saying ‘Wow – I didn’t know that that was what was going on in that scene.’ That was a great feeling, to hear that.”
Born at Peace Arch Hospital and a South Surrey resident all her life, Neumann has one sibling, her older brother Ellis.
“He’s been to every show I’ve acted in,” she said.
She’s been involved in Arts Umbrella drama programs since she was in Grade 8, but her interest in acting goes back even further, she said.
“I started when I was in Grade 6 – I was an artistically-inclined kid and did a lot of drawing and painting, but I was always bubbly and loud, so my parents thought drama would be a good thing for me.”
She followed up her first private drama classes by winning a role in Chantrell Creek Elementary’s musical The Great Glass Slipper (“basically the story of Cinderella,” she said), when she was in Grade 7.
But she missed doing productions at Elgin Park until she was in Grade 11.
“I decided last year I would put myself though the ordeal of doing two plays at the same time,” she said.
“I was doing Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None at Elgin and The Martian Chronicles at Arts Umbrella, basically going from one rehearsal to another.”
Did she ever get lines from one play mixed up with lines from the other?
“Luckily, no,” she laughed. “Fortunately the two plays were so different – but I was so afraid it was going to happen!”
She’s also been trying her hand at film acting in Elgin Park student productions of late, and said she is also considering seeking an agent for more film work.
“I don’t like to be typecast in the roles I play – I’d prefer to be known for being open to trying new things,” she said, noting that her most recent student film work, two linked music videos, saw her cast as a “psychotic stalker.”
“It was super interesting, playing that,” she said.
While she’d definitely like to continue acting, she’s also keen to explore career options through her communications courses at Simon Fraser, she said – which could include everything from media advertising and film to journalism.
“I love to write,” she said. “And while acting is my dream, realistically its good to have another plan to fall back on.”
Julius Caesar, which alternates with four other student productions during the festival, will be performed May 14 at 9 p.m., May 19 at 9 p.m., May 21 at 7 p.m. (doubled billed with the Second World War drama Dangers of a Total War) and May 22 at 4 p.m.
Tickets (including double bills) are $15.
For more information, visit artsumbrella.com/expressionstheatre