Daggers and axes and swords, oh my! It’s a bloody Julius Caesar that opens this summer’s free Nebraska Shakespeare Festival Thursday in Elmwood Park behind the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus.

The Bard calls for “three and thirty” stabbings in the six-man dagger assault on the title Roman, so director Alan Klem, a co-founder who heads the festival, plans to show the audience that “It’s a very bloody business, not a nice thing to do.”

So don’t be surprised if Caesar, played by Equity import Kurt Ehrmann, ends both dead and red. But that’s not the biggest reason Klem promises that it won’t be “tame.”

A two-minute battle scene “takes a tremendous amount of rehearsal,” the Creighton drama professor says, with 20 combatants slashing away with swords and shields, plus a few axes and spears.

Safety first, but then “The toughest part is to make it look spontaneous,” according to fight choreographer Vincent Carlson-Brown. He starts by designing 10 pages of traffic patterns, showing the 20 bodies with movement arrows on a ground plan of the set.

After placing the actors, sans weapons, on the stage, he later arms them and gets their reactions with weapons in hand. Finally, he records each move, “person by person.”

“Well over 15 hours of rehearsal” are required to make sure each player “does the exact same thing each time,” Klem explains. “There’s no room for ad-libbing at all.”

With a week to go before the first 8 p.m. performance, that approach had spared the cast any major mishaps, just “a few minor cuts on hands,” according to Carlson-Brown. Though the swords are dull, the men “are still swinging a two-foot metal blade.”

Vincent also directs The Comedy of Errors, presented the following weekend before alternating with Julius Caesar the weekend after that. It’s his first full directing assignment for Shakespeare on the Green after assisting in the past on the Festival staff.

He’ll be directing another staff member, his wife, Sarah Carlson-Brown, in a lead role. She’s also Portia, the wife of Brutus, played by John William Schiffbauer, who hails from Washington, D.C.

Another Omahan in Klem’s cast is Jennifer McGill, Caesar’s wife Calpurnia. Two more Equity professionals, Chris White and Richard McWilliams, play Mark Antony and Brutus, with Omahan Michael McCandless as Decius Brutus.

You’ll see more about the Shakespearean comedy in next week’s Reader. And most of you already know the “green” routine: bring blankets, lawn chairs and picnics well before 8 p.m. for the pre-show.

Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to coldcream@thereader.com.   

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