“Romeo and Juliet” required technical expertise

by Amelia Rosch | 2/22/15 6:33pm

The opening of “Romeo and Juliet” emphasized the technical skills needed in the production, from sword fighting to video.
by Natalie Cantave / The Dartmouth

From the heavy use of multimedia to multiple sword fights and acrobatics to two functional swings, the Theater Department’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” required a large amount of behind-the-scenes work and technical know-how.

In addition to the use of a professional fight choreographer Ron Piretti and the talents of set designer Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili, costume designer Laurie Churba Kohn, lighting and projection designer Dan Kotlowitz and video designer Andrew Reichsman, the production involved the help of over 40 students, including the members of three separate theater classes.

The use of cameras and screens served a variety of purposes, from live filming to projecting historical information, and were one of the major technical aspects of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Assistant director and videographer Heather Oudheusden ’15 said that the filmed and projected aspects of the show were used to help break down stereotypes that surround “Romeo and Juliet,” like that it is just a love story.

She said that she and director Peter Hackett sat down with a copy of the script and went through it to determine where they wanted to add filmed aspects and which portions they wanted to be filmed live or pre-filmed.

Oudheusden said that they decided what to film live based on what would be technically plausible, visually pleasing and add a new perspective to the play.

“With the live filming, we wanted to provide perspective besides looking straight at the stage because that’s what audience is going to do,” she said. “We had to add a different angle or add some cool new element.”

She said that some of the parts that were filmed live were not fully developed until the rehearsals began, such as Juliet’s monologue after receiving the “poison” she drinks. Oudheusden said originally that scene was just going to be filmed using a mirror, since she wanted a reflective element, and that she did not add in the water on top of the mirror that alternatively blurred and reflected Juliet’s face until during rehearsals.

Oudheusden said that the biggest challenges of filming the production were technical, since she did not have much experience with live filming and needed to figure out all of the logistics.

“I knew how I wanted everything to look and I had the ideas in my head,” she said. “Taking the step and doing it with a camera in hand is a whole other thing.”

To help her with the post-production side of filming, such as editing, Oudheusden recruited her friend, film major Hughie Sagona ’15.

Sagona said that his job mostly involved editing the pre-filmed portions of the show, such as the montage that occurs during the play’s prologue and the background video of people in masks that plays before Romeo and Juliet meet, as well as the trailer for the play that was shown throughout the Hopkins Center. He said that he spent about two to three weeks filming and editing.

Both Sagona and Oudheusden said they enjoyed creating the mask video. Oudheusden said that their desire to give the video a spooky feel allowed them to experiment with different camera techniques, such filming from a wheelchair.

Sagona said that he enjoyed putting together that piece because of his love of horror movies.

“All those Friday nights watching horror movies, like “Chucky” [“Child’s Play” (1988)] really paid off,” he said.

Oudheudsen said that she also enjoyed creating the prologue video because it allowed her explore the stereotypes of “Romeo and Juliet” and then subvert them.

“People don’t even know what [“Romeo and Juliet”] is about,” she said. “That’s the whole point — everyone has own their interpretation. The video allowed us to break down what it is.”

Julie Solomon ’17, who has worked as Alexi-Meskhishvili’s assistant since last spring, said that the production was highly focused on the concept of creating a new image of “Romeo and Juliet” and that they wanted the concept of putting on a rehearsal, not a final version, to come across in the show’s set.

“With the set, we were trying to recreate a rehearsal, to think about what would be in the room,” she said. “We had chalkboards, costumes racks, pretty much trying to make it look like what a studio would look like. It was very meta. It was a very meta show.”

Solomon said that compared to other shows that she has helped Alexi-Meskhishvili with, the set for “Romeo and Juliet” was fairly straightforward because there was not as much that needed to be built. She said that Alexi-Meskhishvili began planning the sets in the fall, which is fairly typical for his process.

Solomon said that she was mostly involved with researching the design and generating ideas to help inspire Alexi-Meskhishvili. She said that some of the details of the set, such as the red accents and the two swings, reflected Alexi-Meskhishvili’s sense of whimsy and fantasy.

Celeste Jennings ’18, who worked in the costume and wardrobe crew, said that most of the work the costume crew did was on the period clothes that the actors wore, since the non-period pieces came from the costume department’s stock room and only required minor changes, such as fixing the hems. She said that all the period pieces had to be made by hand, except for some undergarments which the department already owned.

Jennings said that her favorite piece was the period costume worn by Max Samuels ’15, who played Mercutio.

“The legs were really so cool, the way they were sewn,” she said. “The volume involved in them was just really cool.”

Both Jennings and Solomon said that the biggest challenge was making sure that what they created would not inhibit the movement in the show, such as its multiple sword fights.

“With a show that’s so much about action and movement, you have to make sure it’s movable,” Solomon said. “You have to make sure it’s all the right height and size. We had to make sure it works with the multimedia.”

Jennings said that some of the quick changes involved in the production, especially the one involving Tess McGuinness ’18, who played Juliet, were difficult because they wanted to give the actors time to compose themselves before going back out to perform.

“It was nerve-wracking to get them in costume and have time for them to put themselves together,” she said. “We didn’t want to just push them out on stage.”