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The Dartmouth
February 24, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

“Romeo and Juliet” will bring a new twist to the classic play

With its components of romance and drama, many theaters have undertaken the iconic “story of more woe” between the star-crossed lovers of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The challenge faced by modern theater productions is finding the perfect balance between creating a unique interpretation that audiences will find as thought-provoking as the original play without taking too much creative license through the characters’ dialogue or the play’s setting.

The College’s theater department will premiere an innovative version of “Romeo and Juliet” for its annual winter term production. The department’s production will provide an emphasis on the historical context of Shakespeare’s text in order to give the audience insight into his mind and create a double performance through the use of camera and film.

The production, directed by theater professor Peter Hackett, will premiere on Friday evening and have a two-weekend run.

Unlike other modernized versions that still only focus on the play’s romantic nature, like the 2013 Broadway version featuring Orlando Bloom in the titular role of Romeo, Hackett’s version will use multimedia to reflect a more meaningful and analytical look at the social and political commentaries laced within the text.

Hackett said that the main challenge of presenting such an iconic play is making people see the story in a new way. He said he was inspired to steer away from traditional retellings by a project done by the Nature Theater, a company from Oklahoma, that asked people to retell “Romeo and Juliet” “in their own words.”

“Everybody thinks they know the story,” Hackett said. “What I find interesting is that we all seem to be locked into 19th-century romantic interpretation of the play.”

Using Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” (1996) and Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” (1968) as examples, Hackett said that the emphasis placed on romance in many interpretations can overshadow other aspects of the play, such as the beauty of the poetry or sobering realities, like the dysfunctions within the Montague and Capulet families.

In order to help the audience understand some of the more subtle contexts of the play, the action will be broken by “footnotes” delivered by the actors, Hackett said.

Students from “Theater and Society II: Early Modern Performance” researched and complied these “footnotes,” which range from information about clandestine marriages to the typical age of marriage in Shakespeare’s time, “Theater and Society II: Early Modern Performance” professor Laura Edmonson said. To help put the historical information into a modern-day setting, the students also used social media to translate the historical information, such as describing what a day in Juliet’s life would have been like through Yik Yak posts.

To further the production from traditional re-tellings, the action on stage will also be filmed at the same time and projected, giving audience members the freedom to choose where they focus their attention — the live projected video or the live storytelling by the actors. For example, in the famous balcony scene, viewers will be faced with the dilemma of watching two simultaneous interpretations in the different mediums.

“We’re not telling you where to look, what experience to have,” Hackett said. “You can choose or go back and forth. The whole time, you’re listening to Shakespeare’s beautiful language.”

Assistant director and videographer Heather Oudheusden ’15 said that she is excited to use multimedia to bring new aspects to the show that audience members not have considered before.

She said that one of the major challenges of the show was figuring out the technical aspects of the camera work.

Hackett said that helping the actors interact with the cameras was also a challenge, since it added an extra level of choreography to the production.

There will also be pre-recorded footage, including the actors’ thoughts on the play and students from the College and local high schools performing their favorite moments.

To parallel the use of live video, the staged performance will occur in a modern-day rehearsal studio designed by theater professor Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili. His set for “Romeo and Juliet” will be filled with video cameras, monitors, long folding tables and chairs and costume pieces on mannequins.

Additionally, the cast and production team feature a diverse mix of undergraduates who have been practicing to get the timing and choreography of the complicated sword fights right and to ensure the video sequences are in sync with the onstage performance — the department even hired a professional fight choreographer, Ron Piretti, to ensure the fight scenes ran smoothly. Portraying the star-crossed lovers and bringing this modern adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” to life on stage will be Reed Latrowski ’15 and Tess McGuinness ’18, respectively.

Latrowski and McGuinness are “phenomenal,” Oudheusden said.

“I’m super excited,” she said. “[McGuinness] has great knowledge for what it means to be a teenager back then, and we get to see [Latrowski] in a whole new light.”

Since planning for the show began almost a year ago, Hackett has been waiting to bring this new vision to life.

“There were lots of challenges, but that’s what made it so fun,” Hackett said.

This weekend’s performances will be Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Moore Theater. Next week, the play will be performed Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets will between five dollars and $12 for students and between $10 and $12 for community members. There will also be performances Thursday Feb. 26, Friday Feb. 27, Saturday Feb. 28 and Sunday March 1, with a post-performance discussion after the Feb. 27 performance.