Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
I chose Romeo and Juliet because I thought I was familiar with the story, and that it would be a softer entry to directing Shakespeare’s plays than selecting one of his lesser-produced works. In the end, I would say my choice of such a familiar work was neither helpful nor harmful. I don’t think my familiarity with the story blinded me to any of its nuance on the page. And since it was unavoidable to approach with fresh eyes, it certainly hasn’t felt like a “soft” entry. My work with our actors–where all the praise must eventually go–has required a continual reinvestment in the play. Each evening we have to leave our notions of what we all *know* the play to be about to *discover* how the text works as a piece of drama.
Since I was tasked with cutting the play immediately after choosing it, getting by on what I thought I knew about the play wasn’t remotely an option. After giving the play a very close read, I decided to type out the “first folio” version as a way to familiarize myself with the language even more. This typed out version is what I used to cut the play down to about 90 minutes. The typing was a good exercise, but at no point did I suddenly master the text. We’re currently a couple weeks from opening, and I’m still finding new bits of drama in the script. And that, I’m starting to see, is the real gem of Shakespeare. His poetry and drama are intertwined, but as a dramatist, he now seems vastly more special in my eyes than as a poet.
Maybe it was too obvious to call our production Juliet and Romeo, but that Juliet is so clearly the central figure seemed worth special emphasis. Although her existence is more restricted than Romeo’s, and though she has a far more limited set of experiences in the world, she is the most courageous character in the play. It seems her naivety contributes to her courage in the face of obstacles. She is not jaded. She has not been dulled by compromise. Through Juliet, we may be slow to dismiss the naive as ignorant, and recognize that principled action is the very stuff of courage. Juliet’s self-destruction in the play’s final moment carries with it another meaning, which I’ll leave to the theatre-goers.