The 2011 HS production of Romeo and Juliet is not what you may be expecting from a production that is using the “traditional” text. Read on to learn more about the Director’s vision and ISM’s take on the play.
(from the Romeo and Juliet program)
Why bother staging a 400-year-old soap opera?
In a society where people believe strongly in the ability to create their own destiny, a play about two young lovers who are “fated” to die for each other may seem outdated. Yet there is still much that is relevant to a modern audience in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. If we read the play in a certain way, fate can be seen not as mysterious supernatural force but as something created by people for others. As ISM students move from school into critical roles within a truly worldwide community, it is important for them to not only celebrate being masters of their own destiny but to also understand the responsibility of being people who have the power to determine the destiny of others. Viewed from this perspective, the true tragedy for both Romeo and Juliet lies in the fact that their parents always had the power to end their dispute (indeed, it seems they are keen to do so throughout the play), yet are too slow in exerting the precious influence needed to encourage peace. The message seems clear: make and take opportunities to be an agent of change NOW because tomorrow it may be too late.
So why are there four couples and what’s up with the cheesy love songs?
In order to bring the theme of fate to the forefront of the production, we’ve cast not one but four “star-crossed” couples. Whilst the modern incarnations of Romeo and Juliet are busy falling in love with someone who is supposed to be their “great enemy”, the other three couples from previous time periods are brought back to life to watch the past tragedy of their love and eventual death reenacted. Throughout the play Romeo and Juliet constantly refer to fate as guiding them or, in more intense moments, as an adversary to face in battle. On one level the characters from the past are physical manifestations of fate but on another level the couples, which appear as statues at the beginning of the play, come to signify the lessons we could learn from the past but choose to ignore. The macabre imagery of the old saying “If your ancestors could see you now, they would turn in their grave” seems to be captured by having the “star-crossed lovers” of the past forced to standby and watch as yet another young couple suffers for the same mistakes that their deaths were supposed to have remedied.
So will “the two hour’s traffic of our stage” be all doom and gloom? NO. The play’s optimism springs from the potential that love has to make great changes in society. Romeo and Juliet are two teenagers who choose to look beyond conflicts of the past. Their simple, heartfelt love does seem extremely idealistic but sometimes it takes idealism to solve seemingly complex issues. We hope to express this idealism by incorporating a lot more music into the show than was originally intended. Right from the beginning, music is given the power of breathing life into statues. From this point on, an eclectic range of music is used: jazz standards, original compositions and also a liberal dose of, dare I say it, ‘cheesy’ love songs.
Many people believe that a powerful message needs to be wrapped up in convoluted language to achieve gravitas; however, the most powerful moments of this play are when characters express their ideas and wishes in simple terms. Indeed, Juliet at one point tells Romeo to “swear not by the moon” but to “swear by thy gracious self”; she understands the need for plain, honest words when making important decisions about her future. At other moments, it only takes the pulse of a drum or quiver of a violin to speak plainly to the heart. So, in a sense, we’ve combined the words of Shakespeare with music because both mediums share the capacity to move people, unite people and help them envisage a future beyond a seemingly predestined fate. It is not the words or the melody themselves but the capturing of the imagination that makes all music and drama, whether it be ‘cheesy’ or majestic, powerful in its own right.
Putting it all together….
This show has been the product of countless hours of collaboration between staff, students and friends of the Fine Arts Faculty. It has certainly been a pleasure to learn from each and every contributor as they have woven their magic around a skeleton of ideas to produce engaging characters, original compositions, soulful arrangements, expressive choreography, creative designs and seamless interactions. As both a Theatre and English teacher, it has been especially rewarding to watch a fresh set of eyes reimagining a 400-year-old text. Long live William Shakespeare’s wisdom and creativity!