In Part 3 of a series of interviews with the director and cast of Prince William Little Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar – set in the Soviet Union during the August Coup of 1991 – meet Haliya Roberts (Portia).
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform on our local stages. What shows and roles you have played?
Haliya: My name is Haliya Roberts. This is my first production with Prince William Little Theatre. I most recently performed at the Henrico Theatre in Richmond, VA in JLP Productions’ Little Black Dress in the lead role of Brittany Kittrell. I also performed in the 2015 DC Black Theatre Festival’s New Works Reading Series where I played the roles of Hailey Baldwin in How ‘Bout That and Mary Turner in Black Life Matters. I am a graduate of the Honors Acting Conservatory at the Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts in Washington, DC.
Have you performed in a Shakespearean production before and/or Julius Caesar before? If yes, where and who did you play?
This is actually my first Shakespearean production and I couldn’t be more excited!
Who do you play in this production and how do you relate and not relate to your character?
I play the role of Portia. On the surface it would appear that we have nothing in common. She is a dignitary, the wife of a powerful man and a mother; and I am as single as they come! In spite of the differences in our lifestyles, I can definitely relate to her in a lot of ways. I am a very observant person and I am quick to pick up on behavioral changes in those around me. Portia is the same way with Brutus. She knows her man and can tell when something is amiss. She doesn’t like to be left in the dark and is a confidant to those closest to her. She is also a truth seeker and isn’t afraid of confrontation when the situation warrants it. She and I also have this in common.
What is the play about from the point of view of your character?
Portia is a devoted wife to Brutus, an ambitious and powerful man who is devoted to the good of our country. She starts to notice changes in his behavior and in the company he is keeping. This leads her to confront him, never imagining that he could be plotting to overthrow the government and kill Caesar. Once she learns this secret, she now knows that the stakes are insufferably high and their lives will never be the same. The events that unfold from this point on are too much for Portia to handle and she chooses to take her own life.
How did you prepare for your role?
In creating the character of Portia, I wanted to establish a multidimensional person. I like to create her life before and after we see her on stage. Our director Mary-Anne Sullivan and I took a collaborative approach to creating her back story. We took the historical Roman Portia and layered in a Russian woman with Afro-Cuban ancestry. From there I was able to add layers of specificity to her character that inform her actions and interactions with the other people in her life.
What lines and scene were the most difficult for you to perform and memorize and why?:
Since this is my first Shakespearean production, I definitely noticed a difference in how fast I was able to memorize the more complex language. I did a lot of paraphrasing in my private rehearsal time so that I could establish the idea of what Portia was saying. I would then go back and memorize word for word.
What does Julius Caesar have to say to modern audiences? What recent events parallel the events that occur in this play?
I think Mary-Anne and Jay Tilley (Brutus) covered this one!
How did your director help you to shape your performance and what were some of the challenges you faced and how did the director solve them for you?
Mary-Anne had us focus on the emotional states for our characters and identify how those states manifested in our character’s bodies. Physicality drives me as an actor, so I found this approach to be particularly helpful. She allowed for exploration in the rehearsal process and would offer different scenarios for Portia that might change how she approached Brutus. In one rehearsal, she posed that Portia might suspect Brutus is having an affair when she questions him in the garden. This one suggestion opened up a new layer of emotion for me and really enhanced the scene. Playing on that insecurity made Portia vulnerable in a whole new way.
What’s next for you on the stage?
I am actively auditioning for various projects and hopefully I’ll be coming to a stage near you very soon!
Julius Caesar plays from October 16 through October 25, 2015 at Prince William Little Theatre performing at the Gregory Family Theater at the Hylton Performing Arts Center on the George Mason University Campus – 10960 George Mason Circle, in Manassas, VA. For tickets, purchase them online, or at the box office.
Meet The Director and Cast of PWLT’s ‘Julius Caesar’: Part 1: Director Mary-Anne Sullivan.
Meet The Director and Cast of PWLT’s ‘Julius Caesar,’: Part 2: Scott Olson, Matthew Scarborough, and Jay Tilley.